Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Madonna: Hard Candy

I’m a Madonna fan. I’m not entirely sure how this came about, and of course I realized this just before SWEPT AWAY and AMERICAN LIFE. Despite all the bad press I held on to an admiration to this woman, an artist with a strong voice, good songs, a unique sexual allure, and a way of coming out on the bright side of most controversies. Madge’s reputation recovered slightly with the superb CONFESSIONS ON A DANCE FLOOR, but between jokes about her age and the Kabbalah thing I gather she has to establish her mainstream credibility yet again (or just work harder to maintain it). And so we have HARD CANDY, a less fizzy, more spiky pop confection that actually marks Madonna’s last work for Warner Bros., though I’m not sure where she’s supposed to be going next. It’s an extensive collaboration with Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, and about ten million producers, and Kanye West shows up at some point also. Despite the behind-the-scenes army involved here it’s still very much her show, and a tight, solid piece of work.

The big single from this that kicked up a lot of positive buzz was “4 Minutes”, featuring both Timberlake and Timbaland, but it’s the opening track, “Candy Shop”, that establishes the feel of the album. It’s got a driving, insistent beat, and lyrics that are actually more sexual than she’s been in the last few albums- I think there are bits of it that make “Justify My Love” look subtle. Like CONFESSIONS, this is a dance album- in fact I’m fairly sure I heard the phrase “dance floor” more times here than there. I think there’s one song that doesn’t mention it. A certain sameyness is risked, which isn’t necessarily bad, but at this early stage it’s harder to single out specific tracks. “She’s Not Me”, in which the singer faces the dilemma of her ex not only having a new lover but said lover having copied her style completely, stands out- it reminds me of Kirsty Maccoll’s “Treachery” for some reason, and it’s got a nice edge. It’s bookended by the more wistful “Miles Away” and the more upbeat “Incredible” (which does go on a bit, though it’s not bad.) I also liked “Dance 2Night” for its casual beat and egalitarean lyrics. The closest thing to a weak track here would be “Spanish Lesson”, if only because it’s a bit of a retread, but it’s fun in a way that recalls her early work, and not just “La Isla Bonita.” The last two tracks do mark a change of pace, being slower and more surreal- it’s a nice capper.

Madonna’s voice hasn’t lost any of its distinctiveness, and she uses the blunt texture of it to good effect. The rhythm is excellent, and the beat even borrows a bit of influence from modern R&B, blending that with the modern disco of CONFESSIONS and MUSIC. There are touches of 80s pop in there as well- overall it’s eclectic but surprisingly of a piece.

I think I don’t like this album quite as much as I did CONFESSIONS ON A DANCE FLOOR, but that may be a question of how my tastes run- it was more of a rich retro feast, this is more modern and sharp. And I have to point out that for better and worse this is mostly a first impressions review, but my impression is definitely positive. Okay, the cover design is kind of sloppy and I’m sure I have that font in Appleworks, but whatever. The point is, this is good music. Madonna may have to fight more these days to stay relevant, but when she’s up against the wall it seems to do her good. I’m glad she’s feeling punchy.

Grade: B+

Getcher Hard Candy here, or through the image above, or at the sidebar. Don't eat it all at once, though, y'hear?

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