Do you want the good news or the bad news? Well, before I deliver both (eventually) I have to get something off my chest: Madonna is The Don, The Boss, The Dude, Her Majesty of Everywhere. Nobody in this universe can touch her. If I read another preamble or review about her latest album MDNA that builds context around Madonna’s place in a world that now contains Lady Gaga or compares her vocal pop abilities with those of Britney Spears, I am done with that person. Deleted.
There is no need whatsoever to talk about Madonna in relation to Gaga, Britney, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Kylie, Kitty Batshit Brucknell, or anyone else with a vagina, a chart song and a sense of drama. People have said it before and I will rip them off and say it again: None of these women would know how to put one hip in front of the over if it weren’t for Madonna. The popstars that have succeeded (as in “come chronologically after”) Madonna do not form part of Madonna’s Sphere. They are tiptoeing around her world, grateful of being given the limelight for a minute while the “Queen of Pop” has been momentarily distracted doing whatever she does to chill out (Ryvita snacks and/or 21-year-old dancers… Madge FTW).
Just because popstars have Being A Woman in common, doesn’t mean they have anything to do with Madonna’s job. (I don’t imagine fans of Paul Weller would be impressed if his latest was judged according to “where the Modfather sits” with post-Weller products such as Miles Kane or Kasabian. Music fans would not be impressed because THAT WOULD BE EXTREMELY RUDE, and pointless. Weller isn’t sitting with his guitar thinking about what Liam Gallagher’s peddling in Pretty Green. Similarly, Madonna isn’t downloading Rosetta Stone: Advanced German because Lady Gaga has Rilke tattooed up her arm.) Madonna is not thinking about all the “others” (…maybe she is just a little). They weren’t there when she started her career and they likely will not be there when she finishes it (insert large IF she finishes it). When asked what she thought of Lady Gaga a few months ago by Graham Norton Madonna’s response may as well have been: “[shrug]…[rolls eyes]… Whatever.” If you’re going to put MDNA in “context”, get it right: when Madonna sits down to write an album, the only person “Madonna” has to compete with is… MADONNA.
And imagine that - you’re Madonna. The facts: You’ve sold 300 million records since 1979; You are still only 53; You have built a career on outdoing yourself; You have more fans than the Americas have people; You were responsible for ’80s pop hits like Get Into The Groove, Like A Virgin and Papa Don’t Preach; You got naked – really naked – on coffee tables; You are responsible for Ray Of Light; You made (upper case) Music; You own Like A Prayer; Confessions On A Dancefloor was something YOU did… I could just throw words around like “Frozen” (ZOMG), “Cherish” (amazarama), “Sorry” (multilingual!), “VOGUE” (FFS!) all day long and you’d get only one pixel of the picture. It must be exciting but also terrifying being as successful as Madonna because - frankly - what the hell do you do next? Who do you allow in? Is it a risk even opening your mouth again to do an Ocado order in case you speak a sentence less poignant than “Beauty’s where you find it”? For Madonna, it’s enough trying to deal with herself. So let’s consider Madonna in light of Madonna please.
Which brings me to the point: is MDNA any good? I will start with the bad news. I’m not sure I was in the same room as everyone else at the Madonna MDNA listeners party (at Abbey Road Studios, *wees with excitement*). All the cliched talk in the papers and blogs about an hour following the playback was of a “Return to form” blah-blah-blah… Not since Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris has there been such overuse of the phrase. And, btw, Midnight In Paris was charming, funny and intelligent but it was NOT a return to form. “On form Woody Allen” is Manhattan, Annie Hall, Hannah And Her Sisters… To say Midnight In Paris was in the same vein is not only wrong, it’s an insult to his best work. I suppose in this respect (and in this respect only) Madonna is just like Woody Allen; a visionary who continues to create (thank GOD) but is in a post-apex stage of their career, their fans desperate to re-live the golden age, like a Manchester United supporter dying to see a less acclaimed side win the Treble. When you consider Ray Of Light or Immaculate Collection or Music or Confessions On A Dancefloor and then you listen to MDNA, you are no longer in the same ballpark. Nobody should be asking if it’s a good album by modern pop standards. That’s not the question Madonna’s asking. Is it a “great” album by Madonna standards? No. Well… it depends on which half of the album you listen to.