First Listen: Madonna – Hard Candy

I was a bit disappointed when I heard that Madonna’s new album would take an r’n’b direction, and involve Timbaland, because although he’s made a few pretty good songs in recent years, I’d like to hear something a bit different from Madonna. I also really liked the style of her last album, especially Hung Up, which is one of my favourite number 1s of this decade. I’m nothing like as interested in 4 Minutes, although I admit it’s enjoyable and does feature a member of *N Sync, but I have to give her album a chance and see what she can pull out of the bag, and whether a woman who this year turns 50 can pull off r’n’b as well as the current popstars she has inspired.

1. Candy Shop
This is easily comparable to Nelly Furtado, but I’d actually say it’s up to the level of Miss Furtado – not second rate, as I’d heard allegations of this album being, in comparison to similar recent releases. Still, we are only on the first track. To be honest I’m just relieved this doesn’t feature 50 Cent – it’s certainly miles better than his horribly anti-feminist single of the same name. The track’s not entirely lacking in pointless guest stars, though – Pharrell makes a totally unwarranted (but luckily very short) appearance.
70% Poptastic!

2. 4 Minutes (ft. Justin Timberlake)
The one we all know. I’ve never really thought properly about whether I like this. It just started being on the radio and I listened out for it and although I didn’t find myself clamouring for another listen, I certainly wasn’t wishing for it to end either. It kind of amuses me because when it comes on I often get confused and think Me Against The Music is being played. I always thought that track was a bit underrated, so I don’t mind that she’s recycled it a bit here, and it’s quite fitting what with 4 Minutes featuring Britney’s ex.
75% Poptastic!

3. Give It 2 Me
I love the fun beat and vocoder effects of this one, and the song overall is very poptastic, much more in the vein of her early work (with a modern twist) than I expected from anything on Hard Candy. I think this would make a very good single choice, although the ‘get stupid’ bit will certainly entice comparisons to Gwen Stefani…. but that didn’t hurt Hung Up, practically a Gwen tribute song. I’m actually feeling pretty enthusiastic!
90% Poptastic!

4. Heartbeat
It begins, quite predictably, with a heartbeat, then progresses with some nice synths and an urban beat. I’m bopping along to the music, but I think the actual sung melody could be improved. That part is a little clumsy, but I imagine it improves on further listens. The chorus seems better each time. There are some poptastic bits, but hearing a lady older than my mum singing “see my booty get down” with reactions of “uhh” from Pharrell Williams is inevitably a little disturbing.
70% Poptastic!

5. Miles Away
A more acoustic sound, but it makes for a good beat, and the melody here is so much better than the verses of Heartbeat. Really hooky, and the chorus plants this as a definite pop song. Great clap-along bit near the end, followed by added disco backing. I’m enjoying this album quite a lot so far! This track is really sunny and very much reminiscent of the songs on the Immaculate Collection, undoubtedly my favourite era of Madonna. I did name my other blog after one of the tracks, after all.
95% Poptastic!

6. She’s Not Me
A clapping beat and jazzy sounds set the tone for this track, but again the melody is quite connectable to Madge’s early hits. However, the chorus reminds me very much of Britney’s latest album. Thinking about it lyrically, it could actually be about Britney – interesting! Then again, this girl apparently has “beautiful hair”… The song is good, and I like the clap clap bits and the middle 8, but it can’t quite match up to the greatness of the track before, and Pharrell makes yet another pointless appearance. Still a pretty good song, though.
70% Poptastic!

7. Incredible
This is very much an r’n’b song (a bit Promiscuous Girl but not as catchy), but Madonna’s voice still makes it pop. I think the associations we have with her and pop are so strong that anything she does is pop, no matter how hard it tries to be something else. Madonna just is pop music. This album may take Madonna in an r’n’b direction, but at heart she is distinctly Madonna, in a way no-one else can be, and she can never not be.
65% Poptastic!

8. Beat Goes On (ft. Kanye West)
What is with all the heavy breathing at the start? This is very low-key, building up as it goes along. This is the most serious attempt to be r’n’b of the album so far, and it is suitably boring. I do hope the fact that Kanye is involved doesn’t mean it’ll be the next single, because apart from not being very good, it’s also a bit misleading about the overall style of this album, which this doesn’t truly reflect. I would have actually been more pleased if it was a Cher cover. In fact, there’s not even a sample!
45% Poptastic!

9. Dance 2Nite
Timbers worked on this one too, and makes quite a large appearance, considering it’s not credited as featuring him. It’s obviously aiming to be quite funky, but it seems a little dated to me. It’s certainly not the catchiest track on the album, which is a disappointment, since Justin was also involved in Miles Away. I’m not terribly impressed, but it’s better than Beat Goes On. The cheesy title makes me think of DanceX… oh dear!
50% Poptastic!

10. Spanish Lessons
I was going to make a joke about expecting this to sound like Spanish by Craig David… and then it did! I actually liked that one, though. This is OK, but I’ll be amazed if Madonna ever makes another Spanish-style song better than La Isla Bonita. This is a bit more Mi Chico Latina, but again I did quite like that one. Well, it was better than Look At Me! Now how did I end up talking about Geri in this review? Proof, if ever there was, that this is absolutely a pop album! This isn’t its most poptastic moment, though.
60% Poptastic!

11. Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You
Oh, it pained me to write that z. This is a ballad with electro backing that sounds like bubbles popping. It’s not too bad, but I have pretty high standards for ballads and generally a preference for more powerful ones compared to this sort which is more like a slowed-down version of the other tracks, or a female version of a JT album track. I was about to say Madonna isn’t really the queen of ballads, but then I recalled the incredible Frozen, one of my all time faves of her songs. So, she can do better!
65% Poptastic!

12. Voices
Last track, so let’s see if she can end on a poptastic note, cos I have to say all the greatness seems to be at the start… well, it begins interestingly, seeming a bit of a 90s throwback. The verse is hooky, then leads to a strange bridge with dog metaphors. The chorus makes this a spooky pop ballad, but I’m a little distracted by being reminded of allSTARS and similar Hallowe’en spooky songs. An interesting track, but not really memorable.
65% Poptastic!

So it turns out that I shouldn’t have been concerned at all – although there’s nothing quite as amazing as Hung Up (and really, few things are) and the first half is far superior to the second, overall Hard Candy is just as poptastic as Confessions on a Dancefloor. I heartily recommend it!

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