Going solely on my first listen of Madonna's twelfth studio album, MDNA, this was how I was going to open the subsequent review:
I'm going to dust off a word to describe Madonna's new album, MDNA, that by its very usage, in the 21st century, will probably make it applicable to me, but it’s so apt that I don't really have a choice. Simply put, MDNA is kinda "Naff".
However subsequent listens have warmed me to it, but not in a way that I feel entirely comfortable with the set. There is still a gnawing sensation that something isn't right with it, but I can't seem to put my finger on it. The reason I include this is because it doesn't feel like the book is fully shut on this review, but for it to be timely it has to be published now. Further listens to the album, or opinions from you guys, may have me reconsidering my thoughts on it and if that happens they will be placed right at the bottom, and the rest of the review will be unaltered. Anyway, let me take my meds and get on with the real review
Unlike past albums, MDNA doesn't feature the creation of a new Madonna persona, booo, but instead it borrows, for much of the album, from two past incarnations to furnish the majority of the sonic landscape. Think of it as the freaky love child of 2005s Confessions On A Dance Floor production wise and melodically inspired by 1999's Beautiful Stranger's psychedelic 60s vibe. It's a marriage that doesn't always work and I'm addicted and I don't give a are a particularly poor result of this pairing.
The production itself, helmed by Alle Benassi, Benny Benassi, Demolition Crew, Free School, Michael Malih, Indiigo, William Orbit- who I was most excited about, and most let down by-, Martin Solveig is great, though not revolutionary. Those worrying that Madonna was going to be following trends with this release to stay relevant can breath easy because though MDNA does touch on current trends, like dubstep ( hear Bang Bang's closing half) electro-pop, and Nicki Minaj *snigger*, whether for better or worse, it is still in its own lane: with a slightly edgier brand of electronica but in large part thanks to it's retro melodies.
There are flashes of (almost) greatness: Love Spent marries the two contrasting styles of the production and melody great, Girl Gone Wild sounds like a modern take on Confessions' Sorry and Gang bang’s dirty, thumping bass and grimy vibe would have sounded out of this world if sang by someone with an edgier voice. But the real star in this bag of oddness is the aptly titled Masterpiece, that ironically wasn't even recorded for this album, instead coming from the soundtrack of the Madonna directed/co-written W.E. Here there is life, humility and a maturity in the lyrical content, the production and, most importantly, in Madonna's vocal delivery: all things that are so sorely missed on much of the album.
Madonna has never been a powerhouse vocalist, but she has been a capable one, despite what many think. She already demonstrated a wealth of variation to her voice in its tone, timbre, weight and her overall technical ability on the 1995 ballads album Something To Remember and her work on the Evita soundtrack. But new album MDNA finds her variation limited to either sugary and thin-Give Me all Your Lovin'- or monotone and flat- Bang, Bang/ Some Girls- for the majority of tracks. It could be argued that those were the styles called for, but even with that being the case the vocal delivery is nearly always anything but an asset to the solid production it’s layered over. However, as noted above, salvation is found on Masterpiece and another ballad, the telling Falling Free. Both providing proof that Madonna does still have the ability to sing pretty darn good, if the material is there.
MDNA is an oddity to me. I like the production but the melodies, at times cheesy lyrics and Madonna's voice really holds the set back for me, to quite a large extent I might add. If Madonna had come harder and more aggressive I might have bought into it, but to me she sounds bored, and aloof- which is odd considering her absence from the music world and the amount riding on this. But what does she care, as she says on I Dont Give a, "I don't care what the people say, I'm gonna be alright...If you have a problem, I don't give a....". Sentiments I do not doubt!