Judging precisely the point at which the curve of edgy innovation tips before rolling full force into the mainstream is a real skill. Being too far ahead of the curve can be as commercially disastrous as being behind it, but whether it’s her choice of producers or use of sonic tropes, no one can deny Madonna’s talent for timing. Superficial it may be, but that vowel-free title is very on-trend, even if (because?) it confuses Madge’s name with an illegal substance.
The ‘sell’ for her 12th studio LP is that it’s a mix of Confessions on a Dancefloor and Ray of Light, but in truth, it’s much more like Hard Candy part II – and thus rather more disappointing. There’s none of the groovy nu-disco of Confessions… and little of the melodic house of Ray of Light. Rather, it’s a steamroller-subtle ride through the vogueish heartlands of super-glossy electro, R&B-pop, house, hip hop, industrio-funk, dubstep and, erm, Celtic folk.
More than anything, MDNA is an example of the Gaga/Jay-Z Effect writ large. The monstrous, hybrid sounds of these artists have built up an almost gladiatorial force, creating expectations of modern pop that nobody in the chart-conquering biz can afford to deny. Which is why it’s characterised by brutal, jackhammer beats, deep space and distorted effects with high-sheen production – effective, but not very individual.
That said, there are thrills aplenty in ‘Gang Bang’, which suggests Sin City come to life via menacing lyrics, squealing tyres and police sirens, the agreeably bubblegum-y ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’ (featuring Nicki Minaj), and the Justice-style ‘I’m Addicted’. MDNA is big, certainly. And it’s canny, if not clever. But essentially, it’s the sound of a proven formula being tweaked. Again.