By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
On the cover of her 11th studio album (and point finale for her longtime label), Madonna's got her legs spread again. Remember Cher in her fishnet body-stocking/G-string swimsuit from the aptly titled "If I Could Turn Back Time" video? She was 43. When I was in junior high, virginal B-boys used to talk about sexing Tina Turner (older than our moms, sure, but those legs!) back when Private Dancer was new. She was 45. Now Madonna's back, gyrating her crotch in our faces like she has for the past 26 years, with so much swagger that we still don't mind. This summer, Madonna Louise Ciccone Ritchie turns 50.
What with Nate "Danja" Hills, Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake, and Timbaland producing, Hard Candy sounds like a hiphop-flavored sayonara album to Madonna's youth: With more adultish records like Music and American Life already to her credit, it's hard (but not impossible) to imagine her trying to deliver any more danceable pop albums into her fifties. Hiphop is so omnipresent a sound in general that this album is arguably no more rapper-oriented than her club-fest last album, Confessions on a Dance Floor; Kanye West tosses in some playfully tepid lines on "Beat Goes On," but he's the only MC to be found around these parts.
Pharrell and Timbaland grew up with the old-school mind-set that producing for Madonna or Michael Jackson would be the epitome of their careers—they're '80s kids in spirit if not actual age—and so Hard Candy gets their A-game material: synthy, propulsive tracks made to stand alongside "Borderline," "Lucky Star," and whatnot. "Give It 2 Me" sports snare-drum effects straight outta "Material Girl," and sonic allusions to Nile Rodgers are definitely in the mix. Snarkier fans will read digs galore at wannabe Madonnas from Stacey Q all the way to, yes, Britney Spears into "She's Not Me" ("She'll never have what I have/It won't be the same"), but the song's really about the girl who's stolen Madge's man. And "Miles Away" ("You always have the biggest heart/When we're 6,000 miles apart") is the closest she comes to reflecting on her married-with-children bliss (or lack thereof). All in all, Hard Candy could be the greatest swan song to a pop career this side of Let It Be, if you wanna get all hyperbolic about it. Now will we finally hear what happens when Madonna stops having sex?