Tonight, a dream came true—I was invited to Liz Rosenberg's office for a Madonna listening party. It wasn't for Like a Prayer and this wasn't 1989, but MDNA lived up to my expectations and Liz always surpasses them.
In a nutshell: Write my Orbituary, MDNA is a beautiful killer. (I'm equally in love with Orbit's work, which is with more personal-sounding songs as I am with Solveig's clubbier creations.)
As I was about to share with my new pal Sergio Kletnoy, seeing that legendary profile on Liz in The New York Times in '92 (a backlash pill meant to allow for something positive to be said about Madonna at a time when she was being excoriated everywhere) made me want to be in her nerve center so badly. My longtime friend Giulio got to visit Liz in her Warner Bros. offices (complete with the hair dryers from Blond Ambition!) a few years ago, but her new digs are still special.
Got there early to find only a couple of people (it was later packed) ignoring the fabulous hors d'oeuvres and cupcakes, things Madonna probably hasn't eaten since she was dating Basquiat and was stealing food out of Dumpsters. The sound was pumped to the point of distortion, with "Gang Bang" blaring. It's an assault-on-the-senses kind of ditty, so it was perfect to walk into a wall of it.
My Russian doll Sergio arrived, we finally met in the flesh and I spent most of my time engrossed in conversation with him about our mutual obsession. It was like sex addicts meeting to talk about favorite blowjobs—it went on and on and never got old. Also got to chat with Liz's beautiful and indulgent assistant Nadia (she must know that fans like Sergio and I should probably be handled with tongs and Hazmat suits, but like the wife in The Painted Veil, Nadia mixes and mingles out of the goodness of her heart) and my longtime so-many-mentor Denis, and of course with lovely Liz.
People seemed to be having fun so were either acting and couldn't wait to declare Madonna over once back in front of their computers or were actually enjoying the record.
The highlight of the night was when Liz and Nadio cranked "Gang Bang" and danced to it at the head of the table for everyone. "'Gang Bang' is my favorite song, go figure," Liz announced.
I'll do a full review after I've legitimately heard this album in a focused setting, but here are some thoughts to chew on—at least it's not from someone anonymous!
"Girl Gone Wild" (still listed as "Girls" in my hand-out, oopsy) opens the album and is, for my money, a scorching-hot song. Is it "Madonna?" No; she didn't write it or anything. But it's a terrific opener and undeniable (to me) fun. "Gang Bang" is like "GGW" on female Viagra (chocolate?)—it's a dark, driving club stomper, aggressive as hell. It has a techno edge that reminded me superficially of "Control" by Traci Lords. (A song I love. And please don't take any of my comparisons too literally; there was nothing that sounded...reductive.) Mika came up with this???
"Turn Up the Radio" is a sweeping, joyous pop-dance song as anthemic as "Get Together," one of my very favorite post-Ray of Light songs. "Give Me All Your Luvin'" sticks out like a sore thumb on this album. I remain a fan of it, but it's not near the top of my MDNA list.
Loved hearing "Superstar," complete with Lola singing backing vocals! A charming and fluffy song ("ooooh, la la!") that felt for me like "Little Star" had grown up and was having fun.
The suite of songs "Love Spent," "Masterpiece" and "Falling Free" is probably going to please any Madonna fan I've ever met. They're beautifully sung and are not cursed with oversimplified lyrics, nor do they sound like they care much if asinine radio programmers will like them. "Falling Free" is my fave song of the album so far, gorgeously sung, a total stand-out. Go, Joe Henry! Keep it together, indeed.
Now, I'd heard the bonus tracks were to die for, but who knew that a rumor would be true times 10? "Beautiful Killer" is a fucking great Orbit-sounding Solveig song (could Orbit really not have had a hand in this one???). How in the HELL this is not on the album proper, how in the HELL this is not a title track, I'll never understand. Even the cringe-inducing title "I Fucked Up" turns out to be a really pretty, plaintive pop song. "B-day Song" didn't seem to have its guest star—M.I.A. was M.I.A.
At some point, Nicki Minaj declares Madonna the only queen.
I genuinely loved most of what I heard. I would be shocked if many people didn't feel this was a vast improvement over Hard Candy which, let's be honest, was a good record. There are definitely songs on here that are personal, uplifting and inspiring mixed among the far louder "I'm still hot and young, fuck me in any hole you can!" club crushers.