REVIEW: “Hard Candy”

Madonna - Hard CandyHard Candy is Madonna’s 11th studio album. Will it be an instant classic (like Ray of Light or Confessions on a Dancefloor) or will it be an instant bomb (like American Life)?

Honestly, in this “true blue” fan’s opinion, it falls somewhere in between. I like much of the music, but Madonna’s lyrics (never that great to begin with) could really use some work. What made Ray of Light so great was that we got a peek behind Madonna’s veil; the lyrics were heartfelt and real. This honesty continued on Music, but had largely disappeared by American Life, where Madonna tried (and failed) to skewer George Bush, Hollywood, and other aspects of “American life”. by Confessions, she’d mostly gone back to doing straight pop music, which was a relief. Which sounds hypocritical, I know. On the one hand, I want her to stay away from political messages and other “deep” topics, yet on the other hand I criticize her for writing “silly” pop tunes. But it’s deeper than just that. Sure, Madonna isn’t known for being a deep thinker, and her songs work better when she shies away from such things. But that doesn’t mean that she has to rehash the same lyrics again and again. Check out these lines from the new album’s opening track, “Candy Shop”:

All the suckers are not all we sell in the store
Chocolate kisses so good
You’ll be beggin’ for more
Don’t pretend you’re not hungry
I’ve got plenty to eat
Come on in to my store
‘Cos my sugar is sweet!

Hmmmm. Fine, I suppose, but not much different than anything else she’s written over the years.

You’ve probably heard the next track on the album – “4 Minutes” – so I won’t waste a lot of time on it. Suffice it to say that although I don’t dislike the song, I’d probably like it better if it was someone else singing it, not Madonna. Is that weird? Does that many any sense? I will say one thing: I hate it when the artist of a song is mentioned in the lyrics (which is one of the many reasons I hate rap music). I don’t know why… it just gets on my nerves.

“Give It 2 Me”, the third track on the album, is one I actually like a lot. It loses much of the Timberlake \ Timbaland \ Pharrell Williams \ Kanye West influence and sounds more like something Stuart Price would have done.

“Heartbeat”, the fourth song on the disc, sounds suspiciously like something Nelly Furtado would do… and, let’s be honest here, Furtado would have done it better.

The fifth track – “Miles Away” – is a bit more downtempo than the others on the album so far. Although it has a nice beat, the somewhat spartan music – mostly an acoustic guitar, with some synths thrown in for good measure – the song just seems slower than the other tunes on the disc. It’s also an interesting tune in that it seems written directly to Madge’s husband, Guy Ritchie. Many of the songs so far contain a few hints of trouble in the Ritchie marriage… but this one seems aimed directly at Guy:

I just woke up from a fuzzy dream
You’d never would believe those things that I had seen
I looked in the mirror and I saw your face
You looked right through me, you were miles away…

As if that weren’t enough, the next track – “She’s Not Me” – is directly written to a man that’s having an affair on Madonna:

She started dyeing her hair and
Wearing the same perfume as me
She started reading my books
And stealing my looks and lingerie

I just want to be there when you discover
You wake up in the morning next to your new lover
She might cook you breakfast and love you in the shower
The thrill is momentary, cause she don’t have what’s ours

She’s not me
She doesn’t have my name
She’ll never have what I have
It won’t be the same
It won’t be the same

Wow. Bitter much? The song’s pretty good (I’m not a fan of the “love you in the shower” line).

The next song, “Incredible”, also sounds like something Nelly Furtado would put out, but it works much better than “Heartbeat”. It’s an infectious tune, one of those songs you crank up on the car stereo but carefully turn all the way down when you cell phone rings. You just can’t help but get the song in your head for hours at a time… and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Beat Goes On” is the 8th song on the album. It’s got a nice, “bouncy” bass line… but is sounds too familiar. For reasons I cannot fully explain, it almost sounds like an updated outtake from Erotica or Bedtime Stories. It’s pretty decent, but is ruined for me by the background vocals.

“Dance 2night” is a nice (if forgettable) throwaway pop tune. It really reminds me of a 70s disco\R&B tune – especially the bass line, which actually kicks ass. It’s like Chic came back to life for one song!

The 10th song on the disc – “Spanish Lesson” – couldn’t be a bigger Furtado rip-off if it tried, with hip-hop influenced percussion over “Spanish style” acoustic guitars. It’s not… bad, but I’ll probably skip this tune when I listen to this album in the future.

The 11th song – “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” is the album’s “hidden gem”. It’s slow and introspective, with a nice melody, accentuated by piano\synths. It’s a really nice track, so it’s sad to see it burned so far near the end of the disc. If I were in charge of the track list for this album, I’d move it to just after “Miles Away”. Seriously, listen to this song.

The final track on the album “Voices” might as well be a B-side. It’s decent enough, but not good enough to write more about here.

All in all, it’s a better album than I had feared it would be. Any time I see the words “Madonna” and “urban” in the same sentence, it’s usually a sign of awfulness. It’s also a bad sign when Madonna “hooks up” with the “latest and greatest” producer (like Timbaland, in this case). Notice that the best Madonna albums happen when Madge picks a DJ or producer out of relative obscurity (like Stuart Price for Confessions or William Orbit for Ray of Light). She should always stick to her won instincts, rather than do “what’s cool at the moment”…. which I guess is my main complaint with this album.

It seems to me that Hard Candy is Madonna’s blatant attempt to “black up” herself in order to win back a US audience. Confessions was a huge hit in almost every country but the U.S., so I guess Madonna thinks that getting Kanye West to sing backup will help her gain fans here. And I suppose she’s smart to think that. The album is actually pretty decent (even if I’m not especially excited about it as I was for her past few albums). Just like a loyal puppy, I’ll stick with her through this “phase”, and I’m guessing most of her hard core American fans will, too. So she can essentially release this album “risk free”. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like that she’s hanging out with Justin Timberlake and Kanye West.

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