By: Dennis Cook
Loneliness is a crowded room
Full of open hearts turned to stone
All together all alone
All at once my whole world had changed
Now I'm in the dark, off the wall
Let the strobe light up them all
I close my eyes and dance till dawn
- Roxy Music
It's always kinda sad when a trendsetter becomes a trainspotter. Madonna virtually wrote the guidebook for radio music from 1982 well into the late '90s. Like her or not, she's still the best selling female artist of the 20th century, and Guinness World Records ranks her as the most successful female recording artist of all time. So, one feels a bit of sympathy for old Madge listening to Hard Candy (WEA/Reprise), where she takes her cues from today's chart toppers and the ghosts of discos past.
Beginning with the single entendre "Candy Shop" (a tune bested in a big way by last year's "Candyman," where Christina Aguilera bounced to DJ Premier's big band studio swing) and decked out on the cover like someone who'd give you a cheeseburger handy, Madonna's eleventh studio album tries too hard on every single level. She's long screamed, "Notice me! Dear God, notice me!" but usually gives us a decent reason to do so. Here, she just shoves everything in our face, smothering and in need of a shower.
Current single "4 Minutes" featuring Timbaland and Justin Timberlake has a creepy The Graduate vibe (especially when paired with the video), where Timberlake could well ask, "Mrs. Ciccone-Ritchie, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?" She's a fine mirror ball tinkerbell in many spots on Hard Candy but like any aging hipster clinging tenaciously to a scene they once ruled, Madonna is willing to do whatever it takes to stay in the spotlight, down to taking her cues from current flavor-of-the-months, notably a clownish, Diddy-esque cameo from Kanye West on "Beat Goes On," one of many hyper generic cuts.
Like any fading flower, her charms have wilted some, but try telling that to the stem. She attempts to exude an air of 3 am dance floor abandon but she sounds tired compared to forward movers like Gwen Stefani and Rihanna. Her weariness at chasing pop relevance surfaces in the odd lyric or line reading, and becomes fully exposed on "Miles Away, " which takes Karen Carpenter to "La Isla Bonita," one of many acts of personal recycling on her latest. There is one platinum club jewel, "Give It 2 Me," which almost stirs hope for Madonna's future work. With vocoder outbreaks and the feel of a great orgasm creeping out from the base of your spine, she tantalizes, "If you can handle it, undress me." The cut is so late '70s classic your nostrils will ache nostalgically. Madonna's always had a knack for awesome phrases that sound especially swell when chanted beneath strobe lights, and "Give It 2 Me" is double stuffed with 'em, including "Give me the bassline and I'll shake it/ Give me a record and I'll break it." There's also some nice bounce to the ounce on "Dance2Night," so maybe she should just stick with tracks with "2" in the title. "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" pleasantly revisits the floating world of 1998's Ray of Light, her last even remotely groundbreaking release.
But, these aberrations can't distract from the crushing "Love Hangover" inside Hard Candy. There was a time when she wouldn't accept what sound like castoffs rejected by her contemporaries. And while there's nothing outright awful here (depending on your tolerance for the mainstream in general) – this is as well constructed and "funky" as any Pro Tools, clean room manufactured modern dance album out there – there's also nothing original or prescient. Sadly, Hard Candy is another step towards inconsequence.
JamBase | Afterglow
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