Madonna – ‘MDNA’

Madge has disco and divorce on her mind

If I see that bitch in hell/I want to see him die/Over and over/Over and over” [a]Madonna[/a] deadpans on ‘Gang Bang’, the second track on this, her 12th album. The music is cold and minimal, recalling the grubby house beats of ‘Erotica’, and Madge bleats on like some antagonistic disco Fury driven to the edge by her thirst for vengeance. And gosh, it’s thrilling stuff.

Our guess is that this slice of boldly crafted noir-house is the once-Mrs Ritchie addressing her divorce from Guy in blackly comic terms. (Is it a coincidence that the song’s title sounds like a parody of one of the flicks in the mockney auteur’s cinematic oeuvre? We think not.)
If ‘Hard Candy’ was weary and unconvincing in its attempts to distract from the fact that her marriage was falling apart by using limp sweet metaphors and Justin Timberlake, ‘MDNA’ is a riot of uncontrolled emotions.

It takes a Stanley knife to revenge, religion and disco. Musically, it’s a sprawl through late-period Madonna, taking its touchstones from the last 15 years of her career. Re-teaming with William Orbit, producer of 1998’s ‘Ray Of Light’, makes for cuts like ‘I’m A Sinner’, laying Middle Eastern vocal styles over some digitised psychedelia and adding a role call of Catholicism’s biggest stars (St Christopher, Mary, St Sebastian). ‘Love Spent’ broods like something you’d hear at ’80s New York nightclub Danceteria – ‘Dare’-era Human League, Soft Cell, etc – as Madonna whittles at the corpse of her marriage with a cold, Thatcherite sentiment (“Spend your love on me”).

Best of the Orbit bunch, though, is closer ‘Falling Free’, an odd, elliptical synth ballad that swoons like the first half of her beloved ABBA’s ‘The Visitors (Crackin’ Up)’. Swathes of keyboards conjoin, resulting in the most satisfyingly odd thing she’s done since ‘Mer Girl’. These moments are so accomplished that they make dreck like ‘Girl Gone Wild’ and ‘Superstar’ sound better than they have any right to. Bang in the middle sit songs like ‘Turn Up The Radio’ and ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’ ’, continuing her career-spanning themes of getting into the groove, of uniting the bourgeoisie and rebelling.

Meanwhile, her relationship with Ritchie is addressed with a little more contrition on ‘I Don’t Give A’. She sings “I tried to be your wife/
I diminished myself
” over a trippy beat from Parisian electro producer Martin Solveig that sees Carly Simon’s ‘Why’ distilled down to its hip-hop elements before gorging on a ridiculously opulent, cinematic close.

In the end, ‘MDNA’ is a ridiculously enjoyable romp, but oddly not for the bits that are supposed to be fun. Instead, it’s the psychotic, soul-bearing stuff that provides listeners with some of the most visceral stuff she’s ever done.

Priya Elan