Blitzing the marketplace with her 12th album in a nearly three-decade career, with 300 million records sold worldwide and a new partnership with monopolistic concert promoters Live Nation in place, Madonna at age 53 is less an artist than a cornerstone American industry. Yet unlike her corporate peers in metro Detroit, she is unwilling or unable to reinvent herself, continuing to peddle a product we’ve become all too familiar with and sick of in its current, inferior form.
Widely hailed as her post-Guy Ritchie “divorce album,” MDNA is in fact exceeding sparse on soul-baring insights—or soul, period—and instead is dominated with retread bad-girl braggadocio that was tired, clichéd and somewhat unseemly coming from Lourdes’ mom 15 years ago. Ceding the more timely and slightly fresher button-pushing to Lady Gaga, Ke$sha and even (gasp!) Katy Perry, Madonna keeps playing the troubled Catholic school girl at a point when she’s got much more in common with Mother Superior. She once again opens the disc with an act of contrition (yawn), and proceeds to yelp that she’s “like a girl gone wild,” that “girls just wanna have fun” (Cindy Lauper, call your lawyer!), that “I’m a sinner [and] I like it that way” and that she shot her lover dead, in the head, and she has “no regrets… [So] drive, b----!/ And while you’re at it, die b-----!”
A far cry, all of this, from the artists’ best period, circa Erotica (1992), which mixed musical invention (or at least more inspired plundering of the cutting edge) with bonafide edgier themes. Here, despite the also-much-hyped reunion with producer William Orbit on about half the disc, we don’t even get the effervescent electronic fizziness of Ray of Light (1998), with the music, mostly forced club bangers, ultimately feeling as stale and recycled as the whole MDNA persona.
Madonna, MDNA (Live Nation/Interscope)
Rating on the four-star scale: 1 star.