Don’t get me wrong when I say I am the last person to get excited about a new Madonna album. I think the bitch—and I use the term in the universal spirit of concession that dope women and gay men make to the finest females of our species—is beyond fierce. Any woman capable of catapulting herself to cultural icon, and then holding the public imagination for over two decades, deserves her due and then some. But this has never changed the fact that Madonna is a mediocre singer at best—her tinny, rangeless voice is an accessory to her formidable artistic vision rather than its focus—or that her tracks tend to be both plagued and blessed by the kind of mass-marketable vapidity that can zoom a song to the top of the pop charts and invade needed brain-space simultaneously.
But to me, Madonna’s music has never been as significant as the sum of her iconic parts—roles that include tastemaker, sexual explorer, feminist, status quo agitator, consummate party girl, and business woman extraordinaire. Even in recent years, when Madonna seemed to be searching for her place in a shifting pop landscape—the stupid attention-seeking kiss with Britney, her dismal American Dream CD, the flop that was Swept Away, and her latest incarnations as kabbalah champion and children’s-book author—she’d still made enough contributions to American popular culture to rest on her well-earned laurels. Bottom line: Madonna has always been bigger and better than her music. Until now.
With Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna at long last finds her musical footing. Easily dance record of the year, Confessions is an almost seamless tribute to the strobe-lit sensuality of the ’80s New York club scene that gave Madge her roots, which she explores with compelling aplomb. Much credit to co-producer Stuart Price. His understanding of dance music’s elementals—driving ebb and flow tempered by pulsating bass, the over-the-top drama of synthesized strings, and even scratchy LP transitions—places Madonna squarely mid-center in a genre that, at its very best, inspires the absence of thought, conjures the quest for abandon, promotes the blurring of boundaries, and eschews the cerebral for a pulsing carnality. This is clearly her domain. Call the chirren y’all. Madge is taking it to church.
“Hung Up,” the CD’s hit single and opening track, is a relentless onslaught of pure groove. Less an invitation to dance than a command, it is clear indication that at 47 Madonna has every intention of asserting her generational claim as one of the genre’s prime progenitors. This may be a house now tended by Madge’s musical spawn—Christina, Gwen, and (sigh) Britney—but the track’s ass-shaking compulsion makes it clear that Madge wants us to recognize this is the house that she built. Bitch.
The momentum builds rapidly with a seamless transition into the wicked alchemy of “Get Together,” where Madge and Price offer up an irresistible manipulation of rather sweet vocals laced over thumping percussion, seductive synthesizers, and a few subtle soul-claps thrown in for good measure. The party continues admirably with the multilingual, kick-your-man-to-the-curb “Sorry.” Things slow significantly, however, with the techno-driven tedium and spiritual ramblings of “Future Lovers,” and stop altogether with “I Love New York,” which from the triteness of the opening sirens to “I don’t like cities but I like New York/Other places make me feel like a dork” makes her seem oddly removed from the pulse of the city she long claimed as her own. Forgive her. You need the break to go to the restroom and get a glass of water anyway, because from the confessionals of “Forbidden Love” to the Sting-inspired playfulness of “Push,” things liquefy into one hot, sweaty, lovely mess.
What else really can I say? It’s Madonna. Bitch.