Review Summary: Madonna's sound sounds great on MDNA, as for Madonna herself, not so much.
MDNA is in no way a big deal. It may be Madonna’s first album in a while, but the content here is nothing for even die hard fans to go crazy about. But music can be good without being anything really special, and listeners should keep that in mind while listening to MDNA. This music may not push Madonna’s sound in any real massive new direction, and it certainly doesn’t push Madonna’s sound above and beyond the state of current pop music, (which Madonna became praise-worthy of doing in the first place) so Madonna ends up adjusting and adapting to modern music on this album instead of furthering it.
Madonna never claimed MDNA would be something no one has heard before in pop music, or a return to her roots, she obviously just wants this to be a satisfactory record that shows that she’s still got it despite her age and the amount of time that’s passed since Hard Candy. And the modernization of the music aspect of this works surprisingly well. MDNA is heavily electronic oriented, infusing her typical preference of poppy dance numbers with echos of euro-dance, and even some tiny hits of deadmau5-ish dubstep on a few tracks.
This is pop electronica that sports many dimensions in its moods, not just the standard, giddy, and cartoony ring-tone syth-beats female signers like Ke$ha sing over. The music often alternates between gleeful and upbeat snaps and bops, to grinding, and hip invigorating downtempo club booms, frequently all within the same track, and the sleek production makes sure it all comes together smoothly and without rough edges, unlike the random mess of keyboards and over-the-top sexuality that was Hard Candy.
For another shot at modernization, Madonna also incorporates rapping into a couple of tracks, courtesy of Nicki Minaj. This also works surprisingly well with the music, as Nicki is only featured as a guest on the tracks, and she makes great use of the little time she has on the record, delivering some appropriate rhymes that flow well with the records attitude. Also, it’s interesting to hear Nicki rap over more production heavy, and more club-dance oriented beats than that of her own.
The transition from Madonna’s singing into Nicki’s rapping isn’t an abrupt change in styles, because of how well of a choice Nicki is for a rapper here. She blends in well because if a male rapper was in her place instead, he wouldn’t bring the estrogen and sexuality Nicki brings that fit with Madonna and her themes, and a change in gender would be inevitably abrupt as it always is anyway, the style change is eased by the consistent lustful personalities of both Nicki and Madonna.
On the topic of sexuality, while containing tracks such as “Girl Gone Wild”, “Give Me All Your Luvin’”, and “Gang Bang” MDNA is actually more subtle in its sexuality than Hard Candy was despite this, but even if it is a welcome decline, even the slightest amount of sexuality would be better off eliminated from the album, as there is the overlaying and inescapable distraction of Madonna’s notable age. The issue is that in a possible method to sound young, Madonna only goes for a light pitch in her voice and has absolutely no leniency in her delivery, resulting in Madonna sounding very robotic and very emotionless on this album.
Just listening to the Chorus of the first track “Girls Gone Wild” will show how Madonna doesn’t bring the convincingly sexy, lustful, and flexible tones of the character needed in the execution to match what she is singing about. She’s sounds very bland, dull, and plain, and for tracks that are supposed to be dance evoking, the music does it’s job, but not the women at the helm.
There’s no differentiation in her melodies, as she just consistently keeps this same soft pitch in each track that lacks the urgency, and energy of younger modern day pop stars, and makes everything she is saying sound anything but interesting. She doesn’t even cohesively gel with her backing music, it sounds like there’s Madonna’s voice, and the music is just separately there on the side.
Overall, Madonna’s goal and intention is, and always was, to make good music, and she accomplishes making good and relevant MUSIC with this album from a lot of attention and care, although she herself did not transition over as well as the music itself did.