Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Madonna - Hard Candy

[review by JP]

Madonna’s 2005 "Confessions on a Dancefloor" album placed her on a future-disco mood where there was some intention to mix the freedom and joy of a dance song with the deepness of some of the ideas expressed in the lyrics. But truth to be told, the album lacked intimacy between her and the listener. For die-hard Madonna fans, the darkness of some of her best songs such as “Substitute For Love”, “Paradise (Not For Me)”, “I Deserve It” or “X-Static Process” was missing. Even if enjoyable and highly successful, I think the record was a bit of an empty affair.

Fast-forward to 2008 and there she is again. And this time there’s the best of the two Madonna’s in the same “candy” package. There’s the Madonna who screams the joy of dance and freedom on tracks such as “Give It 2 Me” or “Heartbeat”, with such lyrics as “Can’t you see when I dance I feel free?” reminding us that the cool young girl who wrote songs such as "Into the Groove" has gone nowhere. But if, like me, you really enjoy her more personal writing, there’s some goodies in the bag as well. More about each song:

Candy Shop
The album's opener is a dirty little track where the lyrics reveal a sense of humor that she hasn’t used for a while in her writing. “My sugar is raw / sticky and sweet” she sings over a clever hip-hop meets electronica arrangement created by Pharrell Williams. Great opener for the record, a very seducing invitation to her “store”.

4 Minutes
The first single, a duet with Justin Timberlake. It’s actually one of the least effective tracks on the album, a great beat but somehow over-produced. She sounds lost in the middle of the production (blame Timbaland) and it’s just an odd choice for the first single since there are much better tracks on this confection.

Give It 2 Me
Ok so now we’re talking, Madonna and Pharrell turn the fun booster on in this bouncy track that will be the record’s second single. It’s mostly a self-empowering song that will get everyone dancing. “What are you waiting for, nobody’s gonna show you how” she sings, adding that “When the lights go down and there’s no one left I can go on and on”. As if we didn’t know that. Pharrell’s clever production joins electro elements, an amazing breakdown where they sing “Get stupid! Get stupid!” and it’s a total sugar high.

Still Pharrell on the dance-floor with Madonna, where she asks us “Don’t you know, can’t you see? / When I dance I feel free". Everyone knows and loves this Madonna. Still very electro over an hip-hop arrangement, something that I quite like on this record. One of the best tracks.

Miles Away
Back to Timbaland, this isn’t by any way a ballad but it’s very mid-tempo and beautiful. Accoustic guitars, strong dry beats, and some great lyrics where she says “I guess we’re at our best when we’re miles away / You always have the biggest heart when we’re six thousand miles apart” (now we know not everything is perfect inside the Ritchie’s family house). Very personal lyrics but all in a perfect-pop fashion. This will be played to death by radios everywhere, write it down.

She’s Not Me
Back to Pharrell for another one of the album’s highlights. This starts like a disco song about a relationship gone wrong, where she says that whatever the new lover can bring the guy, she’s not her and she never will be. The track is very funky and by the second half, it turns really electro as well. I love what Pharrell did here, the song is very rich and kind of takes you on a sonic journey. He guest vocals in the end and his singing is totally amazing! Wendy Melvoin, the guitarist of Prince and The Revolution fame, funks up the guitar hook on this one.

Very close to the previous one in structure but very melodic and I’m hearing this can be a single. It’s kind of like she’s saying she wants to go back to the first days of a relationship where everything is perfect and beautiful. I get the sense that she’s not 100% happy in her marriage, or at least the lyrics on “Hard Candy” seem to reflect that (and Madonna does write her own lyrics, she always did, even if she gets her co-producers to shape them into the song).

The Beat Goes On
Very different to the leaked version that surfaced online a few months ago. That was simply a demo, here she and Pharrell go nuts and fuck up the elements of that demo. Pharrell does the back-chorus singing “Get down / Beep beep!” and it’s great fun. Kanye West drops by for a guest rap and it fits perfectly. One of the best songs of the package.

Dance 2Night
Back with Justin Timberlake again, it’s like a late 70’s / early 80’s disco tune where they both do a bit of a “boy meets girl on the dance-floor” escapism thing. Very nice, I sense an early Michael Jackson influence here but maybe it’s just me.

Spanish Lesson
Ok, this is the worst track here. Latin beats and guitars and very cliché lyrics. It’s not bad but it’s the filler of the album. You can listen to it and have fun but it’s very empty.

Devil Wouldn't Recognize You
As the album gets closer to the end the lyrics get more dense, which by now is a common Madonna standard (“Secret Garden”, “Mer Girl”, “Gone”, “Easy Ride”, “Like it or Not”...). I’m not into this song because Timbaland re-uses a lot of his own clichés, think "Cry Me a River". It’s a huge ballad with great lyrics and it would have an impact on the US Top 40 but nothing close to the creative heights of what she achieved with Pharrell on the previous tracks.

Love this one. Starts with an acapella of Justin asking “Who is the master and who is the slave?” and the whole thing is like questioning if you are walking the dog or the dog is walking you. Very clever lyrics and a huge orchestral instrumentation. She’s singing about someone who has demons and the whole thing just makes a fantastic end to the record.

So the verdict here is that it’s a way better record than “Confessions…” was. The lyrics are all great and the production is stellar. She achieves her best moments with Pharrell Williams on production, not Timbaland. Pharrell and Madonna go to the same levels of creative chemistry she had with Mirwais or William Orbit. To me, that makes this album the perfect blend of US street sound culture with a more european electronic sensibility that we know from her latest records.

Next, I hear she’s going on tour…


tolilo said...

vou roubar a fotog.


Frioleiras said...

parabéns pelo
do teu Pai

(... que sorte a tua teres o Pai que tens.........)