Her newest release, “MDNA”—her first apart from her longtime label, Warner Bros.—is full of upbeat dance jams and simmering slow grooves, and it delivers for the most part. True, it's not nearly as top-notch as past records from the pop icon; the songs on “MDNA,” despite some risqué language, are much safer and tread familiar ground. Still, there are some standouts.
“Girl Gone Wild,” produced by Benny and Alle Benassi (Chris Brown's “Beautiful People”), starts things off nicely with its European flavor and addictive hook. Then there's “I Don't Give A,” the second track on the album to feature Nicki Minaj, and the better one (first single “Give Me All Your Luvin”' sounds like a Gwen Stefani demo circa 2004, and that's not a compliment).
The album's best song is “Love Spent,” with its Bollywood beat. It finds Madonna calling out a lover with lyrics like: “You had all of me, you wanted more, would you have married me if I were poor?” It's worth noting that the album is Madonna's first collection of new songs since she divorced director Guy Ritchie in 2008. Bitter much?
The dance sound dominates most of the 12-track set, but Madonna sometimes trips over on her own disco ball. “Gang Bang” is a complete mess, “I'm Addicted” sounds overproduced and “I'm a Sinner” is mediocre.
She shines brightest when she brings down the pace. “Falling Free” is soothing, the Golden Globe-winning “Masterpiece” from her film “W.E.” is soft and classic, and “I (Expletive) Up” sounds like a raw and honest apology to an ex (perhaps another ode to Ritchie).
On “MDNA,” Madonna has a wide array of helpers: Singer Priscilla Renea, who has written for Rihanna and Selena Gomez, co-wrote two tracks; Alain Whyte, the main songwriting partner to Morrissey, co-wrote a song; and Klas Ahlund, the producer behind Swedish dance singer Robyn, co-produced a tune.
The CD also has assists from producer Jean-Baptiste (Chris Brown, Black Eyed Peas, Kelis); British singer-songwriter Mika; and French DJ-producer Martin Solveig. Then there's usual suspect William Orbit, who produced Madonna's “Ray of Light.”
It's a bit of a mash-up, and may be the reason why “MDNA” is good, but not great.