Album Review : Madonna’s ‘MDNA’

Trailblazing her way to the top with re-invention being her persistent blueprint for success has been Madonna’s mantra, a formula that fueled Madonna’s ascent to the throne as the Queen Of Pop around 3 decades ago in 1983. I use the words ‘has been’ for the very reason that if you listen to Madonna’s 12th studio album ‘MDNA‘ expecting another round of re-invention, you might be a trifle disappointed. It’s not an album with which Madonna wants to push boundaries, or stay in the forefront of musical trends for that matter. ‘MDNA’ is a retrospective album which finds Madonna grappling with rare moments of vulnerability coupled with her defiant attitude, a post-divorce reclamation of what her life used to be, musically. It’s a self-referential cornucopia of everything that she’s done over the past 30 years. And the underlying statement is, she wants to have fun. The very name of the album ‘MDNA‘ expresses it all. She’s in a euphoric state of mind, and the album title is a sly nod to the club-drug ecstasy, also called MDMA. And Madonna definitely wants to take us to the club with some infectious and propulsive grooves that made the final cut. The title also cleverly incorporates everything Madonna represents, probably a nod to her one-of-a-kind DNA, and as you listen to the album, numerous lyrical and musical references to her past pop up, giving you a triumphant taste of some classic M-DNA.

It’s difficult to ignore the flaws when you listen to ‘MDNA‘ for the first time. Synthetic, rehashed sounds, occasionally banal and insipid lyrics (especially songs like ‘B’Day Song‘) , MIA and Nicki Minaj’s unrelated and underwhelming presence, Madonna’s signature taunts towards religion.. the album is not cohesive at all. It lacks the sheer brilliance of 2005’s ‘Confessions On A Dance Floor‘ or the stunning experimental sonic boom of 1998’s ‘Ray Of Light‘. The thing is, ‘MDNA‘ was not meant to be another ‘Confessions..‘ or a ‘Ray Of Light‘.

When the album starts of with the dance-floor ready ‘Girl Gone Wild‘, you know Madonna’s in no mood to slow down. If you could ignore the cheese-fest that are the song’s lyrics (‘You got me in the zone, DJ play my favorite song‘), the song’s kinda decent. The video more than makes up for what the song lacks though.

The same goes for the Nicki Minaj and MIA assisted Martin Solveig-produced breezy nod to cheer-leading, ‘Give Me All Your Luvin‘ that sounds like a misfit on the album. Again, the video delivers, and the song is already Madonna’s 38th Billboard top 10 hit. Watch out for an occasional reference to some classic Madonna songs here (‘In another place, at a different timeyou can be my lucky star‘). I do wish Nicki and MIA had more to do on the song than occasionally hoot ‘L-U-V Madonna‘ and throw in a 2 second long verse each.

The highlight of the album comes in the form of ‘Gang Bang‘, a dark, twisted and grimy tale of destruction woven over a thumping pulse and a dubstep break. This one deserves the video treatment, and I would love to see Madonna’s fierceness in the video during the song’s conclusion when she gleefully howls ‘Drive, bitch! And while you’re at it, die bitch!‘. Classic Madonna!

I’m Addicted‘ is the next highlight, a surging dance-pop club banger. Watch out for a nod to Madonna’s 1989 classic ‘Like A Prayer‘, as she declares ‘Something happens to me when I hear your voice and I have no choice‘. Slickly produced by the Benassi Brothers and The Demolition Crew, this song is defiant nod to the sound of her ‘Confessions..‘ days.

Nicki Minaj makes a second appearance on ‘I Don’t Give A‘, an Electro/Hip-Hop production that is probably directed at Madonna’s ex husband, Guy Ritchie. Although the song starts off on a tepid note, it gradually builds up to a crescendo, when Nicki Minaj delivers her signature verses, and defiantly growls ‘There’s only one Queen, and that’s Madonna..BITCH!!‘ during the song’s conclusion. A worthy inclusion on the album.

Madonna’s stunning introspective balladry turns out to be the album’s biggest highlight for me. The Golden Globe winning ‘Masterpiece‘ from her directorial début ‘W.E‘ is her most poignant moment on the album, and Madonna delivers vocally on this song. Ironically with dance music being her forte, Madonna’s longest running # 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 is actually the incredibly lush power-ballad ‘Take A Bow‘. Just shows that this woman can really truly do it all!

Unfairly, ‘I Fucked Up‘, another mid-tempo introspective number, finds itself on the deluxe edition of ‘MDNA‘. A rare song showcasing a vulnerable and apologetic Madonna that sounds rather good after a few listens. Although not worthy of a single, this is the kinda song that holds an otherwise non-cohesive album together. Again, a reference to Madonna’s 2005 classic ‘Sorry’ (‘I’m sorry, Je suis desolee’) on this one.

The rest of the album boasts of some catchy club and pop cuts, which, in spite of being a little hollow and devoid of the slick groove of a dynamic club anthem, sound just fine. Like the Martin Solveig produced ‘Turn On The Radio‘, the William orbit produced ‘Love Spent‘, and ‘I’m A Sinner‘, that sounds like a throwback to her 1999 single ‘Beautiful Stranger‘.

MDNA‘ is an album that represents fun. After a couple of listens, it’s impossible to not get addicted to some of the tunes on the album. The very fact that the album has already topped every credible chart in the world with Madonna’s best first-week sales seen since 2000’s ‘Music‘, without any promo apart from the Super Bowl performance shows that yet again, Mademoiselle Madonna Louise Ciccone has delivered.

Overall, ‘MDNA‘ may have its flaws. Madonna’s voice may not sound the same as it did 30 years ago. The music maybe calculative and manipulative under a general veil of plasticity. And it may sound far less triumphant from anything that she’s ever done before. In short, it’s not a perfect album. But ‘MDNA‘s sheer energy and the unstoppable Queen Of Pop’s shrewd confidence makes it an album that’s rapturous, euphoric and fun, and there’s quite literally no other album out there that sounds anything like ‘MDNA‘. In short, it’s a true Madonna album that has been created with an agenda, and that is to bend the rules with a defiant display of the middle-finger. She did it back then, when she dared to break the rules. And she’s still doing it now, 30 years after her arrival. Deal with it.