The middle-aged Material Mum has made a great disco album, a frisky and frenetic return to her under-the-mirror-ball roots that glows with the self-knowledge gained during decades spent in the spotlight.
Unfortunately, that record is called Music, and it came out in 2000. Madonna’s new album, Confessions on a Dance Floor (Warner Bros.), out Tuesday, employs a similar strategy. In an attempt to sweat out the hangover left from the portentously political and widely lambasted American Life (2003), Confessions puts on its boogie shoes and never lets up.
There are no ballads on Confessions, and the music, literally, never stops: As with a remix album, one track seamlessly flows into another. So while the beats-per-minute occasionally drop, precipitously, the soundtrack to your workout never grinds to a halt.
This is largely to the good: I’m all for the unapologetically poppy, hedonistic, pose-striking, media-manipulating, world-dominating Madonna of the ’80s. Pack a copy of The Immaculate Collection (1990) in my desert-island duffel bag.
And on Confessions, working principally with producer Stuart Price – who sometimes pretends he’s French, and calls himself Jacques Lu Cont or Les Rhythmes Digitales – the mother of all MTV-era dance-floor divas aims to evoke the late disco-era vibe of early successes such as “Holiday” and “Lucky Star.”
But it’s easier to maintain buns of steel as a 47-year-old mother of two – as Mrs. Guy Ritchie inarguably has, as anyone knows who has seen her writhing in a pink leotard in the video for “Hung Up,” Confessions’ catchy Abba-sampling first single – than it is to turn back the clock creatively.
Madonna has scored her share of late-career triumphs – not only Music, a collaboration with French producer Mirwais Ahmadzai, but also Ray of Light, the 1998 teaming with British knob-twiddler William Orbit, which resulted in some of the most soul-stirring music of her career.
Confessions is not up to that level, in part because it’s such a self-conscious effort at party-starting. “I want people to jump out of their seats!” Madonna says in her publicity materials, which identify her as “the ultimate disco queen.” “My record is all about having a good time straight through and nonstop.”
And though its ambitions are allegedly escapist, in contrast to American Life’s awkwardly rapped preachiness, Confessions isn’t merely a collection of party tunes. There’s truth in titling, too: It means to serve as a sort of aural autobiography that follows Madonna through love affairs (“Get Together”) and heartbreaks (“Sorry,” which begins with her mouthing apologies in several languages), as she sings about treasuring her family (“Jump,” cowritten with brother-in-law Joe Henry) and praising her husband as a motivator (“Push”).
There’s only one absolute turkey – the monumentally silly “I Love New York.” The London resident rhymes: “I don’t like cities, but I like New York / Other places make me feel like a dork.” And in what may be the lamest anti-Bush protest lyric ever recorded: “If you don’t like my attitude, then you can eff off / Just go to Texas, isn’t that where they golf?”
And there are a handful of standouts. “Isaac” drew the ire of Israeli Kabbalist rabbis who objected to Madonna’s writing a song about 16th-century Jewish mystic Yitzhak Luria, whose name is not to be used for profit, according to Jewish law. Madonna says she did no such thing. She says the song, in which she sings of the need to “wrestle with your own darkness,” is named for Yitzhak Sinwani, whose singing of a Middle Eastern vocal lends the string and drum-machine track a welcome exoticism.
“Future Lovers,” the one track produced by Madonna with Ahmadzai rather than Price, uses some of the studio trickery that made Music such a crackling candy-colored delight, with beats that sound like spinning helicopter blades carrying the singer toward a captivating chorus.
And the closing “Like It or Not” rides a bouncy groove as Madonna compares herself to Cleopatra and Mata Hari while reminding us that, love her or don’t, she’s “never gonna stop.”
Elsewhere, the album is serviceable and effective – Madonna’s a pro, and she knows how to make a disco record with enough blood-quickening energy to push you through your power yoga class. But these Confessions don’t tell us anything we haven’t already heard.