Album: Madonna, Hard Candy (Warner Brothers)

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The Independent Culture

Hard Candy: we're supposed to read the title as a self-congratulatory pun on Madonna herself, a sweet soft centre in a crisp hardbody shell; but there's another, more telling pun here, reflecting how a once diverse talent has ossified into simply satisfying the sweet tooth of functional dance-pop.

Why else would she turn to off-the-peg hit-machines The Neptunes, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake, after such success with more adventurous producers like Mirwais, William Orbit and Stuart Price? There are a few ear-catching moments – a flamenco guitar flourish, a Twin Peaks-flavoured synth pad, a section of chiming bells – but they're only tantalising glimpses of a world beyond the perfunctory duties suggested by titles like "Dance 2night" and "Beat Goes On".

The album's ultimately saved by its most ambitious offerings: the Mardi Gras marching-band bumping rumbustiously along in "4 Minutes", and "Devil Wouldn't Recognise You", which contains a glorious Beach Boys-style harmony cascade and the most intriguing melody on the disc, full of the enticing shadows and mystery absent in the other glitterball disco-stompers.

Pick of the album:Devil Wouldn't Recognise You', '4 Minutes', 'Give It 2 Me'