What’s needed for a successful comeback, especially for a starlet of the 80s? Paula Abdul’s answer is to recruit modern hit making producers such as Will.I.Am to revamp her old hits and mix them with new songs. The result is a “new” album set to be released this summer. Janet Jackson attempted to pull off a similar feat with her atrocious new album “Discipline,” which for some unexplainable reason debuted at #1. For Madonna, however, a comeback is a complete change of both sound and style.
The reigning and untouchable queen of pop evolves on each one of her records, experimenting with completely different genres each time around. Most recently, it was 2005’s exquisite techno-influenced dance record “Confessions On A Dance Floor” (arguably her best work since 1998’s “Ray Of Light”) that reminded the world why we fell in love with Madge in the first place. Still conquering charts twenty-eight years after the release of the debut album that set her on the path to a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the original Material Girl is back with a new album and a brand new sound.
Having not only achieved record-breaking album and tour sales, Madonna has also been a Golden Globe winning actress (1996’s “Evita”), an author, a fashion designer for retail giant H&M, a leading figure in the Hollywood trend of Kabbalism, and the director of a humanitarian documentary called “I Am Because We Are” to raise awareness of the severe issues in Malawi. But now she is ready to rewind to the beginning of her huge resume and plunge head first back into the music market. In the process, she’s transcending the pop borders she is accustomed to and crossing over into the hip hop field.
Recruiting current platinum ensuring producer Timbaland as well as hitmakers Pharell and Nate “Danja” Hills, Madonna revolutionizes herself yet again. With the top producers in the industry working with the top pop star, it was a collaboration guaranteed to not only create another hip hop influenced pop album, but the definitive genre defining album.
On board is also former NSYNC front man and current solo megastar Justin Timberlake, who helped Madonna’s return to the scene by contributing vocals to the lead single “4 Minutes.” Already breaking records by giving her the 37th Top 10 hit of her career, the song (currently #1 on the United World Charts) has moved Madonna above Elvis Presley to the top of the list of artists with the largest number of hits in the rock era. Accompanied by a hyperactive music video featuring Madge and Justin jumping all over cars, the song gives the illusion of Madonna as a super hero – a persona not that far from the truth. No, that is not a reference to the children she adopted to create her United Colors of Bennetton friendly family portrait. It’s simply referring to the fact that over the past three decades, she has been arguably the key player in steering contemporary pop down the path it has gone. Think about it: Without Madonna, there would never have been a Britney or Christina.
The track following “4 Minutes” is the standout number “Give It 2 Me.” By far the catchiest song on the album, it is currently (smartly) slated to be released as the second single. The music of the song sounds like what one would imagine a Jay-Z/Cascada mash-up to sound like: it’s got the electric pulses of a dance song yet still plays over a hip hop structured beat. It’s virtually impossible to hear this song and not have a rush of endorphins that hunger for a dance floor.
Next comes “Heartbeat,” a smooth and chilled-out song that makes listeners feel like they’re sipping their last fruity drink at 6 a.m. after their E has worn off and the rave is clearing out. Madonna actually tries her very own rapping skills on the track momentarily, in a way that shows that she has grasped the concept of it much more than she did during her rapping debut on “American Life” a couple of years ago.
The song is succeeded by “Miles Away,” a song that feels like the lovechild of Madonna’s previous hit “La Isla Bonita” and basically any number off of the “Evita” album. Yes, it doesn’t really sound like that appealing a fusion; however, it does more than deliver. The same can be said for “Spanish Lesson,” a song clearly influenced by an urban Latin-American club sound. Any doubts about this collaboration evaporate after hooks of violent chords of a traditional Spanish guitar are heard as the song begins. Then Madonna starts singing “Yo te quiero,” only to have the listener instinctively respond with “I love you too.”
The two most hip hop influenced tracks on the album are “The Beat Goes On,” a duet with Kanye West, and “Dance 2Night,” another Timberlake/Timbaland production. The first of these two tracks sounds like Madonna broke into Rihanna’s recording studio and stole her best demo. Similarly, “Dance 2Night” could easily be the lead single off R&B diva Ciara’s upcoming new album if she won the musical lottery. Both of these songs incorporate traditional hip hop rhythms with Madonna’s trademark vocals, producing a result that is pure pop flawlessness.
The album finishes off with two darker tracks – “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” and “Voices.” These songs are layered with multiple harmonies and slow synthesized beats. Rather than tackling issues of relationships and sex like the rest of the record, the songs serve as Madonna’s crash course in philosophy, featuring lyrical questions such as “Who is the master? Who is the slave,” and “are you walking the dog, ‘cause that dog isn’t new, are you out of control, is that dog walking you?”
After “Confessions On A Dancefloor” was released, Madonna had already dominated multiple genres of music and made them work with her pop sound. That album budded off into “Hard Candy,” another album designed to make her audience shake and dance. What’s most interesting about the record is that, although it is her most recent and contemporary effort, it is the closest thing to a homage to her vintage 80’s sound. Yes, it is full of hip hop elements and modern influences, yet somehow, these manage to loop back to and compliment her original musical styling, picking up pieces of all her recent albums and intertwining them. With mediocre and rather disappointing albums like “Music” and “American Life,” hope for a post-2000 Madonna was beginning to fade. But first with “Confessions” and now with “Hard Candy,” the Queen of Pop is back in full swing—and really swinging.
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