Nearly 30 years after first hitting the Billboard charts in late 1982 with her debut single "Everybody," Madonna is still showing the pop world how it's done.
"MDNA" -- her 12th studio album -- is a collection of thoroughly pumping pop tunes, some of which are slices of sheer brilliance. Not only does Madonna take us to the club with "MDNA," she exhausts us, drains us, and confides in us. Five minutes after an aerobic workout on the dance floor, we're in her private booth, where she's spilling her guts about relationships and how things just didn't turn out the way they planned. Then, another five minutes later, we're back to dancing up a storm to a song like "Gang Bang."
Yes, "Gang Bang."
The track is one of the album's many stand-outs. It's a dark, throbbing tune that is twisted and surprising and altogether pop-tastic. (Yes, that's a word.)
Also notable is the summery pop nugget "Turn Up the Radio," the full-throttle digital rave-up of "I'm Addicted" and the driving, clever word play of "Love Spent."
"MDNA" reunites Madonna with her "Ray of Light" co-producer William Orbit, who polishes her songs with cosmic flourishes and rushes of fuzzy-retro bits. Madonna also enlists the production assistance of Martin Solveig, the Demolition Crew, Benny Benassi, Alle Benassi, Hardy "Indiigo" Muanza and Michael Malih. (Find production credits here .)
Curiously, the set's first single -- the rah-rah "Give Me All Your Luvin'" -- doesn't properly prepare the listener for what they're going to get on the album. Basically: set it aside and go into "MDNA" with a clean slate.
Here's a Track-By-Track Take on "MDNA":
"Girl Gone Wild"
Eight songwriters, including British pop singer Mika (?!), collaborated on the song. On March 8, he Tweeted that it's "weird as fuck, underground and lyrically cool, it's amazing and bizarre. I love it, she sounds so good singing words so harsh." Madonna sing/speaks over the tweaky production about how she keeps her "enemies close" and how she "shot my lover in the head." Truly, "Gang Bang" is going to be one of the most talked-about tracks on the album and is completely unexpected after hearing "MDNA's" first two singles (the cheery "Give Me All Your Luvin'" and dance-by-numbers "Girl Gone Wild").
"Gang Bang's" lyric "Drive bitch!" -- so eloquently used in the song -- will become quite the catchphrase in the coming months. (Notably, as "Gang Bang" is explicit -- and perhaps un-editable -- it will be omitted from the "clean" version of "MDNA." A shame.)
"Turn Up the Radio"
"Give Me All Your Luvin'"
"Some Girls" The album's second William Orbit co-production, "Some Girls" will likely remind listeners of his work on the "Ray of Light" album. The tune has his trademark swirly, cosmic-like flourishes that zig-zag out of the speakers. On the track, Madonna lyrically references herself with the line "put your loving to the test" (oh hay "Express Yourself!") whilst elsewhere singing "I never wanna be like some girls."
"Superstar" Notably this track features the backing vocals of Madonna's eldest child, Lourdes (credited as Lola Leon), and name checks everyone from Marlon Brando and Michael Jordan to Julius Caesar and Abraham Lincoln. The gist here is: "Ooh la la, you're my superstar" and "I'm your biggest fan, it's true." Armed with yet another kicky dubstep bridge, Madonna also amusingly sings about how the "Superstar" subject of her devotion is "like John Travolta, getting into the groove." (Get it? She's referencing herself again -- but in a smart, cheeky way.)
"I Don't Give a F" (featuring Nicki Minaj) A very rat-a-tat-tat song, where Madonna barrels through a list of rants that vaguely reminds one of her rapping on the "American Life" single. She sings about how she "tried to be your wife" (Hey, Guy!) and "in the end it was a failure." Nicki Minaj puts in her second appearance on the album, where she closes her feature with the swipe "There's only one Queen and that's Madonna. Bitch!" The song ends with a rather lengthy orchestral bit that's epic and sweeping, but comes out of nowhere.
"I'm a Sinner" Reminiscent of William Orbit's own Ultra Violet remix of the "Ray of Light" single, the chugging track is so very, very Orbit. It's like the love child of "Beautiful Stranger" (another Orbit co-production) and "Ray of Light." Mid-way through, Madonna gets inspirational and recites "Hail Mary full of grace / get down on your knees and pray" followed by "Jesus Christ hang on the cross, died for our sins it's such a loss" and so on. (Yes, there's more, but we couldn't write that fast.)
"Masterpiece" This was the first taste the public got of "MDNA," as it was unveiled late last year as the closing-credits song of the Madonna-directed film "W.E." (Though, at the time, it was unclear if the track would ultimately turn up on "MDNA.") The Golden Globe-winning track is very pretty -- percolating along with a clicky little beat, an acoustic guitar and delicate strings. Madonna's vocals are lovely, comparing someone to "a rare and priceless work of art."
"Falling Free" The quite gorgeous ballad reunites Madonna with her brother-in-law Joe Henry, who has co-written at least one song now on four different Madonna albums. He co-penned "Don't Tell Me" from 2000's "Music" album, as well as "Jump" from "Confessions on a Dance Floor" and "The Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" from the diva's last set, 2008's "Hard Candy." As an album-closer, it's perfect, with the lyric "I let loose the need to know / we're both free -- both free to go . . . "