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‘MDNA’ Is A Strong But Cliched Effort From The Material Girl

For The Heights

Published: Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

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Woogeon Kim / Heights Editor

“Every record sounds the same / You gotta step into my world,” Madonna tells us in “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” her new album’s premier single that tantalized millions of fans at its Super Bowl halftime debut. MDNA, Madonna’s 12th studio album (following 2008’s Hard Candy) was released on Mar. 23, affording her another lavish, gaudy swipe at the Diva crown. Her coup d’etat oscillates between the nostalgic, the euphoric, and sometimes tip-toes around the insufferable, but never comes together as the definitive record that the aging pop star was undoubtedly hoping for. It’s certainly not the reflective, brazen work that you would expect from a Diva’s comeback album, instead admirably foraying into the evolving dubstep and electro-club genres. But MDNA, headlined by a performer that has been on the scene for almost three decades, is uncomfortably stuck between the old and the new–it seems reluctant to take enough musical risks to truly be considered a novel work, hesitant to win a new generation of fans at the expense of alienating the classic Madonna following. Rather, MDNA tries to find a middle ground that suits both audiences, and the result is a somewhat incongruous medley of attractive dance beats and lifeless love ballads.

The late 2000s have seen a re-emergence of electro-pop, and an album that otherwise may have seemed outdated or just too European, sounds relevant and even progressive. The bravest song on MDNA and, not coincidentally, one of the most rewarding, is the Benny Benassi-produced “I’m Addicted.” Madonna’s voice smoothly filters over the thumping bass and heavy synth lead, sounding like an echo from a futuristic ’80s universe (think Tron). “Give Me All Your Luvin’” is also a noteworthy track, and a good example of MDNA’s occasional identity crisis. Halfway into the song, the retro guitar riff is substituted for a signature dubstep “wobble,” and Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. offer a few aggressive lines before returning to the original verse. Their feature seems forced, because it is, and the obvious use of these relevant pop stars is a depressingly blatant appeal to younger generations. Dance music (and Madonna especially) has never been about the lyrics. But some of the lines in MDNA’s songs are maddeningly stupid. “Turn Up the Radio” could be a Pantene commercial while “Superstar” sounds like a Katy Perry song for Nickelodeon.

Perhaps MDNA’s biggest flaw is that the lackluster verses are often just a nuisance in the way of stellar hooks. The songs lend themselves to sampling/remixing, and one must wonder whether this move is not a deliberate marketing scheme – one in which more relevant, famous artists can feature Madonna’s work by incorporating it into their own music. One of the best new tracks is “Beautiful Killer,” which, in a cheap move by Warner Bros., is only available on the deluxe edition. This song and the LMFAO remix of “Give Me All Your Luvin’” are almost enough to justify the complementary purchase of an insult to her fans, music, and God’s gift of language that is “B-Day Song.”

“Girl Gone Wild” is a strong leading track, but pay attention to the introductory dialogue. Lady Gaga is often critiqued as nothing more than a Madonna knock-off, but have the tables turned? Madonna sounds eerily similar to the younger pop Diva here–a metaphor for the direction that MDNA has taken. There was a time when Madonna could derail the genre with a single, but often the album sounds as if it is playing “catch-up” instead of wisely heading into unexplored musical territory.

Today, Madonna’s appeal hinges on the quality of producers that Interscope is willing to outfit her with. She has been singing progressively less on each album, compensating with large, more expensive crews. Armed with a mega-producer syndicate (she’s up to eight now), Madonna makes a concerted effort to even sigh out the cliched lyrics in tune. The title MDNA suggests a return to basics, but the music cries out for evolution. It’s not evident who is keeping the famously bold Madonna from jumping into the deep end, but unless her future albums do more than toe the water of a new genre, Madonna’s collaborations will fizzle out as torch-passing ceremonies.

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