Madonna - Hard Candy
Review by Jack Foley
YOU have to hand it to Madonna, she knows how to stay on top. Her finger is very much on the pulse of new music trends, even if she’s long since stopped being at the cutting edge.
Hard Candy, her 11th studio album and follow-up to 2005’s ode to disco, Confessions On A Dance Floor, finds her uniting with some of the biggest names in contemporary music: whether it’s Timbaland and The Neptunes on production duties, or Justin Timberlake and Kanye West on guest vocals.
The ensuing album owes more of its style to urban hip hop than pop but it’s a barnstorming collection of songs that are capable of shaking up many a dancefloor over the coming months.
Spearheaded by the phenomenal 4 Minutes, which features a stonking brass section and gutsy support from Timberlake, Hard Candy is a flavour-filled dance record that’s well worth overdosing on.
Album opener Candy Shop drops a minimalist skittle drum beat over some sharp stabs of synth and a sexy set of vocals, before 4 Minutes drops to deliver the undisputed LP highlight.
A forthcoming single, Give It To Me, finds Madonna at her most playful, dropping the urban heaviness of the first two tracks in favour of a pop-friendly disco-groove beat and plenty of humour. Strangely, though, it kind of sticks out like a sore thumb from the tone of the rest of proceedings and is arguably one of the weaker tracks.
Fortunately, the synth-driven, hand-clap laden Heartbeat raises the standard once again and will have you bopping frantically about the living room (or bedroom) floor. While Miles Away, with its stop-start acoustic guitars and stripped back beats, offers a nice mid-tempo recording that’s more akin to the Music-era shuffle of her work with Guy Sigsworth. She sounds like she’s having fun delivering the lyrics.
A further highlight comes in the form of the flamenco-fuelled Spanish Lesson, which sets another blistering pace and benefits from the guitar-based beats that accompany it. While the Timbaland-produced Voices ends things in supremely confident fashion, concocting the type of super-slick sound that has helped Timbaland turn hit-maker for the likes of Nelly Furtado and OneRepublic.
The slow, provocative Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You, meanwhile, drops another smooth, sexy backbeat and an almost cinematic vibe. It’s the slowest record on the long-player and is a real grower.
Sadly, there are disappointments that prevent the album from becoming an out-and-out five-star classic. Her collaboration with Kanye West, Beat Goes On, being one of the biggest. It’s almost as though both performers held each other with too much respect and refused to stamp their own individual style on proceedings and the song that ensues is really quite bland.
Incredible and Dance 2Night, meanwhile, fail to ignite in the same way that the best tracks do and show much less imagination.
But given the standards she sets herself, and the level of expectation constantly heaped upon her, Madonna continues to answer her critics with Hard Candy and has delivered a damn fine album. In fact, when it’s hot, it’s positively scorching!
Download picks: 4 Minutes, Heartbeat, Miles Away, Spanish Lesson, Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You, Voices