[a]Music[/a] is a bionic record...

Every now and then in the genes of the rich and famous, there comes a sudden blip. As the pressures mount in proportion to their powers, the occasional superstar will suddenly choose to retreat into their own climate-controlled, germ-free bubble; reclusive, long-fingernailed, living off pizza and ice cream and whatever the hell weird combinations they like. Madonna, of course, rich and famous beyond the dreams of the dreams of avarice, seems to have spun her personal life in exactly the opposite direction. Washing cars, going to the pub, proud owner of a nuclear family, in these post-Guy days she's gradually become more accessible, less fierce, something that looks more like flesh-and-blood woman than animatronic pop icon.

Yet, musically, this album sees her pull a fantastic Howard Hughes trick. Vocodered, stretched, distorted, warped, deliberately upstaged by beats so showy they belong in a strip joint - quite simply, she's almost managed to make herself disappear. That bluntly explicit title isn't just pointless irony. This record is about the music, not Madonna; about the sounds, not the image.

) yet saved from tweeness by the electronic swish of a thousand giant photocopiers; 'Nobody's Perfect' is a lopsided stumble that could almost be Broadcast in its chill whispering, while 'Don't Tell Me' is alt-alt-country, hacked-up acoustic guitar over knife-sharp beats, Sheryl Crow if she wasn't such a spiritual hash-slinger.

Best of all is 'Paradise (Not For Me)', an improbable cross between The Creatures' bamboo percussion and The Jungle Book's 'Trust In Me'. With her cracked French whisper, Madonna sounds like an old drag queen recalling her glory days in a Montmartre bar. It's Gallic camp of the highest order, and proof that Madonna knows the score.

So, yes, thank you, you do like her acid rock. It's not that, as cynics suggest, her discovery of dance music was the equivalent of a jaded millionaire's rejuvenating lamb foetus injections at a Swiss sanatorium; rather, her contributions splice precious pedigree pop cells into raw new matter. 'Music' is a bionic record, a triumph of advanced mechanics and the faultless design of a consummate superstar. Only now, the act is vanishing.
8 / 10

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