First Listen: Madonna, MDNA, Interscope

Madonna shows the new generation of divas she's still top of the pops

Andy Gill
Thursday 08 March 2012 01:00
Madonna, performing at the Super Bowl, could see off younger rivals
Madonna, performing at the Super Bowl, could see off younger rivals

With digital technology making it possible to create hits quite acceptably in your spare room, the older studios are feeling the pinch, and keen to find new ways of monetising their profile. Which may be why Abbey Road's Studio 2, is tonight playing host to a playback of the new Madonna album, MDNA.

She's opted to work primarily with three co-producers, the Italian Marco "Benny" Benassi, Frenchman Martin Solveig, and Englishman William Orbit – all of them celebrated for their cutting-edge work in electronica. Orbit, of course, has worked with Madonna before, helming the hugely successful Ray Of Light album; but he's not the only echo of former glories present on MDNA, which at times seems determined to remind one of her previous achievements.

There's the faint melodic similarity to "Hung Up" in part of "Give Me All Your Luvin'"; the reference to Brando in the obvious hit single "Superstar", which reminds us of "Vogue"; and the religious undertones of "I'm A Sinner", with its lines about "Mother Mary, full of grace" and "Jesus Christ up on the cross", which is like a less complex play with the same themes so brilliantly manipulated in "Like A Prayer".

Is she, one wonders, bringing the full weight of her CV to bear in re-establishing her pop dominance in the face of inroads made by the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga? Because MDNA represents a determined, no-nonsense restatement of the Madonna brand following the lacklustre Hard Candy, on which her hip-hop collaborators failed to apply their talents as rigorously as they might.

Here, the likes of Solveig and Benassi, for all their parochial successes, are still hungry enough to ensure the zonking great beats and synthesiser riffs are sculpted for maximum propulsion. "Girl Gone Wild" opens the album with a variant on the "girls just wanna have fun" theme, Madonna's introductory spoken "confession" quickly giving way to a fulsome electro stomper laced with blurry dubstep touches. "Gang Bang" is all too eager to court controversy, its martial beat and twitchy minimal strands of synth hosting the star's arch commands to "Die, bitch!". M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj guest on "Give Me All Your Luvin'", chanting "L! U! V! Madonna!" before contributing babble-raps swamped by the techno pulse.

Minaj reappears on "I Don't Give A", like a henchman adding muscle to Madonna's assertive claims of being the best: "There's only one queen, and that's Madonna, bitch!". Wherever Lady Gaga is, her ears are probably burning.

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