Madonna’s ‘MDNA’ Has Critics Pondering: Is It a Dance or Divorce Album?
Which is not to say that Madonna, unlike music itself, is necessarily one to make the people come together. There is also plenty of snark to go around in the reviews, and while some critics question whether her full immersion in youthful dance music is appropriate for a superstar of 53, others take her to task for not being nearly as edgy or provocative as she used to be. In other words, she is either acting too immature or too mature, depending on which bone you prefer to pick.
Disagreement also hinges on whether MDNA is an autobiographically revealing work that could be described as "our lady's divorce album," as Rolling Stone's Joe Levy did, or whether it's really more of a delightful disco romp. Three or four of the songs do seem to deal with the breakup of her marriage to filmmaker Guy Ritchie, but the majority are care-free dance-floor fodder, so you might be confused as you read the reviews about whether the album is a confessional or pure ear candy.
The New York Times may have gotten at that duality best. "It's a bipolar collection that pumps out effervescent electronic pop before making way for a contentious personal agenda," writes Jon Pareles."MDNA places most of the dance-club songs up front... The tone darkens after the dance tunes... Her survival instinct is her pop instinct, the one that hones catchiness above all, and it gets her through MDNA with hook after hook."
Under a headline that calls the album "exhilarating" and "great," the New York Daily News' longtime lead critic, Jim Farber, effusively emphasized the booty-shaking aspects. "Upbeat tracks dominate MDNA," Farber writes. "So many good tracks crowd the disc, in fact, that even the four extras on the deluxe version rate as must-owns... The dance songs that dominate aren't pushing mainstream club music ahead, as Madonna did on albums like Erotica or Ray of Light. But they're in step with the most pleasurable tics and beats of now." Farber notes that "much of MDNA has more the flip zip of a disc by Katy Perry or Ke$ha than something by a woman who may be older than both their mothers." And for this critic, that's a good thing: "The music itself is what makes her flagrant act of regression not embarrassing but both pointed and exciting... It finds Madonna aging in the most nose-thumbing way possible — in reverse."
But there are other reviewers who would prefer that Madonna act her age, not her shoe or conical-bra size.
"Who wants to party with Madonna today?" asks the critic for England's Telegraph. "She looks exhausted and unhappy and MDNA leaves me feeling the same. It's not that a woman of 50 has no right to be on the dance floor. I'm all for that. But a woman who's putting so much visibly desperate energy into looking and sounding like a teenager is missing the point of pop, of parties … of life. The horribly cliched lyrics to these unoriginal disco 'n' dubstep numbers hint at the more alarming idea that Madonna still thinks like a teenager. Hearing that her idea of romance is giving a lover the password to her phone makes me wonder if she's botoxed her brain."