Shock-Pop Diva: Madonna's 'MDNA'

Madonna seems more single-minded in her pursuit to shock on her new experimental album ''MDNA'' than ever before

By Doug Rule
Published on March 29, 2012, 5:24am | Comments

Some fans might have paused on hearing the first single, ''Give Me All Your Lovin'.'' Others might have skidded on ''Gang Bang,'' the second track on MDNA. And, in fact, there are more jarring tracks to come on Madonna's new set, which ranks as one of the most experimental albums in her oeuvre. From the get-go Madonna has garnered attention through shock, but in many ways she seems more single-minded in that pursuit here than ever before. It's as if she's tired of Lady Gaga and her reductive contemporaries stealing her shock-pop diva's thunder. ''Some girls going off the deep end,'' she sings on one track. ''Some girls have a filthy mouth, all talk and they never stop.'' That's not Madonna. ''I'm everything you ever dreamed of,'' she blithely asserts.

MDNA is not everything a fan ever dreamed of. It lacks the stunning sophistication of Ray of Light, or the cohesive brilliance of Confessions on a Dance Floor. The problem with MDNA is that it's remarkably immature and spastic – making the female pop standard-bearer sound utterly desperate in trying to one up, much less keep up with, her pop progeny.

Madonna

Madonna

(Photo by Mert + Marcus)

Which is not to say she doesn't succeed. As unruly, even abrasive, as much of it is, MDNA is certainly better than Gaga's Born This Way. Though I quibble with the 53-year-old Madonna's overuse of the term ''girl'' referring to herself, not to mention the many girlish antics she gets into here, it's certainly true she sounds as vigorous as she looks.

Among her new songs, I'm most fascinated by the gurgling synths constantly bubbling to the top of ''I'm Addicted.'' The Benassi cousins did great work on this Euro-trance number, which lyrically compares love to the club drug ecstasy. In fact, the chorus even chants ''M-D-M-A'' as the song ends. Obviously, Madonna is still finding new ways to shock.

Too often, however, she resorts to her old tricks of shocking through religion. MDNA actually features some of Madonna's most sacrilegious lyrics. ''I'm a sinner. I like it that way,'' she chirps on a carefree pop hit co-written with her old pals William Orbit and Jean-Baptiste. Later in the song, she says a prayer: ''Hail Mary, full of grace, get down on your knees and pray; Jesus Christ hanging on the cross, died for our sins, it's such a loss.''

Madonna is more disingenuous than sacrilegious on new single and album opener ''Girl Gone Wild,'' which launches with her begging God's forgiveness for sinning. ''I want so badly to be good,'' she says – until she changes her mind. ''Good girls don't misbehave,'' she sings in the bridge. ''But I'm a bad girl anyway.''

Madonna
MDNA Deluxe Edition
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''Girl Gone Wild'' is another driving Benassi production, and forget those trite lyrics, it's the music that makes you wanna hear it over and over again. Press play and start walking, especially on a busy street, or at the gym. I swear it'll get you moving better than even most dance songs do.

To my ear, MDNA most closely resembles Bedtime Stories in its techno sonic explorations – mostly for good – and American Life in its lyrical provocations – mostly for bad.'

Even with nearly a decade behind us, I still think American Life is Madonna's worst album, with its unfortunate experiments in rapping and in Mirwais-induced minimal techno. Mirwais doesn't return to the fold with MDNA, but the set does get bogged down with unfortunate rapping – this time from Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., who gunk up two tracks apiece.

MDNA is ostensibly a break-up album, but Madonna isn't much of one to express pain or show weakness, so it's easy to overlook that unless you get the Deluxe Edition. Two of the four original songs here feature Madonna expressing some heartache, even fault, about the failings of her relationship to Guy Ritchie. Most impressive is ''I Fucked Up,'' a slow, determined ballad that briefly twitches with a dance flight of fancy in its bridge, as Madonna dreams about could-have-beens. ''I fucked up, I made a mistake; nobody does it better than myself,'' she sings, with conviction. And even though she ends the sweet song on a slightly sour note – ''I wish I could have you back, maybe one day,'' she sings, pausing before the coda, ''or not'' – you still appreciate the rare, heartfelt confession.

''I Fucked Up'' is certainly superior to ''Gang Bang.'' The song is captivating in its musical heart, with its Orbit and Demolition Crew-produced pounding heartbeat rhythm. But above that are sirens, tires skidding and gunshots, and Madonna essentially rapping about how she had to kill her ex to get on with her life. ''I want to see him die,'' she shouts, ''over, and over, and over…'' she climbs her register with each ''over'' until she's practically having an orgasm.

''Now if you're gonna act like a bitch,'' she sasses, followed by a gun shot, ''then you're gonna die like a bitch,'' and another pop.

Talk about fucking up.

Download These: ''I'm Addicted,'' ''Falling Free,'' ''I Fucked Up''