Review Summary: MDNA definitely will get you hooked.
Making pop music is a rather complex act, contrary to common sense. One has to think, in the beginning, in a pop sentence which the general public must connect with in various levels, from instant recognition of the song’s aesthetic (pop music, in the end of the day, must be catchy) to a more profound and contextualized comprehension, emerging itself into the whole album and artist’s imagery. All this process has to be injected with the very soul of the pop artist to make it work, though. Madonna doesn’t play this game in which she was crowned queen since 2005’s Confessions on a Dancefloor, but that doesn’t mean she’s lost her ways.
“I’m Addicted”, disguised as romantic allegory, sees her selling the image of a pop artist by excellence and, mostly, by necessity. “When does your name changed from language to magic?”, she asks, reciting then the name of the album, inviting us to recognize that doing this is on Madonna’s own DNA. That’s the kind of sentence that makes the involvement and integration of the artist with its work clear, and that’s just refreshing to hear from a Madonna record after her producer-puppet era on Hard Candy.
Second single “Girl Gone Wild” finds her in a very clever thematic return to her career beginnings. Madonna can still claim to be a “material girl” as a form of liberation through music, and the fact that she’s doing so also indicates that she recognized one of her mistakes: taking herself too seriously. Specially after a public divorce, she needs to make a point on still being a girl that just want to have fun. On the other hand, “I Don’t Give A” excels on the mission of showing that the defiantly confident and strong-willed Madonna is still around. Martin Solveig’s beats let the singer go through a series of machine-gun, quite explicit verses, and you can’t help but give Nicki Minaj some credit when she whispers “there’s only queen, and that’s Madonna” before the rise of choirs that closes the song.
Her obsession with being relevant screams on “Gang Bang” and its dubstep breakdown. However, the real stand-out here is William Orbit’s elegant-as-ever work on production, putting sledgehammer beats together with subtle touches of synth and organic sounds. Madonna delivers an essentially interpretative (and very captivating) vocal, playing a Beatrix Kiddo-like character. There’s moments here when her voice is granted more space, like “Turn Up The Radio”. The anthemic chorus sees Madonna raising her voice to the heights of heaven, right where she wants to lift your soul to with this song. Solveig plays it right again, showing that he’s here to give Madonna the freshness she needed to continue rewriting the rules of her own game.
The last portion of the album, in the MDNA-MDMA analogy, stands for the moment when the drug erases all the euphoria caused by its own effects. There’s certain bitterness on “Love Spent”, “Masterpiece” and “Falling Free”, and certain sadness, that were buried under dance beats and vindictive instinct (or auto-affirmation, or challenging boldness) on the rest of the album. “Love Spent” traces comparisons between love and money, portraying the fall of an ideal. Orbit is the right man to turn this into music, on the form subtleties (chords, guitars) in the middle of an essentially electronic mix.
“Masterpiece” is a Spanish-guitar driven ballad, and it’s also a moving love statement. But there is a kind of melancholy when you hear her sing “and I can’t tell you why it hurts so much to be in love with a masterpiece/ ‘cause after all, nothing is indestructible”. But why “Falling Free” is such a shock? Maybe it’s the context Madonna and Orbit set for the song, making the listener comfortable and taking it to a more intimate surrounding, but let’s not be so cynical. Madonna shows herself a lot more naked and vulnerable here than at any previous moment of her career I can recall. And that’s just simply the way real pop music should be: beautifully humane.