Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The Dancefloor Wouldn't Recognise You

The obvious mission of 4 Minutes aside, Hard Candy lacks a bonafide grandiose classic for all else to hang: this means the record is a low-key affair requiring a bit of patience to come to terms with. Madonna's septic and shrill vocals are often painfully delivered like a botox jab too many - even she must have screwed her face up whilst singing Candy Shop's blistering steam of "get up out of your seat" (and on the shimmying chorus she sounds as if trying to squat provocatively but now can't get back up again). The jagged electro tingeing the edges on Heartbeat is much better, and can safely join the others (Annie, Steps, Paris Hilton, er, Melanie Thornton) and keeps her safe for another week.

Her glum tenderness here is not alone: the precoccupied pathos of Miles Away is bittersweet frustration and not too dissimilar to the sandpaper texture from the Jason Nevins edit of Nothing Fails. It is alarming how flat and tame her dance cuts are though, like a bullimic trying to purge on an empty stomach - the beats just don't lubricate Madonna's opening.

Undeterred, She's Not Me could have been Madge judging a drag pageant, but is able to find a perfect balance between predictable lyrics and a barren sense of melody. The track sounds as if it wants to pluck up the courage to sample Pink Floyd's Another Brick In The Wall, but she isn't able to hold her nerve as on the glass-shattering grip of 1992s broken determination anthem Thief of Hearts. A song that almost has its own credit sequence becomes a classic, if only for a glimmer.

However, there is astonishment on this record - the twirling synth ascent vehicle Incredible saves the day (that would be just the 28 minutes then Ms. Ritchie) and develops into a chaotic grunting disco climax whilst remaining bouncy and laidback (think Kelis, Roller Rink). This rippling flutter is the first and only ecstatic moment wherein the promise of her working with The Neptunes genuinely feels as if they are operating on the same wave length. More familiar sounding, Devil Wouldn't Recognise You combs the lukewarm nightfall air with a clawing vocal calmly disraught and wounded but Madonna's muse remains a mystery.

Between sounding as if yelling to wake her kids up for their Kaballah class, her collab whores are more than keen to take over in a most unwelcome fashion - but Madonna doesn't "do" interaction on record. In fact, most of the album feels like one big loop of the chalkboard scraping "hey Britney..." If Pharrell was so keen to remind me he produced a few numbers he could have just left a post-it on my fridge or sent an email - Timbaland just sounds like nasty skidmarks some poor 50 year old is left to clean up afterwards (oh wait...) At least eager Justin is on competent form, like a pupil on his best behaviour.

Now that she's found her feet, Dance 2night is pleasant enough workout I might absent mindedly appreciate whilst shopping for jeans and waiting for the snarly assistant to get a pair in my size. Madonna can scew her face up and wriggle her booty all she wants, Hard Candy is the wrong fit - it might just take a few listens to loosen up.

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