Review: Madonna – MDNA
Published on April 19th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Ah, now this is just what the world needs: another Madonna album. How has old Madge reinvented herself this time? Or, perhaps more accurately, what were the results of her discussions with vacuous music industry bigwigs as to how she could present herself this time around in order to maximise profits from whatever Identikit drivel they could get various trendy producers and shadow-songwriters to rustle up for them?
You might be able to tell that Rocksucker approached MDNA, Madonna’s twelfth studio album, with a certain amount of cynicism. Keeping an open mind though, we tiptoed up to that Pandora’s box, wrenched it open, peeked hesitantly inside and were promptly sent flying by the sheer tide of ghastliness gushing forth like a burst water main.
Opener “Girl Gone Wild” gets underway with Madonna apologising to God for her “sins”, declaring that she wants “so badly to be good”. One can only hope that God replied, “Well, you can start by knocking that sickeningly derivative Euro-rave-trash on the head.” (God’s got a way with genre-coining; after all, he did invent them all.)
Lyrically it’s as startlingly original as you might expect, one choice example being: “On the floor ’til the daylight comes / Girls they just wanna have some fun”. On the floor ’til the daylight comes? Madonna is 53. We can only assume that she slipped in the bathroom and put her back out while everyone else was out.
By the time she’s singing “Got that burning hot desire / No-one can put out my fire / It’s coming right down to the wire”, it’s become abundantly clear that the result of aforementioned meeting was a decision to make her exactly like everyone else, namely all those other cynically deployed pop tarts whom Madonna could conceivably have mothered.
Next up is “Gang Bang”, which although ‘hot and steamy’ of production and vocal delivery is somewhat undermined by the notion that Madonna’s only role in a gang bang these days would be to knock on the door halfway through and ask if anyone would like lemonade and cookies. “No thank you, Mrs Ciccone!” To be fair, ‘gang bang’ in this instance appears to mean shooting her lover in the head, a subtle nuance suggested by the use of the words “shot my lover in the head”. Oh, and here come the dubstep wob wobs right on cue! Textbook bandwagon jumping. The kids’ll be all over that.
The ensuing spoken word passage is, like much of the album, so appalling as to be quite priceless: “I’m going straight to hell / And I’ve got a lot of friends there / And if I see that bitch again / I’m going to shoot him in the head again / ‘Cause I want to see him die over and over and over and over!” Yeesh, steady on Madge. First you’re asking God for forgiveness, now you’re on your way to hell to carry out a hit?
I dare say she would have a lot of friends down there, seeing as Satan was evidently a major player in the making of this album. It’s who you know, eh? Anyway, she refuses to let it lie: “If you’re gonna act like a bitch / Then you’re gonna die like a bitch”. Very offensive to bitches, that.
Moving swiftly on, “I’m Addicted” turns out to profess a dependence on “your love” rather than (the by now expected) crystal meth. It throws a few gurgly synths at us in a ‘will this do?’ sort of way before the mood is lightened with “Turn Up the Radio”, which at least has a semblance of melody to it, even if it does feel like a poor man’s “Ray of Light”. Unfortunately, it’s defeated pretty much instantly by its own hackneyed premise (“When the world starts to get you down / And nothing seems to go your way / And the noise of the maddening crowd / Makes you feel like you’ll go insane”), not to mention the fact that the maddening crowd in this case might well be a legion of adoring fans, unless of course Madonna is a regular traveller on the London Underground around rush hour. Gotta hate those legions of adoring fans.
“Give Me All Your Luvin’ (sic)” is comfortably the most half-decent pop song on the album so far, but is impossible to take at all seriously by dint of its childish yelps of “L! U! V! Madonna! Y! O! U! You wanna?”, which come across more like Timmy from South Park yelling his own name than an alluring invitation to engage in coitus with an ‘experienced’ woman. M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj both feature here; the former is ace and should stay the hell away from this kind of thing, while the latter is not and should just shut up.
We can’t let analysis of “Give Me All Your Luvin'” pass without mentioning the teeth-grittingly un-self-aware lyric “Every record sounds the same / You’ve got to step into my world”. Chortle.
“One drink and it’s all a blur / Cash now if you wanna flirt” advises “Some Girls” – really, one drink? Was it spiked? – but on the plus side, the vocal is so heavily treated that it’s hard to make out what she’s saying for the most part. Also in the ‘pro’ camp is the amusement factor brought upon by the farty synth bass, perhaps representative of all those record execs shitting themselves with financially minded excitement. “Some girls like to get their freak on” we are informed, confirming Rocksucker’s suspicion that someone wrote up a checklist of trendy catchphrases to be shoehorned into the album at various junctures.
By this point I feel as if I’m continuing to listen out of morbid fascination; but, shock horror, the worst of it is over. Well, almost.
From here on in, the worst offences are largely lyrical in nature. Take “Superstar”, and its declaration of “You’re my Jordan / You’re my superstar”. That’s right, Madonna’s definition of a superstar – or rather that of whichever 5-year-old wrote the words here, and if that’s actually the case then fair play to that kid – is Katie Price. Unless of course she’s decided to stick her head into the beehive of Middle East politics by picking a side, or offering a much-needed confidence boost to Liverpool midfielder Henderson.
No matter how wretched this album is, there’s no way I’m having Katie Price as more of a superstar than Madonna. Katie Price.
Katie. Fucking. Price.
Think that’s one of the most questionable lyrics on the album? Well, it’s not even the most questionable lyric in the song; that honour would go to “You can have the keys to my car / I’ll play you a song on my guitar”. Now, if a child had written that, you’d ruffle their hair and feed them words of encouragement. If an adult had written it, you’d beckon them to a quiet corner for “a quick word” and proceed to beat them over the head with whatever they’d used to write it with and/or on.
Does Madonna drive herself around? Given that she could quite easily afford to employ three separate people to bring her forks, knives and spoons, this is doubtful. Does Madonna play songs on the guitar? This is easier to answer: no. Or at least if she does then she’s been missing a trick.
“Jesus Christ hanging on the cross / Died for our sins, it’s such a loss”: this is a line from the aptly titled “I’m a Sinner”, and frankly it deserves a paragraph all of its own.
Ditto “If you were the Mona Lisa / You’d be hanging in the Louvre / Everyone would came and see ya / You’d be impossible to move” from the not-so-aptly titled “Masterpiece”.
Confusingly, perhaps even maddeningly, MDNA then proceeds to take a massive swing towards the listenable. “Falling Free” is as delicate and tender as her version of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from the 1996 film Evita, its sweeping strings and plinking harp arriving like a diamond ring on a factory production line of turds. It’s the best thing that Rocksucker has heard out of her since she made all those good songs with William Orbit a while back.
Okay, so a cursory Google reveals that Orbit worked on this album, so either he wasn’t given enough control or he must have been struck by lightning at some point since 1998. “With William, we always get into discussions about philosophy or quantum physics,” Madonna said in this recent interview, and this goes some way towards helping us understand the inspiration for lyrics such as “We could have bought a house with a swimming pool / Filled it up with walls, it would be so cool” from “I Fucked Up” (yes, we’re back to ‘aptly titled’ again).
“Duuuuuuuurrrrrr, what rhymes with ‘pool’? Duuuuhhh, oh yeeeeeaaaaahhhh!” *starts scribbling*
“Beautiful Killer” – no, not “Beautiful Stranger”, “Beautiful Killer” – is decent enough ’80s electro-pop that sounds like bloody Pet Sounds compared to most of what’s gone before, “B-Day Song” appals/amuses only by dint of the line “And the beat goes on / I’m a happy girl / It’s my birthday song / In my happy world”, and curtain-closer (two horrible remixes notwithstanding) “Best Friend” manages to pull off ‘steamy’ with much more dignity than the likes of “Gang Bang”.
While MDNA is for the most part one of the most charmless and unnecessary albums this writer has ever had the misfortune to exist in the same realm as, it does actually have one or two redeeming features. Enough for a quail, anyway.
Rocksucker says: One Quail out of Five!
MDNA is available now from all the usual places. For more information, including a list of live dates, please visit google.com and type in ‘Madonna’.