I have to be honest with you – as someone who is dedicated to only publishing positive music reviews, I did not expect to be reviewing the new Madonna album. A lot of praise was given for her performance at the Superbowl earlier this year – I was underwhelmed. The only cheerleader type song that I’ve ever enjoyed was “Washington D.C.” by The Magnetic Fields. Chanting “M-A-D-O-N-N-A” (the chorus to “Give Me All Your Luvin'”) seemed a bit tired and unoriginal. Let’s be honest, the last Madonna album that I liked all the way through was Music (though American Life had its moments). So why bother with MDNA?? It is the most consistent Madonna release in over a decade and recalls every era of Madonna’s career without sounding self plagiarizing.
The first thing you will notice is that the title MDNA is a play on the short hand for the club drug, ecstasy – MDMA. My only experience with the drug is from the movie GO. One of the characters gobbles up all the pills and later has an entertaining conversation with a cat. Suffice to say – though it made me laugh – I’ve never thought about taking the drug because I don’t really want to know what my cats Yoko and Buster are thinking (among other reasons). The second thing is the album cover – deliberately recalling “Vogue” era Madonna. Before you even hit play on your CD Player or Iphone, you are being manipulated by Madonna into thinking about what the sound of the album will be. Luckily for us, she is mostly right this time.
A bit about the MUSIC
Opener “Girls Gone Wild” opens with a spoken word bit, followed by an 80’s vibe before the very modern beats kick in with classic Madonna lyrics “It’s so hypnotic / The way he pulls on me / It’s like the force of gravity / Right up under my feet /It’s so erotic / This feeling can’t be beat / It’s coursing through my whole body / Feel the heat” before kicking into high gear with a very catchy chorus “Hey, ey, ey, ey / Like a girl gone wild / A good girl gone wild / I’m like, hey, ey, ey, ey / Like a girl gone wild / A good girl gone wild”
This song is followed by one of the strongest songs on the album, “Gang Bang” (I was very concerned with front loading the album with 2 of the strongest tracks, which I will talk about later in the review). Initially I wasn’t sure what this song would be about – perhaps eating pancakes with a gang of friends? However, it seems that the song discusses Madonna’s divorce from Guy Ritchie in painfully detailed fashion. The beat is incessant, reminds me of Faithless or Tricky. The lyrics are very angry and edgy “I made a decision, I would never look back / So how did you end up with all my jack?” and elsewhere the anger is almost overwhelming “And I’m going straight to hell / And I’ve got a lot of friends there / And if I see that bitch in hell / I’m gonna shoot him in the head again / Cause I wanna see him die / Over and Over and Over and Over and Over and Over and Over and Over”
The absolute highlight for me is “Fallin Free” which starts out with beautiful piano and orchestration. It reminds me of the theme to Ghost World from the movie Ghost World (which has the most emotionally resonant ending of any movie I’ve ever seen). I”m reminded of one of my favorite Madonna songs, “This Used to be My Playground”. Say what you will about Madonna’s musical choices or trend hopping – her voice is stunning. It has lost none of its nuances and pierces the soul in this song as she sings “When I move a certain way / I feel an ache I’d kept at bay / A hairline break that’s taking hold / A metal that I thought was gold”. Clearly another song about her recent divorce, yet instead of showing us her anger, Madonna is revealing her hurt, sadness, and uncertainty about life and love. Elsewhere she sings “Deep and pure our hearts align / And then I’m free, I’m free of mine / When I let lose the need to know / Then we’re both free, we’re free to go” Heartbreaking – yet riveting.
“I Fucked Up” is a plea for forgiveness, beautiful singing over a simple 808 beat. Warm acoustic guitar flourishes. Madonna’s lyrics can serve as her state of mind for this album “I fucked up / I made a mistake / Nobody does it better than myself”….the beat gets faster and faster as the song progresses as she sings “We coulda found a mountain seen a perfect sunrise / Written our names across the sky/ We coulda got a building built on the echo run / We coulda got ourselves arrested and sold our mum / We coulda live like crazy til’ the day we die / Instead I made you cry”
It is not a perfect album. The version I have includes 17 songs (includes 1 remix). It’s almost as if Madonna was afraid to allow her fans to wallow in her sadness and anger, so there are a few filler songs and a few pop single songs that just don’t work for me (leading me to wonder why on earth she front loaded the album with 2 of the best songs). But when it works – it works. It is the best album she has done in over a decade, and well worth your time, attention, and money. If this album had been 11 or 12 tracks I think it’d be a “Masterpiece” (another stunning song on the record that I didn’t highlight).
Verdict: F’INA MDNA
For fans of: Radiohead, Tricky, Sinead O’Connor, Dido, Faithless, Kanye West, Lady Gaga
1. Girls Gone Wild
2. Gang Bang
3. I’m Addicted
4. Turn Up the Radio
5. Give Me All Your Luvin’ (Ft. Nicki Minaj & M.I.A.)
6. Some Girls
8. I Don’t Give A (Ft. Nicki Minaj)
9. I’m A Sinner
10. Love Spent
12. Falling Free
1. Beautiful Killer
2. I Fucked Up
3. B-day Song (Ft. M.I.A.)
4. Best Friend
5. Give Me All Your Luvin’ (Party Rock Remix) (Ft. LMFAO & Nicki Minaj)