Madonna’s genius has always been her mutability. On Ray of Light, she was the new age mama reflecting on her good fortune with William Orbit’s shimmering production washing over her. On Confessions On A Dance Floor, she was slinking around in a leotard and feathered hair to a soundtrack of classic disco and modern Euro-dance beats. And so on.
MDNA – her twelfth studio effort – feels like an album in search of an aesthetic. Who is Madonna this time around? It’s hard to say. The songs range from forgettable drivel (the banal cheerleader chants of “Give Me All Your Luvin”, featuring M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj) to pretty good club music (“Some Girls“) to self-preservation anthems (“I Don’t Give A.”) Vocally, she’s all over the place: one minute, Madge is doing her “Lucky Star” coo and the next she’s emoting in the ultra-serious Evita trill, leaving no cliché untouched (“like a moth to a flame”, “like a thief in the night”, etc.)
On “Gang Bang“, we’re introduced to a new voice in Madonna’s arsenal: a cold, dispassionate chick who fantasizes about shooting her lover dead. By the end of the song, the rage bubbles to the surface and she’s seething and snarling “Die Bitch!” over a tense beat. The production is fantastic, but it’s a head-scratching song on an album largely devoid of darkness.
Overall, MDMA feels like a grab-bag of material – a bid to reinforce Madonna’s legacy and remind us of her ease in inhabiting so many different personas.