WE WENT TO LISTEN TO MADONNA'S 'MDNA' AND HERE IS WHAT WE DISCOVERED (IN A NUTSHELL IT'S PRETTY LISTENABLE)

 

We went to listen to 'MDNA' last week and after one listen decided that it was — as we tweeted — fucking amazing.

We listened to it again this afternoon to double check. As it turns out, we were right. Obviously we'll need to live with the album and like most listeners we'll form our very very final verdict many months from now, but on two listens 'MDNA' is a stunning modern Madonna album. It's not perfect but its extraordin­ary high points are great enough to com­pensate for odd sequen­cing and occa­sional misfires.

If you were worried, stop worrying — there is lots here to be excited about.

Here is some track by track 'action'.

1
GIRL GONE WILD

It is hard to believe that someone smart enough to make this music also made the decision to release 'Girl Gone Wild' as a single. As singles leading into albums go, this is Madonna's all-time worst. But don't give up — and cross your fingers that other people haven't given up either — because what comes next is very good indeed. Also, in defence of 'Girl Gone Wild' it does seem slightly better when you've heard the rest of the album, and the spoken word intro, in which her voice sounds a little bit like another female singer whose name we can't quite put our fingers on, is fantastic. Mind you, in terms of setting out an album's stall, 'Girl Gone Wild' is a stall piled high with jars of human shit.

MELODY: 4

LYRICS: 2

SOUND: 6

CLUB APPEAL: 6

MADONNAFACTOR: 3

2
GANG BANG

This throbbing electro mood piece is the album's true opening number whose SFX-laden backing rises subtly through­out the song's duration, taking in monotone, thudding robotic voices, a line about keeping enemies close, and a chorus of "bang bang shot you dead shot my lover in the head". "I made a decision I would never look back," Madonna sings at one point. "So how did I end up with one eyed jack?" The track is strewn with sound effects of gunshots, spent cart­ridges hitting the floor, wailing sirens, police radios, and cars whizzing past, with a bowel-empty­ingly seismic dubstep breakdown in which Madonna drawls: "You have to die for me baby… How could I move on with my life if you didn't die for me baby? If you didn't die for me baby?" And then it crashes back in for some more chorus. And then it breaks down for a pulsating, sparse-sounding spoken word middle eight. It all gets quite camp and silly at this point. "My love is dead and I have no regrets," Madonna screams. "He deserved it. And I'm going straight to hell. And I gotta lot of friends there. And if I see that bitch in hell, I'm gonna shoot him in the head again. Cos I wanna see him die over and over and over and OVER AND OVER NOW DRIVE BITCH, I SAID DRIVE BITCH. And while you're at it DIE BITCH. That's right, drive, bitch." It's over the top — it's slightly remin­is­cent of the hyperreal feel of 'Natural Born Killers' — and amazing.

MELODY: 3

LYRICS: 7

SOUND: 9

CLUB APPEAL: 9

MADONNAFACTOR: 8

3
I'M ADDICTED

The pivotal point of this track is part of the clip that fuckwit Perez Hilton had on his site yesterday, the arms-aloft arcade rave breakdown bit where Madonna bellows "I NEED TO HEAR YOUR NAME", and any worries about the pro­duc­tion of Madonna's vocal on 'MDNA' — following weedy-sounding per­form­ances on the first two singles — go out of the window with 'I'm Addicted'. We love the big crashing elec­trowal­lops and the "it fits like a glove, I'm addicted to your love, I'm a dic-dic-dic-dic, I-I-I-I-I'm addicted to your love" bits, and the climax of this song is fucking ridicu­lous. In the song's final minute or so the mood in the room at the playback this afternoon — full of journ­al­ists and media people — visibly altered. It looked a bit like a sigh of relief.

MELODY: 7

LYRICS: 6

SOUND: 9

CLUB APPEAL: 9

MADONNAFACTOR: 10

4
TURN UP THE RADIO

We've mentioned a few times — based only on the short clip that appeared in that weird sampler thing that came out last month — that it feels like 'Turn Up The Radio' would have made a better lead single for 'MDNA'. Hearing it now, in the context of the entire album, we regret to inform you that we were right all along. We take no pleasure in having been com­pletely spot on about this. RIGHTNESS IS A CURSE. Basically you know 'Hung Up', right? And you know how it had that sort of propuls­ive energy? And you know how it sounded nowish and clas­si­cish at the same time? And you know how it was frenetic and exciting but also elegant and smart? And you know how the lyrics were pretty simple but not offens­ively stupid? And you know how Madonna's vocals sounded great? And BLAH BLAH FUCKING BLAH? Well 'Turn Up The Radio' isn't quite as good as that but where 'Hung Up' hit 10/10 on all counts 'Turn Up The Radio' manages at least an 8/8. Okay so YES it includes the line "when the world starts to get you down and nothing seems to go your way" (yeah alright 'The Cast Of Glee') and YES there's a dodgy "moth to a flame" moment, but bloody hell, this is a cracker. It seems to hurtle from 'Ray Of Light'-flavoured begin­nings to a thumping post-Daft Punk elec­tro­banger main bit without a second thought. There's a great bit near the start where the music's rising in the back­ground and Madonna sings "you feel the wind on your face and your skin and it's here that I begin my…" and the song crashes in just as she sings "…story". There another bit where she's singing about making the speakers blow, and there's the subtle sound of a speaker blowing. 'Turn Up The Radio' does exactly what you want it to do when you want it to do it. In the breakdown she sings: "I don't know how I got to this state, let me out of my cage cos I'm dying — turn up the radio, turn up the radio, don't ask me where I wanna go, we gotta turn up the radio." This is an escapist anthem about leaving wherever you're stuck, getting in a car, whacking some amazing music on the stereo and putting your foot down. In other words, it's still only when she's dancing that she feels this free (WARNING: Popjustice does not condone dancing and driving), and it's still music making the people come together. It captures a bril­liantly teenage sensation ("only music can save me from my shit life" but) makes sense of it in a song that doesn't sound like she's trying too hard to be down with the kids. It's funny, some people think that freedom is about changing the way people around you think about life. Real life is sometimes a bit more com­plic­ated than that, and sometimes freedom is about being able to leave the cunts behind to get on with their useless lives. And that's what this song is about.

MELODY: 8

LYRICS: 8

SOUND: 9

CLUB APPEAL: 10

MADONNAFACTOR: 10

5
GIVE ME ALL YOUR LUVIN'

You've heard this one. We still don't know what to make of it. We're not that keen, but we don't hate it. 'Give Me All Your Luvin'' is proof that sometimes you can listen to something many, many times and still not have any idea whether it's any good or not. 'Apols'.

MELODY: 5

LYRICS: 7

SOUND: 7

CLUB APPEAL: 5

MADONNAFACTOR: 5

6
SOME GIRLS

It starts with some rave sirens and leads into a list of types of 'girls' — "some girls wanna be on top", "some girls got a filthy mouth", "some girls living for the weekend", "some girls get their freak on" and so on — before a two-stage chorus hits. Sonically it's like an updated version of 'Music' era elec­tronic sound, hard but warm at the same time with a grinding digital undertone, and the song seems to twist slightly in the middle eight with a flash of Orbity guitar sounds. It's very fash­ion­able to say that an album is 'full of singles', but the best albums always have brilliant tracks that aren't supposed to be singles and just hold the whole exper­i­ence together. Nobody's ever going to say this is the album's best song, but nobody's going to take it off their cus­tom­ised iTunes 'MDNA' playlists, either. Oh don't pretend you're not going to do it. You'll be taking 'Girl Gone Wild' off for a start. Don't lie. Yes you will.

MELODY: 7

LYRICS: 7

SOUND: 9

CLUB APPEAL: 9

MADONNAFACTOR: 8

7
SUPERSTAR

The 'device' in this track involves Madonna comparing her 'beau' to various famous people ("you're my gangster, you're my Al Capone / You're my Caesar, stepping into his throne"). It's all intended to be com­pli­ment­ary although we're not sure the bit about James Dean "driving fast in your car" is going to pan out that well. Madonna also explains what she is going to do for her partner, two of these things including "give you a massage when you get home" (alright then) and "play you a song on my guitar" (no thanks love). There's a big, pretty-sounding chorus which includes the flighty hook "ooh la la you're my superstar" and the lyrically and melod­ic­ally brilliant "I'm your biggest fan it's true / Hopelessly attracted to you". Like a few tracks on 'MDNA' it takes a long time to develop into the banger it ends up as, and it's another song whose pace is derailed by a slowed-down, dubsteppy breakdown: "You're Bruce Lee with the way that you move, you're Travolta getting into your groove / You're James Dean driving fast in your car, you're the hot track of a super-duper star / You're my superstar." The lyrical reference points in this are all quite inter­est­ing — if you consider the youth-obsessed reference col­lab­or­at­ors of the first two singles (here's an LMFAO remix! Here's Nicki Minaj! Here's a song that sounds like something David Guetta shat out!) and how uncom­fort­able it all feels, 'Superstar' offers a glimpse of something far more com­fort­able in its own skin. All the reference points (all the above plus "you're like Brando on the silver screen" etc) will mean very little to your average 17-year-old. We suppose the idea is that they're icons whose imagery tran­scends gen­er­a­tions blah blah blah but after all the aggress­ive pos­i­tion­ing of the first two singles it's great to hear Madonna relaxing into this sort of song. The lyrics about being in love are a bit soppy but love makes you go a bit soppy when you're doing it right, right?

MELODY: 8

LYRICS: 6

SOUND: 9

CLUB APPEAL: 8

MADONNAFACTOR: 9

8
I DON'T GIVE A

This is a mid-tempo electro dub-pop sort of affair. It opens with some rapping remin­is­cent of 'American Life' in which the demands of day-to-day life are listed ("no time for a manicure … got to call the babysit­ter … I can take a heli­copter, I don't even feel the pressure"). This gives way to a chanting "I'm gonna be okay, I don't care what the people say, I'm gonna be alright" portion and the statement "if you have a problem, I don't give a…". It's a bit on the posturing side, but then it feels like everything falls to one side to make way for a stark and jarring blasto of emo: "I tried to be a good girl, I tried to be your wife, diminish myself and swallow my light, I tried to become all that you expect of me, and if it was a failure I don't give a…" And then there's some "I-don't-give-a-uh-uh-uh-uh" backing vocal chanting business, and Nicki Minaj's arrival is heralded by a brief dubstep gloom­wobble. There's a good "I'm not a busi­ness­wo­man, I'm the business, woman!" line from Nicki, then the track comes back in and Nicki goes "there's only one Queen and that's Madonna, bitch", at which point the whole song gives way for a deranged orches­tral choral chanting segment. The song ends on that epic note but it feels, a bit, as if the breath­tak­ing and brilliant segment in which Madonna directly ref­er­ences her exper­i­ence of marriage is slightly tossed away in a song that, in most other areas, seems a lot less personal.

MELODY: 5 (8 for the ser­i­ous­face bit)

LYRICS: 5 (8 for the ser­i­ous­face bit)

SOUND: 8

CLUB APPEAL: 4

MADONNAFACTOR: 5

9
I'M A SINNER

'I'm A Sinner' marks the point where 'MDNA' kind of splits in two and William Orbit takes over. There are strong 'Ray Of Light' and 'Beautiful Stranger' ref­er­ences among this song's psy­che­delic stomp, with the chorus a simple "I'm a sinner, I'm a sinner, I'm a sinner I like it that way". The middle eight is great, with the music dropping out while Madonna lists various religious people. It's like BIBLE 'VOGUE'. "Hail Mary full of grace, get down on your knees and pray / Jesus Christ hang on the cross, died for our sins it's such a loss / St Christopher find my way, I'll be coming home one day / St Sebastian don't you cry let those poison arrows fly." The beat kicks back in while Madonna's still going: "St Anthony [something we didn't catch, we'll just hand in our journ­al­istic badge and gun now then shall we] lost and found, Thomas Aquinas stand your ground." Then there's a big payoff line but we couldn't figure out what she was saying which was a shame. Again there's no way this is single material, but it's a vital part of the MDNADNA.

MELODY: 7

LYRICS: 7

SOUND: 9

CLUB APPEAL: 4

MADONNAFACTOR: 7

10
LOVE SPENT

You'll find this track somewhere between 'Ray Of Light', 'Impressive Instant' and 'Hung Up', with some banjo business chucked in for good (?) measure, but don't get excited — we'd say this is more 'deluxe edition bonus track' than 'album track'. The best lyric here is "take me into your arms until your last breath … Hold me in your arms until there's nothing left". Which stuck us as rather pleasant. The song does build into something quite special by the end.

MELODY: 6

LYRICS: 7

SOUND: 8

CLUB APPEAL: 5

MADONNAFACTOR: 7

11
MASTERPIECE

By this point it's about time for a breather so this prop­er­madon­nabal­lad pops up at just the right moment. We love this song. It's the only one on the album that sounds this con­ven­tional, but because the album's gradually been winding down from the men­tal­ness of the opening few tracks, then through the Orbit section, it doesn't feel like it sticks out too much.

MELODY: 6

LYRICS: 7

SOUND: 8

CLUB APPEAL: 0

MADONNAFACTOR: 7

12
FALLING FREE

This is a really simple ballad with stripped down pro­duc­tion: warm synths, some strings and, after a while, some plinking piano. Again, there are direct ref­er­ences to the 'Ray Of Light' era, par­tic­u­larly 'Drowned World / Substitute For Love'. The best bit is a wail of "I'm fallin' free". ENDS ON CELLO.

MELODY: 6

LYRICS: 8

SOUND: 8

CLUB APPEAL: 2 (could work with a massive donk stuck on it though)

MADONNAFACTOR: 5

13
BEAUTIFUL KILLER

This is one of the songs we'll probably need to listen to a lot more before we figure out what we think about it all. The thing is, the Stockholm-syndrome-meets-S&M lyrics ("can't really talk with a gun in my mouth, maybe that's what you've been dreaming about") and gun imagery (the song ends on a gunshot) put it too close to "Bang Bang". Maybe that's why this ended up as a bonus track, which is a shame because sonically and melod­ic­ally it's good enough to be on the main album — it's a chunky belter with an insistent guitar riff remin­is­cent of Felix's 'Don't You Want Me' riff. There are amazing bits where Madonna whispers "beautiful killer" and the song shifts gear bril­liantly into a beautiful tuneful middle eight. "What happens now?" Madonna asks. "I need to know how the story goes, are we together? I love you forever." And then some strings appear. Then it drops out and bangs back in as a big four-to-the-floor thunderer. All that is good. It's just those lyrics. "Maybe I'll let you shoot me down," Madonna sings, "cos you're a beautiful killer with a beautiful face, a beautiful killer and you won't leave a trace." We don't know if the lyrics are supposed to be exciting and sexy; like 'Girl Gone Wild', they just feel mundane. Maybe we just need to be told what they're about. Maybe that will help it all make sense.

MELODY: 7

LYRICS: 3

SOUND: 8

CLUB APPEAL: 8

MADONNAFACTOR: 7

14
I FUCKED UP

A beat-heavy ballad in which Madonna accepts respons­ib­il­ity for things going tits up (technical Relate ter­min­o­logy, use with caution) rela­tion­ship­wise. "I fucked up, I made a mistake, nobody does it better than myself," she sings in the chorus. "I'm sorry, I'm not afraid to say, I wish I could take it back but I can't." There's no reading between lines needed here — lyrics like "I blamed you when things didn't go my way" and "somehow I've destroyed the perfect dream. I thought we were indes­truct­ible…" are raw and pas­sion­ate. The pace picks up with a drum 'n' bassy bit for the second verse when talking about the things they could have done ("written our names across the sky"), then in the song's final moments it slips back into the downbeat song we started off with, like a resigned shrug that it's all finally over. MEGASADFACE.

MELODY: 6

LYRICS: 8 (they're a bit naff but it's good to hear Madonna singing them)

SOUND: 9

CLUB APPEAL: 2

MADONNAFACTOR: 8

15
THE B-DAY SONG

This one works as a curiosity but it's a bit ropey 'TBH'. Best off as a bonus track.

MELODY: 5

LYRICS: 2

SOUND: 6

CLUB APPEAL: 3

MADONNAFACTOR: 4

16
BEST FRIEND

This is a great way to finish off 'MDNA' — a sparsely produced, stut­ter­ing electro ballad with some ques­tion­able lines ("I miss the coun­tryside where we used to mate" and "you wrote me poetry, you had a way with words") but some incred­ible ones too: "maybe I chal­lenged you a little bit too much". The chorus is great but the moment of genius comes at the very end of the song. The music stops, and Madonna sings the one thing you always need to tell yourself when you're still coming to terms with the end of something brilliant. "It wasn't always perfect," she sings in complete isolation. "But it wasn't always bad."

MELODY: 7

LYRICS: 6

SOUND: 8

CLUB APPEAL: 0

MADONNAFACTOR: 6

17
GIVE ME ALL YOUR LUVIN' (LMFAO REMIX)

We can only deduce that this has been included to ensure that a pretty great album is bookended by total shit.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

It's a shame 'Confessions' wasn't a bit longer ago or that 'Hard Candy' wasn't so patchy because we'd really like to be able to say 'this is Madonna's best album since Confessions' and for it to mean something. We suppose it does mean something — that 'Hard Candy' was a bit of a blip in an all-together-not-bad run of albums from one of pop's best people. And yes we might be a bit excited by it all having just heard it a couple of times etc etc etc, but if you're going to tell us we
can't get excited by a Madonna album you can fuck off.

It's out on March 26; pre-order on Amazon / pre-order on iTunes.