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It’s “MDNA” Week! As Madonna releases her 12th album tomorrow (actually available on iTunes now), it should be fun to look back at her extensive and very diverse Discography to give some perspective on this new outing. In 1997 Madonna came back from a 3 year break and totally switched her sound up. Most of her albums following that groundbreaking hit followed suit, but in different ways. From 1997, up until her last album before “MDNA”, Madonna hit some triumphant high’s and some low’s but still maintained her Queen of Pop label easily.
So let’s get “MDNA” Week Officially going!
After owning the 80’s, the early 90’s were not such a great time for Madonna. She was suffering a pretty severe media backlash, and although some of her best work was released during this time, mainstream didn’t seem to give two fvcks. That is until she won the coveted title role in the film adaptation of “Evita”, followed shortly by the news she was pregnant with her first child. She scored a Golden Globe win for “Evita” and it looked like she was back in the good graces of the public. Meaning all eyes were on her highly anticipated “Ray of Light” album. And surprisingly, since it was such a stark contrast to her earlier work, the album became a huge commercial and critical success.
Madonna had shown diversity in her work up till this album, going from House to R&B to Pop, but with “Ray of Light” she chose to attack a underground genre (and the UK Underground specifically) mixing her Superstar status to an Electronica sound. The result is a beautiful mix of William Orbit’s lush yet complicated tracks and Madonna’s lyrical and melodic gifts. Orbit might have stolen the show with his very ambient, polished and almost soothing brand of Electronica, but matched with Madonna’s very introspective lyrics it makes the album an amazing stand out in her career.
Lyrically, she’s in full reflection mode, tackling her love/hate relationship with Fame (“Drowned World/Substitute for Love”, “Ray of Light”), how celebrity had affected her outlook on love (“Frozen”), and of course celebrating the life-changing job of being a mother (“Little Star”). Vocally, thanks to the training for “Evita”, she’s the best we’ll ever hear her. Everything Madonna brings to the table is top notch, very thoughtful and perfectly executed. Every now and than the relaxing vibe is interrupted by a louder more aggressive number, but overall it’s a classic album for Madonna. She really stepped out and risked a lot and it paid off in a huge way.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Best: Ray of Light, Drowned World/Substitute for Love, Skin
With “Music“, a short 10 track album, Madonna was able to balance out what was great about her previous Award winner with a throwback to her more fun side. Mirwais, who produced the bulk of the album, seamlessly mixes the very heartfelt and ambient stuff of “Ray of Light”, but also ups the tempo with some amazing Dance stuff as well. From the now classic title track, to single “Don’t Tell Me” and the insane “Impressive Instant”, you get the fun and catchiness Madonna was famous for. And with the beautiful “What It Feels Like For A Girl”, “Nobody’s Perfect” and “Gone”, you get the introspective and heartfelt lyrics we now knew she was capable of.
“Music” is easily one of my Top 3 Madonna albums, it’s just a great listen from start to finish. Amazing, inventive and inspired production from Mirwais and a fun joyful but still personal Madonna. Just a great collaboration and a great album.
Rating: 5 stars
Best: What It Feels Like For A Girl, Music, Impressive Instant
Coming after “Music”, Madonna delivered her most hard edged aggressive and risky album yet in the form of “American Life“. Easily my least favorite Madge outing, but even I have to appreciate her for going there and not compromising. The album was produced mainly by Mirwais again, ditching any elements of Pop and giving listeners a really intense and loud album that is full-on Electronia with no commercial filter. With the key-screeching on “I’m So Stupid”, and the stuttering electro-blips on the title track, it’s almost a Noise-Pop album before that term was even invented. The album does have a softer side in tracks like “Love Profusion” and “X-Static Process”, but overall the album doesn’t work for me, but still has some amazing career stand outs. “Nothing Fails” is a heartfelt ballad that truly gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it (and to this day). “Hollywood” the aforementioned “I’m So Stupid” and James Bond theme “Die Another Day” are other stand outs for me.
If you can take the noise, there’s some very personal lyricism on the album. A little grating for me, but still a decent album that’s worthy of checking out.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Best: Nothing Fails, Die Another Day, I’m So Stupid
After going so incredibly Dark, Madonna’s next album “Confessions on a Dancefloor” lightened up the mood a bit. This time collaborating largely with Stuart Price, she delivered a true Dance album. However it’s not just simple 4 to the Floor beats and simplistic lyrics (we’ll get there pretty soon), Price structures complicated futuristic tracks that may be some of the best production Madonna has sung to. There’s some motivational, inspirational tracks that pepper the album but overall it’s Madonna getting back to being fun. The mega-hit “Hung Up” is a tongue and cheek Disco-homage, “I Love New York” has in-arguably some of Madonna’s worst lyrics but the Electro-Rock track is just so fun and catchy you don’t even care. And though there are some great lyrics here and there, the album is more focused on a feeling and vibe without getting too deep. And in that way it’s a excellent album, it all flows so well together and again Madonna got even more stand out cuts for her lengthy discography. “Get Together” is perfection, one of my favorite Madonna cuts ever. “Forbidden Love”, “Let It Will Be”, pretty much every song here is a winner and one that can stand on it’s own, but as a complete album it’s just ecstasy.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Best: Get Together, Hung Up, Forbidden Love
“Hard Candy” was a perfect title for what Madonna set out to do with her next album. By enlisting Timbaland and Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams, she wanted to add a harder Hip Hop edge to her sweet Pop Dance sounds. One thing about this album, you can’t help but dance your way through it. The guys provide her with some dance-floor ready beats that make you ignore the other short comings of the songs. Those short comings though are really evident throughout the album, and another reason why “Hard Candy” is such an appropriate title because there’s almost zero substance to any of it. There are a few tracks where there’s actually a point (“Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” and oddly “Give It 2 Me”), but the majority are just party numbers where “get up on the dancefloor” and “see my booty get down” are pretty much the standard. It’s catchy stuff, and given songs like “My Humps” and “Sexyback” were dominating airwaves, seems like Madonna wanted a chance to just be silly and fun.
The lasting impression is it’s a really fun album, but not as innovative and thoughtful as we had come to expect from Madge at the point. And frankly, being a huge Neptunes and Timbaland fan some of their material was a little dated already. Pharrell really came to play and gave her some creative and different tracks (“Incredible”, “Give it 2 Me”) and Timbaland contributed a true gem in “Miles Away”, but it just had a “been there done that” “you can do better” feel.
Rating: 3 stars
Best: Heartbeat, Candy Shop, Incredible