Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miles Away

Song: Miles Away
Artist: Madonna
Album: Hard Candy

I keep thinking to myself… what is wrong with me? How could I think… what are the odds? I guess it’s just expectation, knowledge of the players involved, I don’t know… but I doubted Madonna. I doubted her hardcore. And I was totally wrong.

For her one billionth image change (And with Madonna it’s not just an ‘album’ but a complete over-hall, look – clothing, tour, hair, etc) Madonna decided to go hip-hop (which she had sort-of done on “Bedtime Stories”) or at least… that’s what we all decided she was doing. Like it or not, it’s been over twenty years that we’ve been getting new Madonna albums, and talk we will, talk we must. Talk is exactly what she wants… and she gets it EVERY time. But I guess that’s just part of being the most powerful woman in the world. (And come to think of it… I think it’s actually utterly debatable if Hillary Clinton, assuming she becomes President, will take that title from her. I think Madge just still has more pull.)

So the history goes like this, Madonna announces she is following up the very successful (at least everywhere else in the world) “Confessions” album and tour (which was the most successful for a female artist, ever) with a new record that will involve production from Timbaland and Pharrell. Immediately I cringed, for a couple reasons. First, should a pushing 50 white lady do a hip hop record? And second, in a career that has been typified by being a head of the curve and blazing new trails in pop music, has Madonna finally decided to just follow?

Well, I was slammed in an anonymous comment when I first discussed the leaked demo “Beat Goes On” for being “ageist” and it does occur to me that a) Madonna is not your average woman/human and b) she’s in better shape than I, some twenty years younger. “4 Minutes” (the first single) aside, “Hard Candy” isn’t really the Timbaland/Neptunes do Madonna… it’s a Madonna record first and foremost. And it’s pretty bloody great.

While I was not an initial fan of “4 Minutes,” the single has certainly won me over, and works within the context of the album really well. Instead of just giving Madonna some hot pop-hip-hop beats, we get a Madonna record that is equal parts a throwback to her 80’s “Material Girl” period, a continuation of the “Future-Disco” dance elements from “Confessions” mixed into a pop-hip-hop blender. It’s current, fun, and totally enjoyable. And for the heck of it, here’s a track by track review…

Candy Shop – A lot like the leaked version, which I thought was so-so. Again, this one is growing on me and kind of sets up the tone of the album. The lyrics are all over the album insert… and allude to the “theme” of the record which Madonna described as “The title is a juxtaposition of tough and sweetness, kind of like I'm gonna kick your ass but it's going to make you feel good.” Okay!

4 Minutes – Busy, busy, busy… and I guess what you’d expect from a Timbaland and Justin collaboration. It doesn’t represent the complete sound of the record like I thought it would, which is odd for a first single. But it’s not, because it is “hit sounding.” Like the album version much better than the radio edit because the intro is killer. Oh, also LOVE the video, see below.

Give It 2 Me – OMG, I’m in love. While certainly not groundbreaking lyrically, this is the most fun, and one of my huge favorites from the record. One of the best tracks the Neptunes have ever produced, up there with “Milkshake” and “Hollaback Girl,” though it should be noted that it sounds distinctly Madonna, vs. distinctly Neptunes. And that breakdown… how fun! “Get stupid?” okay!

Heartbeat – This initially sounded like a throw-away track to me, except I can’t stop listening to it. Like “Get Together” from “Confessions,” this is a track that fits the theme and tone of the record completely, but isn’t loud or attention grabbing enough to be talked about a lot. I really dig it though.

Miles Away – A true standout. This, out of all the other songs on the record I feel has the potential to be a huge cross-over hit. It’s not a ballad, but it’s not a club song… it’s the “Say it Right” of the album. (a song I never would have thought would be a hit.) It’s beautiful and just very Madonna.

She’s Not Me – This song is so strange, it’s long, shifts in places unexpectedly, and is palatably sassy. It goes all “Beautiful Stranger” out of nowhere in the middle, and then sounds like it’s over only to start up again at the end. It sounds like a mess, yet all of these things work for it… and it segues you nicely into the second half of the record.

Incredible – This is album filler straight up. Remember “Future Lovers” from “Confessions?” This is the “hard Candy” equivalent. Not offensive by any means, just not really noteworthy.

Beat Goes On – I’m torn on this one. I really liked the demo, and was looking forward to hearing a fully produced and mixed album version. It’s almost unrecognizable from the demo, adds in a lot of bells and whistles, including a possibly unnecessary Kanye West cameo. I think this one might be a single… maybe after I spend enough time mourning the death of the songs melody I’ll learn to like it. Because I’ve listened to the demo so much it sounds like a remix in the middle of the album.

Dance 2night – When Timbaland produces the majority of a record for someone it seems he has a checklist that includes a beat heavy mid-tempo ballad, about two or three killer singles, and then a total lark. On Nelly Furtado’s record, that lark was “Do it,” a fun slice of upbeat dance-pop, and here it’s “Dance 2night,” a total late 70’s/early 80’s throwback that sounds like a lost classic. For those that complain “4 Minutes” is too loud, complicated, and messy here is a true dance classic. Doesn’t sound like much at first, but soon you’ll never be skipping it to go to the next track.

Spanish Lessons – More album filler that fun and/or harmless. People say that it reminds them of “La Isla Bonita,” but I think it’s just because she sings in Spanish. It’s a fun song that literally has Madonna saying some sweet nothings in Spanish, and then telling you what it means in English. I wish, just for fun, she has slipped in the Spanish for “last night I dreamt of some bagels.”

Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You – The big Timbaland drama moment. It’s got rain effects, a slow crawling beat, and some pretty raw lyrics. Sound like someone got one over on Madonna, she didn’t see it coming, and is shocked enough by the deception that she claims the Devil himself wouldn’t have seen it coming. So is it a case of empowerment, or a defense against her actions? Either way… it’s a great song that’s only debt is just how much it sounds like “Cry Me a River.” Some are saying it surpasses it. We’ll see.

Voices – A great album closer, something Madge knows how to do well. It fits nicely with the last tracks off the last three records, “Gone,” “Easy Ride,” and “Like it or Not.” It shoots for the synth-driven lushness of “Bedtime Story.” Though not nearly as strange. (Then again, Bjork didn’t co-write it)

In a way I think this album closes a big chapter for Madonna. It’s her last record with Warner Brothers, whom she’s been with since the beginning. It gave her enough top ten hit singles (37) to surpass Elvis’ record for the top spot, and pretty much secures her as someone future generations will know about… if they didn’t already. It’s clearly aimed at commercial success, and especially here in America. After the sales disappointment of “American Life,” it seemed Madonna had her sights set at world domination again. “Confessions” did it everywhere else, and “Hard Candy” should do it here.

As a trailblazer of pop music, sexual politics, and social change Madonna has certainly received her fair share of flack. So much so that I think we’re just USED to it. And I fell into the trap, ready to question and criticize her before hearing things as a whole. It’s a lesson for the internet and blog age, and really proof positive that this girl achieved her goal she set forth in 1983 on “American Bandstand.” After performing “Holiday” on Dick Clark’s program 25 years ago he asked what she wanted next… and without hesitation she said “to rule the world.” Check.


4 Minutes

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