Music Reviews

Madonna MDNA

(Interscope) Rating - 4/10

If I was a better writer, a smarter man, and the sort of person who didn’t instantly come down with a headache the second someone so much as attempted to discuss physics, I’d start this review with an attempt to compare Madonna circa 2012 to a Black Hole. Like the astronomical phenomenon, the singing phenomenon is also a massive star approaching the end of its (professional) life, and apparently also capable of absorbing energy completely – consider how MIA, an artist who, whether you love or hate her is good at least for provoking a reaction, managed to go completely unnoticed on MDNA’s lead single Give Me All Your Luvin’.

Otherwise, it’s probably a bit of a strained attempt at a comparison, but the fact that I’ve had to go with it anyway might be fairly telling. Despite sitting with the album for a couple of weeks now I’m still struggling to form an opinion of it and I'm starting to suspect that that's because there really isn’t much here to form an opinion of. Where MDNA’s title is a bit cheeky, kind of ridiculous, simultaneously smart and stupid and surprisingly controversial, the music contained within is none of these things. Instead it’s not exactly bad, but has about as much creativity and passion behind it as a spreadsheet.

In fact, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that Excel was the main tool used in the songwriting process as there’s definitely a ticking off the boxes quality to the music contained within. It was a given that Ciccone, the indisputable queen of reinvention, would latch onto current trends – in this case dubstep and guest verses from the ubiquitous Nicki Minaj (who, it must be said, fares much better than MIA) – but while she pulls off such touches with aplomb, there’s nothing unexpected about it anymore, or even anything particularly exciting. Instead it just seems like soulless opportunism, although not as soulless as I'm Addicted, where she repeatedly trills “I’m addicted to your love” with the dead-eyed ruthlessness of a shark.

MDNA might be her first album proper since her divorce from Guy Ritchie, but while there are attempts at vulnerability, none of them really convince. As the pre-release campaign (particularly the shrilly fawning hour of television that was the Graham Norton interview) showed, she's still more than capable of being feisty, even funny, but she long ago removed herself from actually possessing anything approaching a recognisable human emotion – something of a handicap when attempting to tackle the delicate, actually rather elegant ballad Falling Free that closes the album, and practically disastrous in regards to the mea culpa of I Fucked Up (fortunately though, that one's been relegated to the status of "bonus track" so can be glossed over fairly easily).

Which is, of course, perfectly understandable - she's been a mega-star for over half her lifetime now, and is in the fairly unique position of having been around so long that her attempts to reflect the zeitgeist actually see her going back over territory that she mastered decades ago (once past the bolted on religious intro - itself an old Madonna staple - the slick Girl Gone Wild just demonstrates how much the Guetta-lead movement in contemporary pop steals from her work in the first place), and in the unenviable position of having to re-invent a re-invention, hence the bringing back into the fold of William Orbit, who did such a good job the first time around. He does fairly good work here too, with his name noticeably absent from album's sole clunkers, the aforementioned I Fucked Up and the W.E. theme Masterpiece with its face-palm of an opening analogy (if it was ever needed to be proved that the Golden Globes are entirely lacking in credibility then the song's triumph at this year's ceremony would make for pretty convincing evidence), but good yet unremarkable work is generally not the basis of readable reviews. In an effort to stir up some righteous anger it would be tempting to question the album's sense of excess (particularly in the wake of Madge's Jonathan Davies-esque ability to completely fail to comprehend the economy's effect on her fans), such as in questioning how the minimalist Gang Bang (a track emblazoned with such a title hardly seems like an obvious fit for the term tasteful, but that's precisely what it is) needed seven writers. But then, this influx of creative voices does mean that each, including (or rather, especially) that of helium-voiced dead-celebrity invoker Mika, is diluted considerably, so even such flaws have their upsides.

In other words, MDNA ultimately balances out as a bit of a wash, neither embarrassing nor enthralling. But considering how vibrant and vital she seemed in the past, even when doing such cringe-worthy things as cynically engineering lipstick lesbian style romps with young pretenders or rapping about pilates, the fact that Madonna can no longer provoke much of a reaction at all is perhaps the possible worst outcome for her career.