In a different context, with a career spanning 30 years, Madonna shouldn't even have to blink an eye to renew her title. But in the four years that separate “MDNA” from “Hard Candy” ( Warner, 2008) - that desperate attempt to find a way on to the sound systems in the American heterosexual ghettos - many strange things have happened in the world of mass consumption pop. The Princesses have cloned themselves like they were Dolly herself, throwing up singles month after month so that they won't be forgotten; the pop DNA has been contaminated with dance all over the world, even in the protectionist North American market; and this girl called Lady Gaga has taken control over the minds of millions of teenagers who think she's the second coming of Christ. In the face of all that, and as one of the last standing living myths of the 80s ( Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston kicked the bucket, so it's just her and Prince now), la Ciccone had to do something quick.
Free from Guy Ritchie (to whom she dedicates “Love Spent”, a real grower, with that insistent beat) and the claws of Warner, Madonna shows some veiny skin again and reconciles with the gay audience she's so in debt to. Half of “MDNA” was clearly made with the intention of blowing the speakers at Gay Pride and to be chanted by fag hags all over the world – in a similar manner to the irresistibly campy “Confessions On A Dance Floor” (Warner, 2005). Nevertheless, it pains us to see that she didn't take this golden opportunity to tell us what is going to be trendy over the coming months. Instead, it looks like she nicked Lourdes Maria's iPod to see which tracks her daughter had been listening to the most in the past few years.
“MDNA” is an entertaining sonic document of this new golden age where dance and trance are living on the commercial radio stations, but it never even gets close to the sophistication and avant-garde nature of “Music” (Warner, 2000) or the oddly mistreated “American Life” (Warner, 2003). While she could afford to call in seven different producers, songs like “Girl Gone Wild” (insignificant and generic, courtesy of the Benassi brothers), “Some Girls” (a violent Auto-tune orgy by producer William Orbit, which we could assume was sung by our next-door neighbour if they hadn't told us it was the Michigan singer) and the simple “Superstar” (we would be grateful if someone would tell us if they have been able to recognise Lourdes Maria in the backing vocals), can only be seen as filler. The same thing goes for “I Don’t Give A”, a silly electro-hip-hop ditty that's only interesting because it features Nicki Minaj throwing poisoned darts at Gaga, while proclaiming Madge as the only Queen of Pop.
Monarchic controversies aside, on the album there's some good shit, too. We doubt if Martin Solveig will ever work with her again, but he gave her here a second generation “Hello” that we will dance to this summer, with our hands in the air like it's 1998. “Turn Up The Radio” is as much of a hit as “I’m Addicted” (the wet dream of “Neon Nights” era Dannii Minogue), and that's a fact. Furthermore, when Madonna goes all tender on us (like on “Masterpiece” and “Falling Free”, without any embellishments) or tries to emulate a Motown girl band in the company of M.I.A. (the pleasant “B-Day Song” on the deluxe edition), she shuts everybody up. Good on her.
A special mention goes to William Orbit, the return of the man who launched her as the muse of modernity with “Ray Of Light” (Warner, 1998). The Briton manages to produce both “I’m A Sinner”, a piece on which she rediscovers the lost trail of “Beautiful Stranger” and “Amazing” (though that doesn't mean it's not as fun as some of the guilty pleasures Xenomania have been giving us), and the album's biggest extravagancy, co-produced with Nelly Furtado's hubbie, Demolition Crew. Since the times of “Impressive Instant” we hadn't heard a rarity of the proportions of “Gang Bang”, co-written by eight people, including Mika. On the track in question, la Ciccone plays “Kill Bill”'s Beatrix Kiddo and she doesn't think twice before shooting techno bullets at the bitches that dare to cross her path. That's the Madonna we love: disrespectful and ill-tempered. The finish where she, in a rage, starts screaming ‘drive bitch’ feels as iconic as that ‘it’s Britney, bitch’; pure tarty love.
In conclusion: she can rest assured. Without it being her best effort ever, “MDNA” has some high-voltage and very entertaining moments. On the eve of the huge tour starting in May, her throne is safe. Although that doesn't mean that, in the light of the two albums she still has to release with Live Nation, we don't long for her return with Mirwais.