Madonna has described her latest album (her 14th) as follows: “Confessions On A Dancefloor is all about having a good time straight through and nonstop.” For all its hype, Confessions isn’t that much fun; it gets a little self-help preachy and slightly boring. Musically, it aspires to be similar to 1992’s Erotica or even 1998’s Ray Of Light. A dance album from Madonna is nothing new, really. But what’s missing is the edge – that lapsed Catholic bite.
At her best, Madge defied the norm. She pushed buttons, confronting sexual taboos with a splash of Catholic guilt to play off of. She was a business savvy rebel. The death of her beloved mother and her Catholic issues were the catalysts that gave the beats an aggressive spirit. We’ve always enjoyed the throbbing synths and her joyful dance moves (a dazzling mash of Martha Graham cum Gypsy Rose Lee cum gay boy). She has a brilliant and sometimes absurd way with words. “Bette Davis/ We love you,” is a perfect example.
Now at the age of 47, she is a mother, wife and Kabbalist. She doesn’t watch TV or read magazines. She has a sort of mystic Frida Kahlo thing going on. She’s comfortable in her skin and has embraced her newfound faith (but not the outside world, it seems). Her new music suffers for it.
Of course, the lead track and first single, “Hung Up” throws everything I’ve just said out the window. It’s a stunning piece of dance pop. Not very original but the ABBA sample (from “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme/ A Man After Midnight”) and the “Time goes by so slowly” chant amusingly accompanied by fast trippy throbbing beats are impossible to get out of your head. She manages to bring to the fore her message of self-empowerment within the framework a girl group staple, a teenager waiting by the phone.
Like all the best disco tunes, it’s the epiphany, the “I Will Survive” determination that gets you on the dancefloor and keeps you there, reeling to the beats till sweat melds skin to cloth. Undeniably, the song is one of her best.
The album, however, is not really an American ’70s disco homage. It’s more early ’80s Euro-disco. No one plays with those sounds better than her coproducer Stuart Price (Les Rythmes Digitales). He echoes the sounds of the genre and keeps things enjoyable enough (with help on a few tracks from producers Mirwais Ahmadzai, Bloodshy And Avant, Anders Bagge and Peer Astrom).
The album works best on the first five tracks. “Sorry” is fun with the multiple language intro, the punchy thumping beats and sneaky guitar sample. Lyricallyit’s simple and the emotions are easily relatable. “I don’t want to hear/I don’t want to know,” Madge declares, “Please don’t say you’re sorry/I’ve heard it all before/And I can take care of myself.”
“Future Lovers,” with its Giorgio Moroder “I Feel Love” pounding rhythm has some life to it, just barely. She starts to pull out the new age/all-knowing philosophy. The lyrics and her whispery spoken word practically kill the song dead. Usually keeping it relationship-driven in the world of disco is a sure thing.
I actually quite enjoy the silliness that is “I Love New York.” Sure, the lyrics suck. “New York is not for little pussies who scream,” is very dumb, stupid dumb. But it has a madcap flair with the electro static, guitar squeals and the intro drum roll loop.
After “I Love New York,” the album loses my interest altogether. Her voice is so soft and serious, boring. “Jump” is a great example of what’s wrong with the album. She should be much more dramatic vocally, like on “Express Yourself.” If you’re singing “Are you ready to jump?/Get ready to jump,” to people on the dancefloor, then you better take it to Donna Summer heights. There’s just no spark. It’s too meditative to be disco.
The album as a whole just doesn’t kick ass, not even close. Madonna plus disco should have been a no-brainer treat. But it’s not inventive enough. 2000’s Music had a much more brilliant synergy of eclectic spunk and intelligent thoughts. That’s a dance album. On Confessions On A Dancefloor, Madonna is a little black cloud in a hot pink Danskin. And no, that’s not a good thing. Mamma, don’t preach.
GO SEE: The ultra amazing blues singer Bettye LaVette (in support of her killer new release, I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise) will be burning down the house on Mon, Nov 28 at 8pm at Lee’s Palace. So it’s Jill Sobule, Sandra Bernhard and Cyndi Lauper, together on Tue, Dec 6 at 8pm at Massey Hall? That’s so gay!