The Star Observer’s resident entertainment writer Nick Bond visited Universal Music’s head offices this morning and sat down for the first Australian listen of Madonna’s new album MDNA, out next Friday.

Here’s his track-by-track verdict on the queen of pop’s 12th studio album.

GIRL GONE WILD
No doubt you’ve heard this one by now — it’s the second single. Things start promisingly with a melodramatic spoken-word prayer intro (very Act of Contrition) but soon go downhill once the song kicks off: for a party song about going wild, Madge has never sounded so bored and lifeless. There are ingredients for a solid Confessions-esque dance song here, but the production (courtesy of the Benassi brothers) sucks the drama out of the song — it’s rushed and monotone throughout. And once you’ve seen the bizarre unofficial parody video that’s been circulating over Facebook in the past few weeks, it’s hard to listen to it the same way again (YouTube ‘Madonna Girl Gone Wild Official Music Video’ if you want a giggle). But fear not, dear readers: there’s much, MUCH better to come…

GANG BANG
…Like this. A bizarre (that’s a good thing) five-plus minute mix of pulsating beats and super-dark lyrics. Rifles crack in the background as Madonna snarls one of the album’s most memorable choruses: “Bang bang, shot you dead/shot my lover in the head”. It’s a little bit Nancy Sinatra, a little bit trance. Trancy Sinatra? In the song’s final minute, the camp melodrama gets ratcheted up as both the music and lyrics become more and more aggressive, with Madge finishing the track screaming like a ’70s sexploitation siren: “Drive bitch! And while you’re at it, die bitch!”



I’M ADDICTED

This wall-of-sound electro house banger sounds like Girl Gone Wild done right. The track builds from quiet verses into an ear-splitting ’90s house chorus. Lyrically, we get our first nod to the true inspiration for the album’s title — “Flows through my body igniting my brain/it’s like MDMA”. “I need to DANCE,” Madge growls at one point, and it’s hard to argue with her.

TURN UP THE RADIO
Earmarked as the campaign’s third single, this really should’ve been our first taster of MDNA. It’s producer Martin Solveig’s best track on the album — gorgeous ’80s Madonna verses give way to an immensely catchy chorus, and Madge’s vocals are at their sugary best. Basically, it’s the antithesis of Girl Gone Wild — a party song about having fun that ACTUALLY SOUNDS FUN.

GIVE ME ALL YOUR LUVIN’
We’ve all heard it, and — judging by the pisspoor chart positions — very few of us like it. We maintain the unpopular opinion that it’s a great ’60s-influenced slice of dance-pop, with killer (if all-too-short) verses from Nicki Minaj and MIA. In the context of the songs around it, though, it certainly screams ‘album track’ rather than ‘comeback single’.

SOME GIRLS
A solid electro-glam stomper. Not the strongest track here, either lyrically or musically, but comes with a VERY William Orbit bridge that could’ve been lifted straight off the Ray of Light album.

SUPERSTAR
A gorgeous slice of effortless Madonna pop fluff, in the vein of True Blue or Cherish. Lourdes provides backing vocals but we couldn’t hear her – what we could hear were lyrics that ranged from the sublime (“like John Travolta, getting into the groove”) to the ridiculous (never has the phrase “You can have the password to my phone” been delivered with such gravitas). Sadly, also comes with the most unwelcome dubstep interlude in a song since Vanessa Amorosi’s Gossip.

I DON’T GIVE A F
Lyrically, this one treads a similar path to American Life, It’s Madonna in defence mode, telling us all just how hard it is being head of the global empire that is Madonna Inc. Probably not her most GFC-friendly track, but we could see Gina Rinehert getting down to this one. Musically, it’s the damp squib that was Hard Candy done right: pop-flavoured hip-hop, with a guest verse from Nicki Minaj. Nicki announces, “There’s only one queen and that’s Madonna, BITCH!” before a demented orchestral finish — grandiose choirs, crashing cymbals and escalating strings.

I’M A SINNER
Produced by William Orbit, this comes off like an updated version of Beautiful Stranger and Amazing. Could’ve been on Ray of Light or Music (this is a very very good thing — we love you William Orbit!) This ain’t no church confessional — it’s Madonna at her most joyful: “I’m a sinner/I like it that way” runs the chorus. There’s even a bridge in which Madge namechecks Jesus, the Virgin Mary and a few saints in dismissive, tongue-in-cheek fashion. Sure to piss a few people off.

LOVE SPENT
A very nice surprise — the one-minute clip that’s been circulating doesn’t do this track justice. With banjos, video game noises, strings and electro beats, this is Orbit’s most eclectic production. Top-shelf pop, with more of those gorgeously sugary ’80s-era vocals from Madonna.

MASTERPIECE
Keen fans will have already heard this one as it surfaced late last year on the soundtrack to Madonna’s film W.E. It’s nice to hear her in ballad mode — something of a rarity these days — but this isn’t one of her best. If stunning soundtrack ballad Time Stood Still (from the 2000 film The Next Best Thing) never found its way onto a Madonna album, then this shouldn’t either. It does have a lovely, folksy chorus, but the song’s central conceit — comparing a lover to a priceless work of art — is stretched to absolute breaking point by song’s end.

FALLING FREE
That’s better! A classic Madonna ballad, her first in many years. Stunning vocals, a tasteful smattering of trademark Orbit blips and bleeps, and lush strings, it’s reminiscent of American Life album closer Easy Ride. Lyrically, it’s about making peace with the end of a relationship — the first lyrical hint about her failed marriage to Guy Ritchie, of which there’s more to come.



DELUXE EDITION BONUS TRACKS

BEAUTIFUL KILLER
A tidy slice of pure pop with a VERY Martin Solveig electro riff. A great chorus and a fantastic breakdown with Papa Don’t Preach strings. Should’ve earned a place on the album proper (in place of Masterpiece, if you ask us).

I FUCKED UP
Madonna in confessional mode, as she claims at least partial responsibility for the demise of a relationship. Lyrically, she’s at her most raw and interesting. Musically, though, it’s all rather tame — a lighters-aloft power ballad.

B-DAY SONG
The ‘60s vibe of this track is heralded from its opening line “…and the beat goes on.” A collaboration with MIA, it’s a daft homage to girl groups of yesteryear. The very definition of ‘bonus track’, but a cute little oddity nonetheless.

BEST FRIEND
Again, Madonna in reflective, confessional mode. “I feel like I lost my best friend,” she sings as she lists — in intimate detail — exactly what she misses about an ex-partner. Musically, though, this one’s a bit naff — stuttering, R&B-lite beats that reminded us of Kylie’s career misstep, Red-Blooded Woman.

VERDICT:
Wisely ignoring the flaccid R&B that stunk up much of Hard Candy, MDNA sees Madonna cherry-picking the best bits of her previous few albums and making them new: the thumping dance beats of Confessions, the quiet introspection of American Life, the William Orbit squiggle-pop of Ray of Light. In doing so, she sacrifices cohesion — this feels more like a collection of songs than an ‘album’ — but comes up trumps way more often than not.

4 STARS

info: MDNA (Universal) is out in Australia on Friday, March 23.

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