April 27, 2012
Two Gays Talking About MDNA
This is what happens when two breathless [Mahoney] Madonna fans survive the release of her new album and live to tell about it. Richard Chapman is my longtime friend who lives in London and is nothing if not erudite on the subject of The Queen. Get a cup of tea - we go deep.
XO [in DC, April 2, 2012]: So Richard, you have lived with MDNA for a week...
Richard [in, randomly, Tokyo]: I have and I have a relationship with it a bit like members of my family: some I love and hang out with constantly, some I would really rather I only saw once a year
XO: yes! I don't speak to Best Friend and Some Girls is a prodigal child
Richard: and Bday Song should be seen and not heard
XO: Bday Song is being put up for adoption by some terrible artist
Richard: Shall we be the A&R man that finally stood up to her?
XO: We're looking at you, Guy Oseary.
Richard: Shall we do a Fantasy MDNA?
XO: Yes! It's here we begin our story. I think I'm Addicted is a better opener than Girl Gone Wild.
Richard: Amen. It reminds me of something like Amazing off Music. It is very French and has some of her best and spikiest lyrics on this album.
XO: That early lyric about the "all of the letters pushed to the front of my mouth" is great AND SHE WROTE IT. And of course, I'm a dick dick dick
Richard: I am a fan of songs with unusual structures that build and build and this certainly does that. There is a great bit at 1.45 where it sounds like the synths from Music
XO: But don't you think the song would be better if it ended with X O L O... N D O N ?
Richard: Exactly. You would be able to finally heed her siren's call
XO: Thank you for your wisdom. I am going to 1:45, the siren synth
Richard: It's a fun moment. I compare Music with this record because it's like this whole album is a riposte to the gooey love on that one
XO: So what is the second song?
Richard: Girl Gone Wild, which seems like a good idea on paper, but the reality is a letdown
XO: Is it - here it comes - reductive? Would it be better with a Stuart Price remix? I mean, EVERYTHING WOULD.
Richard: Yes: Madonna is a girl gone wild, the girl from the midwest who came to New York. Stuart Price was needed here.
XO: She is getting criticism about her use of the word girl, which I think is a load of shit.
Richard: She can be a girl. Who cares? It doesn't bother me. Jane Fonda can be a girl if she wants, you know?
XO: Yes, that is what a woman can choose to do.
Richard: Stuart Price would have taken this bland song and given it a shot in the arm. It sounds like a song that could have been sent to Britney, who would have done her vocal gurning and turned it into something.
XO: Vocal gurning? Let's explore this!
Richard: That face that people on coke make... the way Britney makes words sound all weird and stretched. I thought that could have made GGW good, as opposed to Madge's vocal which sounds bad, but more as a fault of the production in my book. She just phones it in.
XO: Well, Britney could have had a Girl Gone Wild video where she attacked cars with an umbrella. A Statement. Strong Britney!
Richard: Britney off the meds!
XO: Not so great for track #2. I think the song is better than the recording, if that makes sense. I sound like a producer. But Richard, I love thee! What is the third tune on our version?
Richard: Gang Bang. I first heard this and I was completely bemused. What is the point of this strange piece of music?
XO: It's bonkers
Richard: But then I got it: REVENGE FANTASY… and I was all over it
XO: But she needed this crazy song - she needed to push the boat out.
Richard: Something completely doolally
XO: Doolally? What?
XO: How Hugh Grant of you
Richard: Slightly loopy
XO: I get it, luv.
Richard: I hope Quentin did get the memo. He's a Madonna fan
XO: Tarantino will do it!
Richard: Anyway, this is BATSHIT CRAZY
XO: Supposedly she did it in one take. Came up with it on the spot. Okay, our fourth song is Turn Up The Radio. Sunday Girl Jade wrote it.
Richard: Bravo Jade. I hope she can afford to move out of her bedsit on the back of that
XO: You are a vicious queen. I think you like this song more than me.
Richard: Yes, this is the moment when I really start to get on board with this album
XO: I LIKE it, but I find the chorus a bit Simple Susie
Richard: That's the point. It's the big 'into the groove moment' of MDNA. It's a wonderful sunny day, windows down pop song
XO: I love the "here I begin my story" bit.
Richard: that's killer, the way the song drops out when she says 'story'
XO: I want remixes up the wazoo
Richard: It's a real "hands in the air" song. Someone else may have written this, but she sounds completely at home, in a way that GGW sounds so annoying and forced
XO: True, yes. I like the keyboard tapping on it. I mean the beat beat beat beat
Richard: It's just a copper bottom great pop song. It drives. By the way, Turn up the Radio: we must mention "til the speakers... BLOW"
XO: [still thinking about the phrase "copper bottom"] YES!
Richard: Incredible moment
XO: Can you imagine it live? It will be HUGE
Richard: The gays in Brazil may never recover. Gay faces melting off. Like a gay nuclear meltdown. Rio FLATTENED.
XO: My gayface melted off and I became straight.
Richard: My genitals melted, turned inside out and I became a woman, all due to the Turn Up The Radio’s breakdown
Richard: THAT is why I think it's a high watermark on this record
XO: So what is the 5th song?
Richard: Give Me All Your Luvin’. What a bland piece of crap.
XO: GAYGASP. Can we just press delete?
Richard: Can we have therapy and repress the memory? Simply put, in your terms, it's Not Worthy. As thin and papery as a napkin.
XO: I already replaced GMAYL with Beautiful Killer so..
Richard: Pretend L U V never happened. Killer is the song that really sounds like a French movie. We are suddenly very happy with the presence of Solveig.
XO: it has the best middle eight on the album. Papa Don't Preach strings!
Richard: Papa strings - a lovely reference there. I don't think anyone but a Frenchman could have made this song.
XO: We know there's' nothing foreign to Madonna about a foreign film
Richard: You wonder if it's a fantasy or about someone she knows. Or what? You just don't know. It makes no sense and I love that.
XO: “Can't really talk with a gun in my mouth.” A quotable line!
Richard: Well, that line makes sense! But I bet Madonna can instruct her maid to make coffee and tap out an email with a gun in her mouth
XO: I have one issue with Beautiful Killer. It is the last line: “You’ll never be Alain Delon.” She gilded the lily there a wee bit
XO: I cringe, but maybe it just needed a snarkier delivery
Richard: It spoils the perfection. And I also hate the gunshot. She does love her sound effects CD, doesn't she?
XO: Guns are a weird theme for the Kabbalah Mama, non?
Richard: BBC Radiophonic Workshop Gunshot no.2
XO: I love that this song is SO Madonna. I don't hear as much Solveig.
Richard: It's true, and her vocals sound much stronger too. Like a Samurai you can handle the heat
XO: haha… a film reference from knowledgeable Madonna
Richard: That is a Delon reference, yes.
XO: Can you imagine the video, if this were done when she did videos?
Richard: I wish it would happen: Black and white film in a Paris café, swirls of smoke and a raincoat with the collar turned up. A washed out Paris at 5.30am.
XO: I'd like the bridge of the song filmed in Technicolor. Okay, what song is next? Do we need a change of pace?
Richard: Someone sound a rave horn! Some Girls
XO: if we must.
Richard: Fake tits and a nasty mood
XO: I don't think this song goes anywhere, Richard.
Richard: I think it's a bit of a mess too
XO: I find it a bit She's Not Me
Richard: There are some fun moments but... yes…
XO: …it’s REDUCTIVE [sips tea]
Richard: Self pity. I like the opening bits and the dirty synths
XO: It has that zippery snakey noise like a Royksopp track. Farty synths, not party synths! Orbit jizzes on this one...
Richard: 1.52 onwards is a bit PSB in the synth loop. It sounds a bit like she was on Skype on this song and the 'new message' noise pops up
XO: We've moved on from You've got mail
Richard: Madonna has male, more like
XO: There is some spoken drivel at the end. What is being said, Richard?
Richard: What is said? 3.13. It sounds like 'I got your fucking point'
XO: Something about fuck me heels on? heels off? I like the way this song ends. But I have a question...does I Fucked Up belong on the proper album?
Richard: I'm of two minds: on the one hand it has such clunky lyrics - someone dial Joe Henry to fix this! – but on the other, it has such a lovely melody. "We could have had a house with a swimming pool"? Didn't she already buy a house with a swimming pool?
XO: Right? Maybe that is an appeal to the 99%?
Richard: And couldn't she have afforded that anyway pre-Guy? Oh yes, Madonna and her 99%
XO: As if she cares. Can we make I'm A Sinner next?
Richard: Yes: because -whoops!- we just pretended Superstar never happened!
XO: Thank GOD. I was afraid you liked it
XO: I thought it might cause a dinner table spat
Richard: It's a crock of shit.
XO: Okay, to me it screams b-side like Supernatural. And youjustknow in the comments for this post someone will scream, “I LOVE SUPERNATURAL!”
Richard: fret not - Lola's vocal debut should have been a b-side. Is she doing some lalas?
XO: oh Lola is doing oh oh oh ooooh
Richard: Back to I'm a Sinner, the successor to Beautiful Stranger, a song I never liked, but this sounds like it is pure 60s pop. And Madonna's on her knees again here.
XO: She feels best there, Dickie, don't you?
Richard: A familiar pose for all of us, I'm sure
XO: No comment [sips tea]
Richard: I just imagine Madonna multi-tasking during sex
XO: Texting perhaps? Lifting those little hand weights?
Richard: On all fours typing angry emails to her concierge
XO: "Get these cheap sheets off this bed NOW"
Richard: Or furious memos to Liz Rosenberg about how the airbrushing is NOT ENOUGH
XO: Don't start on the airbrushing! Anyway, MDNA had to squeeze her own balls for this one vocally. I don't mind the self referencing on this song either.
Richard: This is fine: it's her album; it does feel like she wrote this. It’s like the song Girl Gone Wild needed to be. It's saying the same thing, but stuffed thick with Catholicism.
XO: This one has Jean Baptiste [co-writer] singing.
Richard: Yes, Jean Baptiste - why couldn't he have done the Benassi tracks?
XO: I too wish she'd done more with Jean Baptiste [reference to Kelis’s Flesh Tone LP]
Richard: Benny Benassi is a relic, Jean Baptiste is where it's at
XO: Kelis probably said "Don't do it, JB!" Kelis could probably beat M up
Richard: I dunno, I think it would be a pretty fair fight
XO: Guess who produced Brave by Kelis?
Richard: So that's why he's here. The Kelis record is the one that made Madonna need to make music again, not Gaga
XO: Baptiste did her Song For The Baby
Richard: Yes, I would have had JB and Orbit. Farewell Solveig and Benny
XO: I will let her have Solveig and just fill in the gaps. I just think Baptiste is deeper than Solveig. [sigh] What song is next for our version of MDNA?
Richard: Do we discuss I Don't Give A?
XO: Yes, OMG, a stone classic.
Richard: ...because this is great
XO: I don't give a fu huh huh huh
Richard: This is the REAL American Life, you know?
XO: The speed of the rap covers up the wonk lyrics. But it does have one of the LP's most classic moment: [Simultaneously]
XO: BABY JESUS ON THE STAIRS!
Richard: Baby David on the stairs. Sorry! Jesus!
XO: I bet he gets in her way. MOVE PLEASE, DAVID, NOW.
Richard: Baby Mercy on the stairs! But do you think baby Jesus on the stairs is in fact a reference to Jesus Luz?! I just thought that.
XO: Why didn't I think of that? Youjustknow some older friend called Jesus Luz "Baby Jesus."
Richard: I think this song is the most ironic on the record: “and if it was a failure, I don't give a"
XO: She cares. Nicki too… I like this rap.
Richard: "You can't get these shoes at the Aldo" I love that. The rap actually means something and pertains to the song, which in rent-a-rapper terms is rare as hen's teeth. But I HATE the “There’s only one queen and that's Madonna. Bitch."
XO: Oh, I like that, but it seems very directed at youknowwho.
Richard: Yes, Gaga who? I don't feel her threat or presence here at all, which is very interesting. Overall, this album is an assertion she's still here, not trying to pick off the competition still here, still relevant
XO: Exactly. So the end of Don’t Give A is the “live show opener or closer” coda. I call it The Game Of Thrones moment.
Richard: It's got swagger and then an EPIC ENDING OF NOTE. Choral, crazed. In the show, Madonna will have left the stage. It will be extended to 6 minutes while she changes, dancers will dance meaningfully.
XO: This alone gives the album an extra star. Everyone slayed.
Richard: Gays will embrace and weep
XO: Yep another gay fantasia moment. Straight men will go to the restroom and get on their knees after that song.
Richard: it's a major moment
XO: What is next?
Richard: Love Spent, the album's high water mark. My biggest complaint on this one is that it is too short
XO: People who don't like this song might be like Sarah Palin followers
Richard: How so?
XO: I JUST DON'T GET THEM. But I am all about love, so... anyway, I think we were all thrown by the clip and then finally hearing this sort of two part song. Orbit has so many ideas.
Richard: It really is so full of quirk and fun
XO: She said the banjo was his choice
Richard: Bravo Bubbles [aka William Orbit]
XO: See, yes, but there is something actually transcendent too. This song has layers
Richard: It is rich and dense
XO: Hold me till there's nothing left. Gorgeous
Richard: That is a wonderful lyric moment
XO: The vocals are stunning even with some tricks
Richard: I love how the money metaphor continues throughout and you suddenly realise she's wrung out. At 2:14 it suddenly escalates and whooshes and I roll around screaming.
XO: Yes! And then we have the, as BILLY BUBBLES SAID TO ME, "fireworks" at 2:58 which make me run around my house screaming. Did I tell you that William Orbit, as I hinted above, tweeted me about my review, unprompted?
Richard: No!! What did he say?
XO: Look it up [sips tea] https://twitter.com/#!/WilliamOrbit/status/185016131239677952
Richard: I love how chatty he is. A true English eccentric. I think it's wonderful that Madonna adores him. Her enthusiasm is unbridled.
XO: Yes, I think she appreciates his musicality and knows that it brings that out of her too. He thinks she is a genius.
Richard: In a review in the Observer, they said "the final three songs sound like part of a better, more realised project" I think that's a bit unfair
Richard: but equally there are moments when I feel like this is Madonna's version of Kylie's X
XO: I think these songs sound like another album
Richard: Does it all hang together?
XO: I'm not sure
Richard: Or is it a "greatest hits" record by all these different producers
XO: Time will tell us that. Here is the deal: I think that the last 3 songs represent what people really wanted from her
Richard: What WE wanted from her
XO: But that kind of album does not necessarily play live so well
XO: Her true power is in these songs
Richard: For every Love Spent, you need a Turn up the Radio
XO: Fair enough. So what about Masterpiece? It WORKS on the album! Who knew?!
Richard: Well I completely agree. I heard it last December
XO: Of course! At the WE premiere
Richard: yes - that's when I fell for Madonna again. She was charming and funny and full of enthusiasm. And I think a lot of that came from making this record
XO: She was great on the Larry Flick interview too. So into the music
Richard: GREAT moment that
Richard: She never gets asked about music, only about underwear or silly rumours, and then when someonesays "tell us about the album," she says, "What do you want to know?" - which is irritating, but Larry really pushed her
XO: Did she do that with him?
Richard: No, she did that to Jay Leno in January
XO: She allowed Larry's enthusiasm to affect her. I think there is often a wall. To her detriment.
Richard: Agreed. So Masterpiece is a gentle island on the album. the lyrics seem soft and warm
XO: Nothing's indestructible is a key line. I DO kind of wish it had more epic strings at the end
Richard: I agree. But then again it is just a simple song. In the context of the other divorce songs on this record, it suddenly has added resonance. "Hold on to me like there's nothing left" then her lover is an icy portrait on a wall
XO: Can we end our MDNA with Falling Free? One of her most esoteric songs and yet not|
Richard: the best lyrics on the album here: and Joe Henry is to be thanked for that
XO: Yes, bless him
Richard: they are simple but resonant
XO: You know what line lays me flat? The last one. Because that is where she really shares her wisdom. “When I let loose the need to know, we’re both free, free to go.” So sad.
Richard: I love "A hairline break that's taking hold" at the beginning. Very Ray Of Light, those pulsing synths. Drowned World returns. “And what you take is just enough / And what you give is what I love" - wonderful words
XO: I think this song is a grower; it’s going to hit people over time, not right away. This is also one of the smartest songs structurally, melodically.
Richard: It is pay dirt musically on this record
XO: Did you notice the vocal at the end after the strings? They are much rawer, lower and slower. #chills
Richard: The slowdown is incredible. This is what I wanted from this record. It follows other great "album end songs" in her catalogue, particularly Gone and Easy Ride.
XO: I wanted more of this. Sigh.
Richard: So overall, do we think this is a good album or a playlist with epic moments?
XO: I'd say it is a "good" album in the Bedtime Stories sense. Meaning not terribly cohesive, but some of it will age well. Some of the tracks, especially a few of the "bonuses," are ripe shit. It's not in her top albums.
Richard: Well exactly. I don't know if I like the notion of these bonus songs. It's like the purity of an album is diluted with this ragbag of other songs
XO: I agree, but we can at least make our own lists
Richard: Yes, but we shouldn't have to: her A&R people should be doing that. We need to admit something here: We like MDNA, but Madonna's musical challengers are Kelis and Robyn
XO: Those two women are really driving the genre Madonna created
Richard: My key question is: is MDNA better than Flesh Tone or Body Talk?
XO: NO NO NO
Richard: No, It is not
XO: Madge doesn't have a Dancing On My Own or Hang With Me on MDNA
Richard: and Robyn's vocal is in another league, ditto Kelis
XO: Well, hmmm, both their voices are 1) very unique and 2) younger, therefore perhaps stronger naturally
XO: And the real question is this: What will those two women do for their 12th albums? I doubt they will get there.
Richard: This is very valid. And this is Madonna's 13th if we include I'm Breathless (and I do)
XO: I do not!
Richard: Ok, we will diverge there
XO: What Can You Lose, only the blues.... I had a serious moment with that song last fall! Played it for like 5 days
Richard: Madge Stans unite. What are our key takings from this? I think her next album will be The One and I think it will come within 2 years. I think she has the taste for it again
XO: I have to say that despite this being a strong record, I am not sure she fully realized her current "voice" until maybe it was late in the game.
Richard: Or the core message she wanted to make
XO: Right. It seems like she started with a party record – the usual "I fancy dancing"
Richard: - then she got angry
Richard: and then Orbit got involved
XO: Realized again that music brought out her inner feelings
Richard: Right - that it's not all about dancing. She can go really deep
XO: As she gets older, I hope we'll get more of that. Slate said her power is on the dancefloor, but I think if that were true, she'd be long gone from our hearts.
Richard: Agree: and it will be less about booking the tour dates, and more about a piece of art and MDNA feels like a bit of both. It's the antithesis and endgame to the emotion and crazy love for Guy Ritchie she felt and emotes on Music and American Life. Somehow this should be the album of heartbreak and devastation, but she got so caught up with wanting to make a disco record she forgot she should let that take the album to the place it needed to go emotionally. That is the project I wish she would do next.
XO: Right! This is not just a sentimental attachment to Madonna; it is people looking to her to reflect something more emotional they need to hear
Richard: She went to the party, got into a big fight and went home to cry.
XO: Falling Free is the "I am still awake at sunrise" song when the anger has turned into sadness
Richard: That's what MDNA is to me. And you know what, who hasn't done that? That's why I like this album. It feels like a bad night out with a great soundtrack. MDNA: a bad trip but with great music.