Since her debut, Madonna has been super-savvy at spotting and recycling trends. Electro and techno, cowboy boots and crucifixes have all been through the Madonna machine, emerging pristinely pop-like and popular at the end of the wash. What makes this – her 11th album – so disappointing, then, is that for once the Queen Of Pop is at the back of the pack rather than leading it.
This is an album Madge should have made five years ago, when producers Pharrell and Timbaland were relative unknowns. Imagine if single ‘4 Minutes’ had been released before Justin Timberlake, Clipse, Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Björk, J.Lo and even basically my mum had teamed with Timbaland. By leaving it until 2008 to work with Tim, Pharrell and Justin, Madonna joins the party just as the lights are going up. That’s not to say there isn’t some great stuff here. Particularly successful are the saucy disco-ish ‘Candy Shop’ and ‘Give It 2 Me’, plus the excellent ‘Miles Away’ – the former pair produced by a back-on-form Pharrell, who sprinkles all manner of demanding drums and psycho keys over twisted rave anthems that are guaranteed to dent dancefloors.
However, too many tracks blend into bland as Madonna grinds her way through try-hard club offerings such as ‘Incredible’ and the bizarrely bad ‘Spanish Lesson’. Many of the Material Girl’s albums have been a mix of hit and miss, but for every ‘True Blue’ blunder there’s a ‘Music’ or ‘Into The Groove’ to save the day. Here, half the songs are good but there’s nothing that’ll blow you away. Granted, we place an awful lot of expectation on our more aurally adventurous artists like Michael, Missy and Madonna, expecting them to re-sculpt the musical scenery with each new release. So yes, a solid enough album by the standards of most pop tarts, but from the mistress of innovation? Pretty mediocre.