Madonna is still very much the Queen of Pop.
Nearly 30 years after first hitting the Billboard charts in late 1982 with her debut single “Everybody,” Madonna is still showing the pop world how it’s done.
“MDNA” — her 12th studio album — is a collection of thoroughly pumping pop tunes, some of which are slices of sheer brilliance. Not only does Madonna take us to the club with “MDNA,” she exhausts us, drains us, and confides in us. Five minutes after an aerobic workout on the dance floor, we’re in her private booth, where she’s spilling her guts about relationships and how things just didn’t turn out the way they planned. Then, another five minutes later, we’re back to dancing up a storm to a song like “Gang Bang.”
Yes, “Gang Bang.”
The track is one of the album’s many stand-outs. It’s a dark, throbbing tune that is twisted and surprising and altogether pop-tastic. (Yes, that’s a word.)
Also notable is the summery pop nugget “Turn Up the Radio,” the full-throttle digital rave-up of “I’m Addicted” and the driving, clever word play of “Love Spent.”
“MDNA” reunites Madonna with her “Ray of Light” co-producer William Orbit, who polishes her songs with cosmic flourishes and rushes of fuzzy-retro bits. Madonna also enlists the production assistance of Martin Solveig, the Demolition Crew, Benny Benassi, Alle Benassi, Hardy “Indiigo” Muanza and Michael Malih. (Find production credits here .)
Curiously, the set’s first single — the rah-rah “Give Me All Your Luvin'” — doesn’t properly prepare the listener for what they’re going to get on the album. Basically: set it aside and go into “MDNA” with a clean slate.
Here’s a Track-By-Track Take on “MDNA”:
“Girl Gone Wild” The second single from “MDNA” is also the dance floor-ready opening number from the set. In a way, it’s very dance-by-the-numbers with Madonna — a “good girl gone wild” — singing about her “burning hot desire” to have some fun. The production is familiar Benny Benassi — all driving, thumping, electronic beats. It’s comparable to his remix of Madonna’s own “Celebration” single. The track does a good job of getting stuck in one’s head, thanks in large part to its “hey-yay-yay” sing-song chorus. One notable difference in hearing this track on a proper stereo setup with quality speakers: you get carried away a bit more by the “whoosh,” shall we say, of the song.
“Gang Bang” Commence freaking out, hard core Madonna fans, as “Gang Bang” is the song you’ve been waiting for. It’s dark, clubby, driving, thumping and altogether sickening. (Meaning: It’s fantastic, y’all.) Consulting our notes, the scribbles include the words “OMG,” “dubstep breakdown” and “GOD THE BEAT.” So yeah, it’s freaking amazing.
Eight songwriters, including British pop singer Mika (?!), collaborated on the song. On March 8, he Tweeted that it’s “weird as fuck, underground and lyrically cool, it’s amazing and bizarre. I love it, she sounds so good singing words so harsh.” Madonna sing/speaks over the tweaky production about how she keeps her “enemies close” and how she “shot my lover in the head.” Truly, “Gang Bang” is going to be one of the most talked-about tracks on the album and is completely unexpected after hearing “MDNA’s” first two singles (the cheery “Give Me All Your Luvin'” and dance-by-numbers “Girl Gone Wild”).
“Gang Bang’s” lyric “Drive bitch!” — so eloquently used in the song — will become quite the catchphrase in the coming months. (Notably, as “Gang Bang” is explicit — and perhaps un-editable — it will be omitted from the “clean” version of “MDNA.” A shame.)
“I’m Addicted” Hey, you wanna go dancing? We’ll meet Madonna at the club, as she’s got this fantastic, swirling, digital get-down number she wants to play for us. “Something happens to me when I hear your voice and I have no choice,” Madonna sings on the hypnotic, Daft Punk-y song. And when Madonna says in a cool, instructive tone, “I need to dance,” you know what — you’ll need to dance too. (And now we know where the title of the album comes from, as Madonna chants “MDNA” in “I’m Addicted.”)
“Turn Up the Radio” A cousin to “Girl Gone Wild,” this tune is a summery pop number that’s as effortless as it is simple. It’s mindless fun where Madonna sings about how the “temperature’s pounding'” and longing to “escape” and how she’s “sick and tired of playing this game.” (Haven’t we heard that before? Enough with the games Madonna!) — Basically the point of the song here is: “turn up the radio until the speakers blow.” While the lyrics aren’t provocative or necessarily new, it’s still a peppy little tune that would sound great “on the radio.”
“Give Me All Your Luvin” (featuring Nicki Minaj & M.I.A.) You’ve already heard “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” the album’s lead single, which peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The throwback cheerleader-like song almost seems like it was a commercial for Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show as opposed to a proper promotional single for “MDNA.” Its lyrics and vibe aren’t indicative of “MDNA” as a whole and mislead the listener into thinking the album is going to be full of singsongy jingles with by-the-numbers lyrics.
“Some Girls” The album’s second William Orbit co-production, “Some Girls” will likely remind listeners of his work on the “Ray of Light” album. The tune has his trademark swirly, cosmic-like flourishes that zig-zag out of the speakers. On the track, Madonna lyrically references herself with the line “put your loving to the test” (oh hay “Express Yourself!”) whilst elsewhere singing “I never wanna be like some girls.”
“Superstar” Notably this track features the backing vocals of Madonna’s eldest child, Lourdes (credited as Lola Leon), and name checks everyone from Marlon Brando and Michael Jordan to Julius Caesar and Abraham Lincoln. The gist here is: “Ooh la la, you’re my superstar” and “I’m your biggest fan, it’s true.” Armed with yet another kicky dubstep bridge, Madonna also amusingly sings about how the “Superstar” subject of her devotion is “like John Travolta, getting into the groove.” (Get it? She’s referencing herself again — but in a smart, cheeky way.)
“I Don’t Give a F” (featuring Nicki Minaj) A very rat-a-tat-tat song, where Madonna barrels through a list of rants that vaguely reminds one of her rapping on the “American Life” single. She sings about how she “tried to be your wife” (Hey, Guy!) and “in the end it was a failure.” Nicki Minaj puts in her second appearance on the album, where she closes her feature with the swipe “There’s only one Queen and that’s Madonna. Bitch!” The song ends with a rather lengthy orchestral bit that’s epic and sweeping, but comes out of nowhere.
“I’m a Sinner” Reminiscent of William Orbit’s own Ultra Violet remix of the “Ray of Light” single, the chugging track is so very, very Orbit. It’s like the love child of “Beautiful Stranger” (another Orbit co-production) and “Ray of Light.” Mid-way through, Madonna gets inspirational and recites “Hail Mary full of grace / get down on your knees and pray” followed by “Jesus Christ hang on the cross, died for our sins it’s such a loss” and so on. (Yes, there’s more, but we couldn’t write that fast.)
“Love Spent” “You played with my heart, till death do we part,” Madonna sings on this driving, building track. It’s got these whooshes (yes, a technical term) that hark back to ’80s tracks like Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes.” It’s a mesmerizing song that includes a wonderful little strummy bit (possibly a banjo?). The lyrics work some clever word play comparing love to money: “I want you to hold me like you hold your money / hold me in your arms till there’s nothing left.” Madonna co-wrote this track with a team of professional writers, and the assistance is evident and welcome. (We love you Madonna, but we also love it when you collaborate and produce amazing, beautiful pop, like “Love Spent.”)
“Masterpiece” This was the first taste the public got of “MDNA,” as it was unveiled late last year as the closing-credits song of the Madonna-directed film “W.E.” (Though, at the time, it was unclear if the track would ultimately turn up on “MDNA.”) The Golden Globe-winning track is very pretty — percolating along with a clicky little beat, an acoustic guitar and delicate strings. Madonna’s vocals are lovely, comparing someone to “a rare and priceless work of art.”
“Falling Free” The quite gorgeous ballad reunites Madonna with her brother-in-law Joe Henry, who has co-written at least one song now on four different Madonna albums. He co-penned “Don’t Tell Me” from 2000’s “Music” album, as well as “Jump” from “Confessions on a Dance Floor” and “The Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” from the diva’s last set, 2008’s “Hard Candy.” As an album-closer, it’s perfect, with the lyric “I let loose the need to know / we’re both free — both free to go . . . ”
“Beautiful Killer” A concept song, certainly. Madonna goes on about how there’s a “gun in my mouth” and “maybe that’s what you’ve been dreaming about” and “maybe I’ll let you shoot me down.” There’s an persistent string element here that brings to mind “Papa Don’t Preach.”
“I F****d Up” It’s Madonna just straight out saying how craptacular a particular relationship turned out (we’re guessing her marriage to Guy Ritchie). She sings, “I’m so ashamed, you’re in so much pain,” “wish I could take it back” and how she “destroyed the perfect dream.” There’s a whole lot of “couldas” here that just strike us as odd, as Madonna never was the “I’m sorry” kind of gal. She’s all about no regrets and no apologies.
“B-Day Song” A fun girl-group ditty that’s a throw back to Madonna’s “True Blue” era of good time goof-off songs. It’s light, fluffy and effortless — and very stripped down. Think Go-Go’s meets Madonna with lyrics like “Light my candles,” “make a wish” and “give me a spankin’!” (Yes, really.) Sample silly lyrics include: “I wanna diamond, don’t give me a fake!”
“Best Friend” Perhaps too personal of a song to be included on the “standard” version of the album, “Best Friend” can only be read as being about her ex-husband, Ritchie. Absolutely confessional in tone, Madonna sings “I feel like I lost my very best friend” but she has “no regrets” and that she “survived the biggest test.” The song closes, monumentally, with the heartbreaking lyric: “It wasn’t always perfect, but it wasn’t always bad.”
“Give Me All Your Luvin'” (featuring Nicki Minaj & M.I.A.) (LMFAO Remix) LMFAO reworks “Give Me All Your Luvin'” party rock style, dumping M.I.A.’s rap for lyrical insertions from Redfoo and SkyBlu.