The other night I drunk-dialed Madonna.
I was drunk (a rarity!) and riding SEPTA (never gets old!), and I decided it was time to lose my virginity in the mobile song downloads realm, because I really needed to hear the new Madonna single on repeat that very minute. So I bought it right there on my phone.
I’ll concede, it was very liberating.
I recall the anticipation of every Madonna album from Like a Prayer to present day. That’s 10 studio albums of anticipation over a span of more than 20 years. In each instance, I can almost viscerally recall my first listen to her lead singles. Some have been the best cut on the album (“Like a Prayer,” “Hung Up”), while others were something subtler meant to keep the full LP a surprise (“Erotica,” “Frozen”).
I am having trouble placing MDNA‘s lead single “Give Me All Your Luvin’” in the wider Parthenon of Madonna. The first time I heard it, I thought, “YES! This is a Madonna single for the new millennium. Sign me up!” However, in my tipsy relisten on Friday evening the song’s myriad faults became obvious – because the faults and the highlights are one and the same.
Good. The live-in a room cheerleader chants calling back to “Mickey” and melodic nods to an era of “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “Leader of the Pack”
Bad. Madonna’s singing. It isn’t the weirdly hollowed-out death rattle that plagued Hard Candy, but it’s unsupported and not very in tune. Female singers who haven’t abused their voices find amazing resonance in their 40s and 50s, yet here Madonna seems to have regressed to the teeny-voiced delivery of Like a Virgin with none of the charm of her young vibrato. Why is she phoning it in?
Good. The live-sampled drums that kick off the song and the relentless handclap beat driven by simple guitar and drum hooks – leading to an awesome heavy-stomp bridge, totally unlike any that come to mind outside of Ray of Light.
Bad. Neither the bass or the guitar are a real bass or guitar – both are clearly synth. Why? Though Gaga has been scoring hits on synth pastiche, female-fronted crossover hits in the past few years have not been shy about tangible moments of rock (Gaga included!). The choruses and bridge have an especially cheap plastic sound. I get that is part of the conceit of the song, but that doesn’t made it any good. Is Madonna so terrified of a retread of American Life that she can’t allow an electric guitar to stick out on a song?
Good. Fun, relevent guest-performers drop verses that do not feel entirely shoe-horned into the song. I don’t feel like it warrants a “no-rap” edit.
Bad. Minaj and MIA are wasted entirely here. Minaj partially because Madonna doesn’t have the time for her to drop a totally insane verse, but also because she is a great singer and could have piled on manic harmony anywhere here. MIA is more of a cipher – her allure is in production as much as what she spits, so why not let that sneak into the flavor the bridge more?
Good. The lyrics. They don’t try too hard, keeping the song relateable for a young radio audience, even when delivered by one of the most famous women in the world.
Bad. After a cute reference to “Lucky Star” (if you didn’t know how much Madge references her songs within her songs you haven’t been paying much attention) the second verse is non-existent. “We can drink some wine, burgundy is fine, let’s drink the bottle every drop.” These are placeholder lyrics that should have been supplanted by anything more relevant to the song. Also, maybe I’m over-analyzing here, but I don’t like the casual drunkenness here. Madonna has certainly had her moments of singing about getting messed up, but this tossed off reference bugs.
All of these issues? Fixable. Especially when you are Madonna. Yet, the same issues felled Hard Candy, the worst album of her career by a country mile after a major highlight on Confessions on a Dancefloor – at once adventurous and a return-to-form.
Am I excited for MDNA? I’m not sure. After an incomparable run from Ray of Light to Confessions (yes, I LOVE American Life) I feel as though Madge is second-guessing herself in an attempt to stay hip and relevant. Yet, her special power has always been effortless trend-setting (even if the lack of effort is completely contrived).
What happens when Madonna lets us see the strain, the strings and gears behind what should be an effortless hit? We get “Give Me All Your Luvin'” – catchy, enjoyable, but forgettable.
Let’s hope I won’t feel the same way about the LP as a whole.