The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


MDNA Emily Mackay , March 26th, 2012 14:24

Add your comment »

Trying to separate Madonna and her music from all the theorising that's followed her around like a cloud of hornets over the years is like trying to get the egg white back out of a massive meringue. She obviously finds it increasingly hard herself and her self-referentiality starts to outweigh her actual innovation. More dangerously, she's moving into a mythical position where she can do no wrong in the eyes of many no matter what she puts out (her worst-received album, Hard Candy, still went gold in both UK and US) and her legend just keeps writing itself regardless.

This album might help with that, in that it should at least stop people trotting out the old 'constant reinvention' line. Continuing Hard Candy's pattern of awful try-hard title and 'show the young uns you've still got it' bangers, it's disappointing in its lack of ambition.

Tabloids and spanners will question if Madonna's determination to bare flesh, flaunt sex and constantly refer to herself as a 'girl' is appropriate in a 53-year-old mother of three. If she's doing anything to stick it to ageist, sexist morons, then hurrah - but that's not the problem here. It's more that with everything she's done, been and seen, is the highest Madonna wants to aim really kicking younger pretenders to the kerb? Minaj and MIA are kept close(r), with two guest spots each, and Rihanna put in her place with the boshin', bangin', Benny Benassi-produced 'Good Girl Gone Bad', oh sorry, my mistake, 'Girl Gone Wild', I GOT CONFUSED A SECOND THERE, whose brainless, charmless pulse is less club, more healthclub. And a Fitness First at that.

Considering the likes of Ri-Ri, Perry et al are merely titting around in a sandbox that Madonna among others marked the edges of, you'd think she could at least let the kiddoes have a go on the swings for a while and carve out some fresh territory. 'Some Girls', a return to the theme of Hard Candy's 'She's Not Me' (essentially: step off, little girl, I invented this shit) is less attitude, more platitude by now. None could deny the pure rush of 'Hung Up', but its point was proved and its template exhausted seven years ago. What would be much more interesting now would be a song where Madonna maintains, yes, her right to act as young and dumb as she feels, but also brings her wit and wisdom to bear, rather than screaming "die bitch! Drive bitch!" like a My Family sitcom writer's idea of gay camp as she does on the as-bad-as-the-title-suggests 'Gang Bang', all minimal thudding, creepy monotonous verses and the sound of cocking guns (yawn) and police sirens (Madonna can still get arrested, you know), somewhere between Rihanna's 'Russian Roulette' and Uffie's 'Pop The Glock'.

'I'm Addicted' is better, bubbly and glinting, and "your name is somewhere between a prayer and a shout... when did your name change from language to magic" is more like a good Madonna lyric (even if she does rhyme the latter with tragic). 'Turn Up The Radio' is disposably cute, but by-the-numbers lyrics and chorsues like this are for girls that can't get any better, and Madonna is surely a woman that can do and get whatever she wants. The whole thing just sounds like she's playing it safe. Working with electro-house chap Benassi, best known for monumentally annoying 2003 club hit 'Satisfaction', Martin Solveig, a French pop-house bod best known for Dragonette collaboration and Paper Planes sampling 'Hello', plus old pal William Orbit is certainly pushing no one's boundaries. I mean, at least it's not Diplo, but y'know.

After the first play of this album, I sat down and had a hard think about which of those songs I'd want to play again first. The only one that stuck in the head most was 'Give Me All Your Luvin', whose cheerleader chants and thrumming rhythm are kind of excruciating, but at least catchy. Minaj and MIA are as effortlessly awesome as they can both be when limited to just a few lines. Say what you like about Maya, but she sounds a deal more plausible that Madonna herself on a line like "I'm gon say this once, hey I don't give a shit" but then that's perhaps just the freedom that their different career stages give as evinced by Madge's embarrassingly prostrate apology for the Super Bowl Finger (although more than likely they all had a good laugh about it behind closed doors). Oddly, for a single so tame, Madonna seems to see it as a challenge "Every record sounds the same, you've got to step into my world"? We're already in your bloody world! It was kind of your responsibility to step out of it and make a record that didn't sound the same, so don't bloody badger us about it.

This is perhaps what grates most, the winky-winky see-what-I-did-there way she still assumes she's shocking and challenging us and the constant, self-satisfied nods to her own past, like Nicki Minaj's "you can be my boy toy" to her own "you can be my lucky star" on 'Give Me All Your Luvin'. The album opens with a spoken-word stab at her most fruitful bugbear, religion, ("Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all my sins, for I dread the loss of heaven and the pain of hell, but most of all because I love thee, and I want so badly to be good") picked up again on 'I'm A Sinner''s reworking of 'Ray Of Light'/'Beautiful Stranger', but where 'Like A Prayer' felt like a genuine engagement with her troublesome faith, this just feels like Priests-And-Prostitutes party button pushing,

For someone who's already picked up and referenced the media's obsession with her ability to remake and remodel herself in the name of her 2004 Reinvention World Tour, Madonna's kind of made her bed to lie in; coasting isn't enough. She's already had a very recent victory lap in the form of 2009's Celebration, her third best-of. This, her first album since departing Warners after 25 years, should have been one that was pushing forwards, or even better, sideways. Sadly, it very much MDNain't.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.

Mar 26, 2012 9:57am

Nice thoughtful piece. I think it's not so much people deny her the right as a grown woman to occasionally act like a wild & happily slutty girl, but that we doubt she does anything of the kind. There is 'real life' Madonna who is such an obvious control freak & health nut, then there is the cartoon Madonna of lyrics & videos who is still givin it large in shady 4 am nightclubs. The two never seem to really convincingly converge any more, at any point, in her art, as they did in her brilliantly veiled early stuff. Subsequently, most Madonna "songs" now just seem to be by-rote shouty catch-phrases, apparently produced by a downloaded 'ballsy Madonna lyric' app.

Reply to this Admin

Mar 26, 2012 12:22pm

I like the fact that TheQ is reviewing the Madonna album and also the fact it doesn't just dryly dismiss it in a couple of lines but genuinely writes it up.

Too many other sites are either praising it blindly, almost without reference to the content, or using it as cannon fodder for pre-prepared jibes as rehashed as the album - neither of those are really good places to start a review from.

Keep doing what you do and surprise us from time to time.

Reply to this Admin

Mar 26, 2012 2:03pm

Smashing review this. I quite like the title though...

Reply to this Admin

Matt Lindsay
Mar 26, 2012 4:26pm

This review makes the album an even more unappealing prospect than I was expecting it to be. You could say that as someone who has been so shrewdly aware of zeitgeist,Madonna is merely reflecting the stagnant, peripheral role pop music has come to play in our culture; sexercise fodder. A vapid, crudely concocted latest product from an uber-brand.As for the endless self-homage that seems to have plagued so much of her post-Ray Of Light work, Lady Gaga is cannabalizing La Ciccone's past far more effectively . A flagrant plagiarist? Perhaps but one possessed of a supple musicality, despite the tendency to disfigure her own music frequently with gaudy gimmicks. However, Madonna's prosaic phrasing and infantile vocal melodies since Music, pale in comparison. The notion that Madonna's recent output feels like forced fun, more exertion than inspiration, is possibly a hackneyed one.But when every song starts to feel like you're being dragged across the dancefloor at dawn when all you want is cocoa and pyjamas, who could argue with it?

Reply to this Admin

John Thomas
Mar 26, 2012 11:39pm

Put yourself away Grandma, nobody cares any more.

Reply to this Admin

Dan B
Mar 27, 2012 10:47am

Heard bits and bobs of this record. It's not very good, but for me is a continuation of an upward trajectory from American Life to now. If only she'd listened to Emily though, she might have got it right.

Reply to this Admin

Mar 27, 2012 12:42pm

Priests and Prostitutes? Gah, that is the worst Dungeons and Dragons knock-off ever!

Reply to this Admin