Uh oh, Madonna's got a new album out, and she went all sexy-dancing Catholic again. But, like, does anyone care anymore?
Well, if you're like me, a lifelong devotee who relates many of her biggest hits to key moments in life, the easy answer is, "Yes, of course." She could be spitting out reggae over the sounds of yetis humping, and I'd still give her the benefit of the doubt and wait for the remixes. That's how important she was to my high school and college years.
But will the general populace of the radio world care that she has another album out? Ehhhh, not so much. (It's currently No. 2 on the iTunes download list, but where is she on the radio?)
The polite new electronica-lite pop/dance album, MDNA, begins with an amended Catholic Act of Contrition before expectedly heading into a song called "Girl Gone Wild." Juxtaposing the two party girl/repentant Catholic personas is hardly interesting anymore, but it's what we learned to love her for back in the making-out-with-Jesus days of "Like a Prayer."
Lapsed Catholics especially will appreciate her shout outs to her homeboys, Sts. Sebastian, Christopher, Anthony and Thomas Aquinas in the bridge to her "I'm a Sinner," which is far too giddy to be at all scandalous. Maybe — hopefully! — the Pope or Michele Bachmann will be offended...
What's especially great-slash-painful, however, is the last line of the Act of Contrition: "I want so badly to be good." She's really trying to keep us happy, people! Our adoration is all we have to give back to her, so we dutifully venture into the album, its pleasant background beats, the easy lyrics, the songs — like most of her songs these past few albums — about falling in love on a dance floor.
Juxtaposing the two party girl/repentant Catholic personas is hardly interesting anymore, but it's what we learned to love her for back in the making-out-with-Jesus days of "Like a Prayer."
The first track from this album to hit the airwaves was the wholly unnecessary collaboration with M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj, "Give Me All Your Luvin'," prior to the Super Bowl. In theory, the collaboration of these three outspoken women could have been a pop music dream come true. What arrived, however, was a syrupy, immature confection that melted as soon as it dropped. I haven't heard it on the radio since that first day.
As you may recall, the majority of the Super Bowl criticism mostly revolved around M.I.A.'s middle finger and Madonna's aging process. Personally, it was hard watching proud Madge offering up the newest single as if it were anywhere near the same level of her earlier hits like "Vogue" and "Ray of Light." Even listening to the new song now, nestled in the fourth spot on the album, sends me into diabetic shock.
The unfortunate lyrics and sappy pop sentiments continue into other songs like "Superstar," where she actually compares the object of her affection to Bruce Lee, John Travolta and... Abe Lincoln ("cuz you fight for what's right")! Later in the song: "You can have the password to my phone / I'll give you a massage when you get home." She's the most powerful musician in the world, and this is the best she and her team of writers could come up with?
The majority of the album, however, has a cool robotic nonchalance that makes it feel like the ideal background music for a martini happy hour or a girls' night limousine party with neon lighting and a stripper pole. It's not so much political or empowering as it is additional fodder to listen to and love with fellow Madonna-philes.
There is hope for the album's future, however, in the basic premise of all the dance floor songs that will undoubtedly be remixed by every DJ worth a damn. You can already tell how David Guetta is going to trick these songs out to make them gay dance club hits that will give them the life they need. "Turn up the Radio" is effortless music about music and "Some Girls" is already ready for the clubs, with its catchy hook and vaguely hostile attitude toward other women.
Madonna closes out the album with one beautiful moment in the last song, "Falling Free." She finally reveals the beautiful tone that has been forged over the years, and the simple orchestration matches her energy and intentions perfectly. It takes the whole album to get there, but the result is quite spectacular.
(The deluxe version of the album includes four additional songs and a remix of dumb ol' "Give Me All Your Luvin'." Of these, only "I F****d Up" carries a unique sound, a repentant song about a bad breakup. The team-up with M.I.A. for "B-day Song" is more sophomoric bubble gum with a 60s twinge.)
So, should you care about Madonna's new album? Yes, absolutely. She's proving her relevance well into her third decade, showing young artists how to make a well-produced and interesting album. But if you're not already a fan, this one is not going to push you in that direction.
She just wants so badly to be good, y'all.