Madonna - Hard Candy

The last time we saw Her Madgesty she was prancing about in a leotard in the back of a van and rolling through the 'hood on a gangster lean picking up impressionable young boys (and girls) and stealing them away, no doubt to corrupt them. It was a 'Sorry' affair. Fortunately it was set to a great soundtrack, the 'Confessions On A Dance Floor' album, so we cheered her on with her questionable 'Yoga-based kidnapping shenanigans'. From the Abbatastic 'Hung Up' to the spooky (and 'Street Spirit'-esque) 'Like It Or Not', it was a birrova marvel.

Having spent a decade invading Europe like a bewigged Dracula, draining it of its blood (Mirwais, William Orbit, Stuart Price, Bloodshy & Avant, Pet Shop Boys) she has been boxed up and shipped back to her homeland. The fact that American radio had stopped playing her records - none of the singles from 'American Life' or 'Confessions' were heavily playlisted - probably had some bearing on her decision. That, and the fact that infinitely less charismatic 'good-girls-gone-bad' like Rihanna were threatening to push her out of the spotlight.

Not so much of a surprise then to hear her drawn back to the American club sound of her roots, but strange she would for once ride the coattails of a dying scene. There's no questioning Timbaland's (and to a far lesser extent Pharrells') talent but when you consider the fact that he's now been milked dry by Nelly Furtado, Duran Duran, 50 Cent, Beyonce, Pussycat Dolls, Ashlee Simpson and God-help-us Lindsay Lohan - you've got to question this pop pioneer's senses. One imagines Furtado's cracking 'Loose' album must have got Mrs Ritchie fuming though, so perfect was it in its homage of vintage Madonna.

Opener 'Candy Shop' is obviously destined to kick off this years' live shows and, despite a typically unwelcome 'vocal' from Pharrell, works pretty well in setting up the store in style.

It took me a while to warm to first single '4 Minutes', but if you can get past the dopey lyrics, it's hard to deny how alive it sounds booming out of a car stereo on a beautiful summers day. Justin Timberlake is a canny lad and his contribution here creates a good piece of generational pop sparring.

Second single 'Give It 2 Me' reminds me of the theme from 'Borat' and makes me want to do a Cossack dance around the house, but that's probably just me. It's an infectious and insistent track and I likes it.

Overall, and for a woman so smart and worldly-wise, the lyrics are pretty poor. Obviously pop doesn't need to be Shakespearean to be ace, this is the woman who's key lyrical gift to the '80s was 'get into the groove'. But this is also the woman who wrote 'Oh Father', 'Live To Tell' and 'Frozen'.There's too much uninspired 'self defence' imagery here. She clearly feels those noughties pop rugrats nipping at her heels. There are also several mid-song break downs where she throws in the worst of R'n'B cliches like 'See my booty get down' and 'Get stoopid, get stoopid'. I'm not angry Madge, I'm just disappointed.

There are a few truly horrendous tracks – 'Incredible' is criminal enough but made far more excruciating thanks to Pharrell's braindead 'woo's'. It rudely drags on for six and a half painful minutes, as does the whiny 'She's Not Me', which was always destined to pale in comparison to Robbie and the Pet's far sharper 'She's Madonna'.

'Dance2Night', another stylish Timberlake collaboration, fares considerably better and deserves to be a single. Whilst not exactly 'Golden Years', it's a pretty convincing slice of white soul. 'Miles Away' is nice enough but the weedy marital trouble 'n' strife theme loses it a point. 'Spanish Lessons' is The Token Latin Track and proves we're now, sadly, a long way from 'La Isla Bonita'.

Luckily, the final pair of tunes, 'Devil' and 'Voices', are a hell of a lot classier and crucial reminders of Madge The Songwriter. Stronger, sexier and darker than anything that precedes them, it does feel like a last minute stay of execution. They certainly woke me up.

So all said and done a bit of a mess. After 25 years and dozens of legendary tracks only a fool would ever write Madonna off and if we have to persevere this chapter to rid those images of her pigeon shooting and downing pints in a flat cap, I'm happy to put my feet up and wait, for now.



out of 10
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