REVIEW: Madonna – MDNA

mdna_booklet1

Artist: Madonna
Album: MDNA
Genre: Pop
Label: Live Nation, Interscope

If polarising is the best word to describe Madonna – particularly latter-day Madonna, and her increasingly perplexing attempts to get down with the kids – then it’s fitting that MDNA is such a polarising album. It waivers from lifeless and insipid to wholesome, with many moments of abject horror later offset by something soft and insightful. This record was, apparently, borne of a desire to revisit the disco era into which she was born and got started, though it fails to match anything of that time given the distinct lack of life in the songs. The album’s first half in particular is filled with passable forays into undemanding, sub-par club fare. The songs feel aimless and unenthusiastic and it’s disheartening to see already mediocre pieces tainted by such lyrical nonsense. I would appreciate Madonna’s sense of fun and her willingness to experiment with something contemporary and modern if the songs were actually in any way fun, contemporary, or modern. Mostly, they just sound like someone slapped a few samples down and called it a day.

“Girl Gone Wild” is a typical example. The album opener, it’s immediately deadened by a recycled, lethargic beat and suffers badly for want of some charisma or dynamism. Madonna herself doesn’t exactly make it sparkle with her vocals. “I’m Addicted” takes a lighter approach, but doesn’t do much, and “Turn Up the Radio” is keen and chirpy but intensely blasé. Further along, “I’m A Sinner” is happy, unchallenging, and flatly boring, while “I Don’t Give A” mixes a basic beat and vocals to create something profoundly ordinary. The songs seem to lack passion, more so than anything else. Madonna has staked a reputation for exercising diligent, rigorous control over her work but she more than anyone sounds like she doesn’t want to be here. Her vocals can’t invigorate what are very ordinary songs to begin with, and this makes for a frustrating and underwhelming listen.

“Gang Bang” is one of the more divisive songs on the album. The title seems like a disturbing indication of Rihanna’s heinous impact on pop music, but given that Madonna was bothering everyone with overt sexuality before it was cool (and didn’t need to use cheap innuendo and a minimal clothing budget to do it), we can overlook this. The track is catchy in a sinister, bewildering way; it still lacks firepower but there’s plenty of aggression and bite. It is far too long however, and doesn’t help itself by aiming for grit and malevolence in its final section. Lyrics like ‘Drive bitch, and while you’re at it die bitch,’ probably sound hardcore to the over-50s but they’re a bit stupefying for everyone else. A Tarantino movie this is not. “Give Me All Your Luvin,” which features Nicki Minaj, sounds like the bubblegum B-side to “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani. The backing vocals are sugary and Madonna herself is simpering. It’s not an awful song, but there’s very little in the way of flair or originality about it, and Minaj’s impact is negligible.

Curiously however, the awkwardness of these songs is in marked contrast to some of the subtle quality on display elsewhere. “Superstar” is precocious and whimsical, but forges a beautifully insubstantial, dreamy atmosphere. The sentiment is laid on thick and fast and seems incredibly forced, but the softer approach lets it stand out. “Love Spent” is less attention-seeking and more natural. The classical samples are beguiling enough, and its airy approach suits Madonna’s vocals. “Masterpiece” is surprisingly poignant – a moody and cautious track, but delightfully put together. It uses the same lilting beat and backing sounds throughout for an undressed, unfussy air that’s instantly loveable. Likewise, the meandering throes of “Falling Free” are very charming. Songs such as these work better because they’re more believable on their merits; they seem less contrived and insistent next to the ravaging sexuality forced into the earlier songs.

The bonus tracks offer little in the way of redemption. There’s a song called “I Fucked Up” which escapes me entirely, a summery ditty called “B-Day Song” and a decent ballad entitled “The Best Friend.” There’s also a superfluous remix of “Give Me All Your Luvin’” involving LMFAO, which was performed at the Superbowl but forgotten about in the wake of M.I.A.’s little indiscretion.

One can’t help but feel mildly offended that someone who used to be such a pioneering force in music has reduced herself to such recycled, materialistic drivel. She’s too old and too experienced to be writing this nonsense, particularly with the quality evinced in the album’s good songs showing how much better she can do. In fairness, it’s difficult to be inventive after 12 albums and if she’s reached the point where all she wants to do is hop about aimlessly, that’s fair enough. This will doubtless be lapped up by the charts, but all I’m feeling is a resounding swell of indifference.

SCORE: 5/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • I am not pleased with this album and I am a die hard Madonna fan too!