Welcome back party people. With any luck, you’ll all be feeling much better than I have been this past week. I was blessed with the flu which, even while I’m on the mend at the moment, has made me feel like I’ve needed to take a nap every time I finish writing a complete sentence. To make matters worse, some of this week’s musical offerings make me want to shake my fist and throw a tantrum on the nearest floor. Actually, the floor sounds awesome right about now.
It turns out there’s a lot of new music out today, so I’ll have to break this column out into two days in order to give each album a fair turn. Tomorrow I’ll be covering the new albums from The Pierces, Dawn Richard, Carla Morrison, Macy Gray, Ladyhawke and Susan Justice. See, lots of new music! Now let’s get cray.
Madonna — MDNA (Boy Toy/Live Nation)
Dear Reader, whatever you do, please do not take Madonna’s top spot placement as an endorsement of this album. Please also know that I came into this with an open mind and a hopefulness that was void of expectations.
Now, if I were to quickly summarize my thoughts on MDNA, I could leave it at this: Madonna has lost her G-D mind, has no clue who the hell she is anymore and has lost what made her who she is to begin with.
The album opener is the first single, “Girl Gone Wild,” and it’s basically a knock off of a knock-off of a knock-off. Madonna’s voice doesn’t sound bad but damn the production sounds super cheesy like someone decided to play with the treble and bass settings on some midi files.
Track number two starts out slick with a hot and sexy beat and then quickly turns into Madge doing her best M.I.A. impersonation while setting back feminism in five seconds flat in her opening line: “Like a bitch out of order, bat out of hell, fish out of water, I’m scared can’t you tell” Bang bang? Gang bang? WTF is going on with this sh-t. The song is a bizarre ode to hunting and killing an ex-lover. “Bang bang shot you dead. Shot my lover in the head.” Whatever happened to just getting over somebody by getting under someone else? I hate that this sick beat is wasted on bizarre lyrics like these. The only way to salvage the song for me is to turn it into a drinking game. From now on, I can replace The Police’s “Roxanne” with taking a drink for every time Madonna says “Bitch” in this song.
The first tolerable track, in my opinion, is “I’m Addicted.” This is either because the first two were so terrible or because of its danceability and Madonna sounding like the very best of her classic dance-pop self. “Some Girls” has another sick beat and hints of the Madonna I used to know and love, but also does a stellar job of highlighting the fact that this song could be sung by anyone besides the icon we are supposed to be lining up for.
The saddest part of all of this for me, aside from the fact that this is what is being considered good dance pop music these days, is that Madonna used to be the poster child for originality. Sure, that can’t be said of all of the music in her catalogue and artists need to change over time. I know she takes her money and her fame very seriously and has often caved to what sells at a particular time. But this album takes her posturing as someone she isn’t to a whole new level. She is beyond the fake British accent she sometimes gets.
Anyone who says this is “great” work or “classic” Madonna is fooling themselves. Listen closely and isolate the vocals in your mind and tell me this is any better than Rebecca Black on a good Friday. You never had to strain to hear her singing on “Don’t Tell Me,” and that was a jam! If she really wanted to be awesome, she would’ve done the ultimate middle finger to Gaga and included a “Ma-da-na-a-aaaaa” peppered throughout “Give Me All Your Luvin”.
She shines when she remains true to herself and falls as flatly as her fake British accent when trying too hard to be something she isn’t. Maybe I’m just getting “too old for this s–t” — and if you agree with the reviewers on Amazon and iTunes, I most certainly am — but like most dance-pop albums these days, if you’re going to celebrate this album, the credit should go to the beat makers behind them instead.
Thee Satisfaction — aWe naturalE (Sub Pop)
Are you still with me? I sure hope so, because Thee Satisfaction is a duo whose music is a multi-layered masterpiece. They are able to put the soul and energy into jazz that I just can’t seem to get out of Esperanza Spalding’s music and they don’t just stop there. This is creativity at work. Their genius is in weaving styles together that just shouldn’t make sense and making it seem effortless. Each song begs to be listened to multiple times if only just to see what sounds and influences they’ve been able to pull off. This is hip-hop, Afro-beat, Jazz, R&B, world music from a land that hasn’t even been discovered yet. This is also what I would point to as the antithesis of MDNA. Plus, they are girlfriends! Stream the album in its entirety over at Spinner or NPR.
Dev — The Night The Sun Came Up (Universal Republic)
When listened to on their own, most of The Night The Sun Came Up’s 12 tracks are worthy of a spin on your average dance pop playlist. But, together, they aren’t exactly what I would call an album. It is very difficult to distinguish one song from the next and there are certain production techniques that are so blatantly over-used it’s difficult to concentrate on much else. When I was first introduced to Dev on her “Like a G6” single, there was a sexy edge she had to her sound that seems to have vanished on this full-length release. Where she sounded like a badass backed up by a strong beat in the past, her tone seems to have been softened into another Katy Perry clone.
It’s possible that I’m being too harsh on Dev, but to me it seems like they’ve taken her unique qualities out of the equation anyway. It’s 2012 people; there are so many ways to make new sounds without spending a ton of money. I don’t understand why it’s acceptable to keep churning out the same “hits” with a few different words and call it a new album.
Lindsay Fuller — You, Anniversary (ATO Records)
Lindsay Fuller is an out singer-songwriter whose hard-rocking songs create a wall of sound much larger than you’d expect. Listening to the first two songs on You, Anniversary, I felt just as captivated by Fuller as I remember feeling when listening to Brandi Carlile and LP for the first time. These are songs with a pulse and raw emotion. I can’t wait to dive head first into this a little more later. You can stream the album in its entirety over at Spinner.
Madison Violet — The Good in Goodbye (High Romance Music)
I’ve said it here before: Twangy folk-rock, alt-country and Americana aren’t my go-to genres, but with acts like Madison Violet, The Civil Wars and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’s album Raising Sand, I am turning over a new leaf. This is a particularly refreshing change of pace in today’s batch of new music. The harmonies put together by this Juno-nominated Canadian duo combined with notes emerging from Real! Live! Instruments! is a welcome sound for sore ears. Bonus points for having a song asking, “Where’d you get the whiskey?” a question often heard leaving my mouth. Extra, extra bonus points after just confirming with their publicist — these two lovely ladies are also gay. As I was listening to the album, I kept hearing love songs directed at women, so I had to inquire. I’ll consider this another big score for the gAy-Team. Check out this great live video of the pair performing “Come As You Are.”
Honorable Mentions: Lionel Richie (Hello, yes, it was you I was looking for), Justin Townes Earl, Overkill, Paul Weller, The Used, Clay Aiken.
As stated earlier, there isn’t enough time in my day to have given all of today’s new music a spin, so come back tomorrow to hear about the rest. As always, feel free to yell at me through your computer in the comments, via Twitter or send love notes (sorry no haterade allowed) on my Facebook wall.