Madonna's 12th studio collection has a few faults, but it's still a fantastic pop album
Nick Levine 2012
Madonna is judged to a higher standard than the common or garden songbird. When you've sold 300 million records, racked up enough hits to omit Deeper and Deeper from your two-CD greatest hits set, and generally become the sort of pop culture colossus who can publish a book featuring a photo of yourself hang-gliding naked, well, people just expect more.
Which is why the opening song on her 12th studio album is so disheartening. It's a fairly charmless genero-banger called Girls Gone Wild on which this 53-year-old mother-of-four trills: "You got me in the zone / DJ play my favourite song."
MDNA picks up as soon as it finishes, but it's never the most innovative or sonically adventurous Madonna LP. Featuring production from French DJ Martin Solveig, house maestro Benny Benassi and Madge veteran William Orbit, it sounds contemporary(ish) rather than cutting edge. Nor is it a cohesive artistic statement like 1998's Ray of Light. At times, Madonna seems to be using her lyrics to teach her kids the meaning of the word cliché. If she's not "a fish out of water", she's "a bat out of hell" or "a moth to a flame"… Got it now, Rocco?
However, there's no denying MDNA delivers thrills. In true Ciccone fashion, club pop pounders like Some Girls, Love Spent and Turn Up the Radio seem to push a bit harder than the competition – that last one's got a drop like an open manhole. MDNA also has something the last two Madge albums lacked: ballads, both of which are quite lovely.
Best of all, several moments prompt a welcome sigh: "God, only Madonna". Gang Bang is a preposterous piece of pop schlock featuring gangster film sound effects and the old girl gunning – quite literally – for revenge. I Don't Give A has Madge rapping and ribbing herself in the process: "Ride my horse, break some bones / Take it down a semitone." I'm Addicted climaxes with a pulse-quickening "M-D-N-A" chant; when they're old enough, it'll define ‘iconoclastic’ to her brood.
The result? It's got its faults, but MDNA isn't just a good pop album, it's a good Madonna album too.