MDNA, Madonna's twelfth studio release, is the worst album I've heard since Metallica and Lou Reed's Lulu debacle from last year. It may be even worse. Most problematic is some staggeringly bad lyrical content, which afflicts all 12 tracks. While Madonna has never been known for the depth of her songs' words, MDNA consistently shocks with the shameful lack of originality and effort put into the wordplay on these tracks. Lyric writing this poor is something I have less patience or respect for from veteran artists - that it's coming from an iconic music figure in this case makes it feel even more inexcusable. Interesting note: MDNA suffered the biggest second week sales drop-off for an album that debuted at number one in the U.S. since the SoundScan era began in 1991.
Perhaps as a disclaimer, I should mention a couple of points. First, the dance music-heavy sound that dominates MDNA is not a style I'm fond of. At all. The genre's emphasis on technology over organic instruments leaves me completely cold, which is my second biggest complaint about this album. It just feels absolutely soulless and as forgettable as any of Madonna's three previous dance remix albums. Secondly, Madonna completely lost the plot for me about a decade ago. I was actually a fairly big fan of her music from 1984's Like A Virgin up until 2000's Music. Since then, I've been increasingly unimpressed with issues such as a huge decline in songwriting quality, as well as too many tracks on 2008's Hard Candy album that were saddled with guest vocal appearances from artists I have absolutely no use for in Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Pharrel Williams and, worst of all (which is saying something with a group this awful), Timbaland.
Album opener "Girl Gone Wild" sets the tone for the aural wretchedness that will play out over MDNA's 50 minute running time, with song structures made up of heavy synths, auto-tune vocal effects, and a pulsing beat that repeats with a mind-numbing sameness. Madge treats the listener to embarrassing word turds that sound as if they were lifted off the pages of a 16-year-old girl's song journal, as opposed to coming from the brain of a 53-year-old woman and her team of songwriters. A sample from "Girl Gone Wild": "I got that burning hot desi-i-i-ire/And no one can put out my fi-i-i-ire/It's coming right down to the wi-i-i-ire", followed by "Girls they just wanna have some fun/Get fired up like a smoking gun/On the floor till the daylight comes/Girls they just wanna have some fun". She ups the ante in the "horrendous lyrical prose" department on "Superstar", a track that actually injects a sliver of life into the album on a musical level (it's track number seven). The evidence: "You're like Brando on the silver screen/You're my hero in a mythical dream/You are perfect just the way that you are/You're Mike Jordan, you're my superstar"; "You're Bruce Lee with the way that you move/You're Travolta gettin' into the groove/You're James Dean driving in your fast car/You're a hot track, you're my super-duper-star"; and a chorus that goes "Ooh la la, you're my superstar/Ooh la la, love the way that you are/Ooh la la, you're my superstar/Ooh la la, that's what you are".
When Madonna isn't doing damage to her credibility with such inept lyric writing, she invites further derision with her laughable badass posturing on "Gang Bang". Following the "Bang bang shot you dead/shot my lover in the head" refrain comes a spoken word portion at the end of the track, where Madonna gleefully welcomes the opportunity to shoot her lover in the head once again when she gets to hell. And just for good measure, she adds "Now drive, bitch/I said drive, bitch/And while you're at it die, bitch/That's right, die, bitch" a couple of times, just in case her message wasn't completely clear. Oh, did I mention this track has a total of eight songwriters, including Madonna? Fine job, team. Many would assume that the vitriol from this one is aimed at Madonna's ex, director Guy Ritchie, even though there's no specific reference to him. There are, however, a number of unmistakable digs towards him on some other tracks, such as "I Don't Give A", where the singer also boringly runs down her hectic daily schedule. Other album lowlights include a couple of terrible performances from rapper Nicki Minaj, who sings (er, raps) Madonna's praises on the aforementioned track and first single "Give Me All Your Luvin'", just so the self-inflating pop superstar doesn't come across as, you know, too full of herself. I could continue ripping on MDNA and its wall-to-wall rottenness, but that'd be like shooting fish in a barrel.
Aside from MDNA's creative vacuousness, there's other elements of Madonna's career that point to a mature artist struggling to evolve. The recent music video for "Girl Gone Wild" feels like a total rehash of the "Erotica" video, right down to its black and white look with scenes of homoerotic weirdness. I know Madonna was there first, but Lady Gaga and others have now made this type of visual presentation well-worn territory. Then there's her recent behaviour literally flashing her tits and ass to European audiences, which has the distinct, sad whiff of someone desperate to continue perpetuating her button-pushing persona. Some might say that's sexist, but I'd put the same criticism on any performing artist, male or female, well past the middle-aged point who's resorting to such cheap shock tactics. Of course, any sort of distraction away from the latest batch of rubbish material she's concocted probably helps.