As finishing touches were being applied to the East London premiere of Madonna’s latest album, academics specialising in adoption at the University of Liverpool announced what they called The Madonna Effect – a phenomenon “in which parents in Africa surrender their children for adoption thinking they will enjoy a better life”.
Whatever context is applied to it, you felt like adding that The Madonna Effect – sure to accumulate now that she has set her sights on adopting in India – isn’t restricted to adoption. There’s a Madonna effect for almost everything she does. In the past week alone, the Swiss jewellers Chopard have been besieged with requests for replicas of the £500,000 knuckleduster rings exhibited on the sleeve of Hard Candy.
Seemingly eager to relieve herself from the pressure of being imitated at every turn, Madonna’s 11th studio album finds her deploying a coterie of producers – Timbaland, Danja, Pharrell Williams – who have, in varying combinations, already done the same thing with Nelly Furtado, Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani. Naturally, this being Madonna, she has already filed the riposte before you made the criticism. On She’s Not Me, she makes the point that however any other woman attempts to match her, they don’t have the advantage of being Madonna. So, what’s the song like? Well, it’s like roughly two thirds of Hard Candy – a sequenced avalanche of beats in the sonic centre ground that, in the olden days, used to be occupied by tunes.
Far from being a problem, that’s how some of the most exciting pop music is assembled these days. Madonna’s instinct for a killer tune has pushed producers such as Stuart Price, Mirwais and William Orbit to career peaks. Given time here, Incredible and the Kanye West-assisted Beat Goes On will scrub up alongside some of her best – especially the latter’s nods to Detroit techno at its poppermost.
Justin Timberlake cameos on the new single 4 Minutes and three other songs, including the immediately excellent Miles Away – a collision of acoustic downstrokes and feverishly jaunty rhythm that verges on reggae.
When the songs work, it doesn’t much matter that Madonna is blazing a fourth-hand trail. After 25 years of reinvention, we can surely cut her slack in that department. But on Dance 2Night, She’s Not Me and Give It 2 Me, what surprises is how deferential Madonna is to her collaborators. Even the album’s showstopping ballad, The Devil Wouldn’t Recognise You succumbs to a default mode of vast beats.
By this late stage, you rather feel like you’re in your fifth hour at the Ambassador’s famous party. Great, but is there anything else on offer other than Ferrero sodding Rochers?
Only on the final song, Voices, does Madonna remember that her stock-in-trade is to assimilate the sound of a well-known producer and turn it into something else. Here, the sort of poignant, unresolved chords you might sooner hear on an early Serge Gainsbourg record accord with a more personal lyric, before a grandiloquent finale of bells and pipe organ sends us on our way.
Hard Candy is no disaster, but a little more of that wouldn’t have gone amiss.
- Bron: Times Online (UK)