I was super-excited about Hard Candy‘s release, and you know what? Madonna delivered.
I had my doubts about the album, sure. Awhile back, I wasn’t too worried about the rumored urban direction in which the album was headed. I think Madonna has proven that she can handle any genre she wants to handle. But the demos of “The Beat Goes On” (reworked into “Beat Goes On”) and “Candy Shop” (which was left pretty much as-is) didn’t seem to hint at a great album.
And then “4 Minutes” was released, and my excitement for what was now called Hard Candy was re-energized. 30sec clips of the album tracks were put online closer to the album’s release and my excitement hit a new high. This was going to be an awesome album!
A little before 12:00 AM April 29, I got an email from iTunes telling me I could download my pre-ordered copy of Hard Candy and I put whatever I was working on aside to listen.
You really shouldn’t get as hyped up as I did for this album because you’re just going to feel a bit let down. At least, that is, on the first listen. I liked the songs, of course, but it wasn’t the awesome album I had heard in “4 Minutes” and those 30sec clips. Over the next week, though, I played the album over and over again, and I can firmly declare that Hard Candy is indeed awesome.
Is it my favorite of Madonna’s most recent releases? Probably not (yet). Confessions On A Dance Floor takes that place. It was released during my first semester of university and I have a huge soft spot for it – besides, it’s a brilliant dance album.
But Hard Candy – whoa! It’s the freshest Madonna has sounded in years and even more than that, it’s fun! Haters will continue hating, saying that Madonna’s just trying to stay relevant by working with hip names like Justin Timberlake and Pharrell, that she’s having some sort of mid-life crisis, singing lyrics like “see my booty get down.” But who else could make clinging to relevancy at almost-50 sound so good? (All together now, “4 Minutes”-style – Ma-donn-uh!)
What I love most about Hard Candy is that it sounds like it might have been made by any pop pretender-to-the-throne out there, and yet, it could only have been made by Madonna. There’s this indefinable fierceness that runs through the whole album that cannot and will not ever be duplicated. Declarations like “my sugar is raw,” “I can go on and on and on” (really, the whole of “Give It 2 Me”), and “I know I can do it better” pepper the album and remind us that Madonna is most certainly the Queen of Pop (as if we could forget!).
The only track on the album that I don’t care for is “Candy Shop.” I’m sorry, but it’s weak. Really weak. The “my sugar is raw (sticky and sweet)” bit is cool, but the rest isn’t great. Luckily, it’s followed by “4 Minutes,” which you’ve probably heard by now so I won’t go over how cool it is again. :) “Give It 2 Me” didn’t grab me on my first few listens – the bass and synth lines sounded kinda cheesy and the chorus seemed a bit… well, weak. It’s still not my favorite song on the album but it’s full of energy and the lyrics are too cool for school! Love that “get stupid” part. I have no idea why, but it’s fun.
“Heartbeat” is all about dancing, a clear relative of “Into The Groove” but with a groove of its own. The skipping synths and bass-heavy beats of this track surround nice vocals from Madonna and one of my favorite parts of the album, simply for its… well, I dunno, but it’s something: the break with Madonna telling us to “see my booty get down” and then making some sort of noise like she’s hocking up phlegm. “Huh huh” indeed!
An uptempo ballad comes along next in the form of “Miles Away,” which will definitely be read into by critics and tabloid journalists as being about a forthcoming breakup of Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s marriage. Yeah, whatever. Take it for what it is – a bittersweet tale of long-distance love with beautiful vocals from Madge and a lovely melody. The best track of the album so far.
“She’s Not Me” and you better not forget it! This funky jam runs through the reasons why Madonna is the definite article and the others are just posers. “Incredible” is truly that – incredible. I can hear how it might be annoying to some, but man oh man, I love it! Brilliant beats, shining synths, and ultra-catchy all around, “Incredible” is also an epic of sorts. It has several different melodies and the last two minutes or so – when the male backing vocals start up – is infectious and fierce. My favorite track on the album, with “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” and “Voices” following close behind.
“Beat Goes On” is a heavily reworked version of the similarly named demo that surfaced last year, and it’s way better! Much more upbeat, more fully produced, and it overall takes what was good about the demo and enhances it. The rap by Kanye West fits and even adds to the feel of the track. “Dance 2night” comes up next and has a nifty bassline and even niftier drums. Justin Timberlake pops up again and turns the song into a duet, but “Dance 2night” seems to have more Madonna than “4 Minutes” does. Great stuff! Up next is “Spanish Lesson,”which seems to be either hated or loved by fans. Me? I rather like it! The bridge and chorus are breathtaking and the Spanish flavor of the track works and doesn’t sound out of place alongside the rest of the songs.
Madonna albums usually get slower or sadder (or both) toward the end. I really like Madonna’s more downtempo, thoughtful tracks and “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” and “Voices” do not disappoint. “Devil” is gorgeous. That’s really all you need to know. Everything about it works – Madonna’s expressive voice is supported by wonderfully atmospheric production. It’s similar to “What Goes Around…” by Justin Timberlake (who co-wrote and co-produced this track) but better. “Voices” begins with a “Bohemian Rhapsody”-like intro sung by Justin. Biting lyrics, a particularly nice vocal from Madonna, and thick, string-soaked production combine to make this into a quietly epic ending. The song closes with the same haunting, clanging bell that featured heavily in the middle portion of the Confessions tour. Beautiful.
So. Hard Candy. It’s pretty darn good.