First impressions: Madonna – MDNA

Written for Collapse Board

Madonna reminds me of the creepy old goth who used to hang out at the club hitting on the teenage girls – she’s just too old for this. She might be aiming for Samantha from SATC but she’s hitting Baby Jane. Put some clothes on, love, I hear Wallis has a sale on.

What does her appearance have to do with it? Madonna’s image has always served as 3D cover art: Ray Of Light‘s classy earth mother look reflected the grown-up sound of her most accomplished album. Her quirky bustier in the Vogue video personifies the wry kitsch of the music. The ill-judged leggings she’s been sporting in recent years … well, let’s not go there, shall we? Her image is a personification of her music, and that is undignified and faintly embarrassing.

Oh f***ing crap, is that dubstep on Gang Bang? Repeat after me: you are not 18. I feel like banging my head against this desk. When she sings, “I said drive, bitch/And while you’re at it, die, bitch” I feel like banging her head against this desk. The lyrics to each song are as trite and crass as Ray Of Light‘s were (sometimes) self-aware and insightful. I’m A Sinner makes my eyes water, but when I’m Addicted starts, I forget that she’s a dodgy old strumpet and start tapping my foot. Because it’s good. Really good. I’ll even forgive that she’s singing “MDNA” over and over. I’ll forgive the cheesy 90s synths and just lose myself in the moment.  .

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MDNA is an immensely frustrating album because it’s as bad as it is good. It shares that much with Music, which also had some fantastic songs amid some bloody awful ones. Turn Up The Radio is brilliant and dreadful at the same time – it’s like The Chemical Brothers and Rebecca Black had a baby. The inclusion of Nicki Minaj and MIA might smack of a desperate ploy to seem relevant, but it’s hard to care when the song is as fun as Give Me All Your Luvin’ – even if I did nearly hurl at that last word, and it sounds like it’s sung by My Little Ponies. When she sings “Ooh  la la you’re my superstar”, I’m thinking she should have called this MLP.

There are 18 tracks on this album, and if she cut out all the ones that don’t sound like advertising jingles on Nickleodeon (new Madonna! *botox not included), you’d have a pretty sweet deal. Some object to the EDM elements of tracks like I Don’t Give A, but I don’t resent her ambition – I wish she’d have more of it. This is when Madonna thrives, when she’s making edgy complaint pop – a defiant door slam against another divorce. She wears her anger well.

It was an album written by a committee and it shows, with wild swings between sophisticated, complex arrangements and stuff that would make a K-Pop fan gag. At its best (Beautiful Killer), MDNA would do ABBA proud, which makes the weaker tracks all the more frustrating. Madonna albums can only really be judged against other Madonna albums, and while MDNA is nowhere near her best, it’s an effort of which she can be reasonably proud. Eh, it’ll do.

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