Madonna has never shied away from appropriating cultural references, but she does double duty with the title of her latest album. MDNA is both a play on the chemical name for ecstasy (MDMA) and a thinly veiled effort to align herself with the too-cool-for-vowels trend popularized by acts like SBTRKT and MGMT. The first association is the more relevant one: On MDNA, the Material Girl continues her infatuation with turn-of-the-century rave music. On several songs, Madonna’s vocal track (a generous description, considering how much her voice is treated with Auto-Tune) is an afterthought to the bumpin’ beats. The tunes that sound more like late-period Madonna classics, “Girl Gone Wild” and “Turn Up the Radio,” are better, but not by much. “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” Madonna’s attempt to appeal to the youth market using M.I.A. and a stunt-rapping Nicki Minaj, sounds more like a dressed-up Avril Lavigne track.
The best moment on MDNA is the most incongruous one: the dark revenge narrative “Gang Bang,” on which Madonna’s real voice is heard howling (likely in ex Guy Ritchie’s direction), “Drive, bitch / And while you’re at it: Die, bitch.” There are also enough conflicted religious references to necessitate a term paper on Madonna’s current position vis-a-vis Catholicism—but it’s not worth the effort. Too much MDNA will only lead to
a teeth-grinding headache in the morning.
Playlist pick: “Gang Bang”