By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
You could tag Music as Madonna's return to grinding, as her discovery of house music, as her post-spiritual-stupidity album or simply as a wonderful dance-floor breakdown. Were you grumpy and too hip for your own good, you could indict The Lady for coattail surfing, for watering down the good stuff, for co-opting the house-music renaissance and powdering it all pretty-like for Sally Soccermom. Were you an aesthete, you could examine the Music nooks and pinch the crumbs of perfection buried within, from the Moog zips to the synthetic snare washes to the trance bumps, and were you a scholar you could examine the record in the broad context of her recording it with a bun in the oven, (almost) married with children, in love, in her 40s and straddling celebrity and domesticity. As with any icon, Madonna's a world of perspectives and deserves to be taken seriously from any number of angles.
But on most of Music -- the good parts -- she has no desire to be taken seriously. She just wants to "boogie with my baby." At its best, during those tracks designed for the dance floor, Madonna captures a spirit she lost a decade ago, one that's in love with the club scene, in love with the beat and its effects on the soul and in love with scooting to the mainstream cliff and wiggling her toes just over its edge. If only she'd shut up, or hire a songwriter, because it's too tempting to cut Madonna's lyrics from every angle: She drowns in clichés, and nearly every expressed emotion is a Hallmarker.
But let's drop it, because few arrive at a Madonna record hoping for a Shakespeare moment; even she admits as much, on "Gone": "I'm not very smart" (and then subtly reinforces the notion with the clumsy rhyme, "Why should I feel sad/for what I never had?"). But she is smart, just apparently not book-smart, and she's at her best when she drops the touchy-feely bullshit, the bland attempts at being a "songwriter," and simply asks, "Do you like to boogie-woogie?" Fuck yeah, we like to boogie-woogie, lady. You know that. Let's get to it.
She gets to it immediately with the nearly perfect title-track kickoff, "Music," a hard, funky single that, despite its lyrical shortcomings (that crap about the bourgeoisie and the rebel), is totally alive with pleasure. The pleasure is owed to the presence of French house producer Mirwais Ahmadzai, who has successfully snagged the Now vibe of the dance floor and cemented it solidly into the songs; his production is hard, cold and rigid, an aural punch in the tummy. It's Ahmadzai who is the other star of Music, and the liberal doses of digital Robutussin with which he covers Madonna's voice are refreshing and somewhat daring (especially on the wonderful midtempo epic "Nobody's Perfect").
Those who have dismissed Madonna's music should think about checking her Music. Really. It's a cool record, filled with adventure and pure joy. That it's often watered-down Basement Jaxx or Daft Punk (the latter sprang from the same French house scene as Ahmadzai) is undeniable, and those hot on Basement Jaxx's Remedy, from last year, will no doubt find themselves aching to pop on the real deal after wading through Music. But Madonna's not a French house producer. She's Madonna. She's best at capturing something outside and bringing it inside. She's done so perfectly, with her best timing in years, which is why it debuted at No. 1 on the charts, her first record to do so in more than a decade. Madonna's some sort of genius -- that's for damn sure. It shows on Music.
Plus, she looks totally hot in the booklet.