The Guardian reviews ‘Confessions’
The booklet that accompanies Madonna‘s 11th album features a handful of lyrics, apparently written in the singer’s own hand. They come from a song called Let It Will Be. The clunking title sounds like something Noel Gallagher might proffer on a bad day, the arrangement features strings that recall Papa Don’t Preach. Divorced from the music, one scrawled line stands out: “I’m at the point of no return.”
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It certainly fits with the thought-provoking yoga position Mrs Ritchie adopts in the photograph – ankles miles above her head, a mirrorball between her feet – but those of an analytical bent might read it as a comment on her recent career. Her last album, 2003’s American Life, was her worst-selling: confused music, solipsistic lyrics, an unintentionally comic cover, featuring Madonna clad in the kind of Che chic that for Britons of a certain age invariably invokes not the guerrillero heroico of the Cuban revolution, but Citizen Smith of the Tooting Popular Front. It still sold millions – for the world’s most famous woman, failure is relative – but damaged her reputation enough to warrant a little sticker on its follow-up’s case, alerting punters to its contents: NON-STOP ALL-DANCE TOUR-DE-FORCE.
It’s a long time since Madonna has needed a circus barker to drum up business. Confessions on a Dancefloor began life as the soundtrack to a film script she was working on. There’s a Pavlovian response: it’s impossible to see “film script” and “Madonna” in the same sentence without feeling your spirits plunge. And whenever Madonna gets mixed up with soundtracks, the results are usually unforgettable – and not in a good way: her disco version of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, her catastrophic Dick Tracy-inspired forays into swing. Nevertheless, Confessions on a Dancefloor is the result of ruthless stock-taking.
Producer Mirwais’s chief collaborator role has been downsized: he may have only escaped le sac altogether by coming up with Future Lovers, a corrosive homage to Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. His replacement is an inspired appointment. The album’s title, sticker and format – each track segueing breathlessly into the next as if mixed by a DJ – suggest Madonna’s desire to reconnect with her past as an early-1980s club diva and her devoted gay fanbase.
Has she ever come to the right place. If Stuart Price’s obsession with the 1980s were any more pronounced, he’d be travelling to gigs in a Sinclair C5; suffice to say that Darkdancer, his 1999 album as Les Rhythmes Digitales, featured Nik Kershaw. More curiously, he may be Britain’s most metrosexual producer. As Pour Homme, he released Born This Way, which sampled Carl Bean’s out-and-proud disco anthem (“I’m happy! I’m carefree! I’m gay!”). His remixes have made the Scissor Sisters sound even more gay, a remarkable feat. Advance notice of what he could do with Madonna was served by the joyous, Abba-sampling Hung Up, a single that could theoretically have been more camp, but only with the addition of Liza Minnelli on backing vocals and lyrics about Larry Grayson’s friend Everard.
If Price can’t stop Madonna writing songs that tell you fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in a way that suggests she thinks she’s the first person to work this out, he can summon up more than enough sonic trickery to distract you. There are hulking basslines, fizzing synthesisers, rolling tablas on Push and an unlikely combination of frantic double-bass riffing, Goldfrapp-ish glam stomp and acoustic guitar filigree on the closing Like It or Not, a collaboration with Swedish pop songwriters Bloodshy and Avant. Isaac falls flat, its lyrics about Kabbalah teacher Isaac Freidin married to global-village trance makes you think of Australian backpackers dancing badly at beach parties in Goa – but elsewhere, the songwriting sparkles. The choruses of Get Together and Sorry are triumphant. I Love New York may be the most agreeably ridiculous thing Madonna has ever released: timpani, a riff stolen from the Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog and a Lou Reed deadpan.
It may be a return to core values, but there’s still a bravery about Confessions on a Dancefloor. It revels in the delights of wilfully plastic dance pop in an era when lesser dance-pop artists – from Rachel Stevens to Price’s protege Juliet – are having a desperately thin time of it. It homages the DJ mix album, a format long devalued by computer-generated cash-in compilations. It flies in fashion’s face with a swaggering hint of only-I-can-do-this: “If you don’t like my attitude,” she suggests on I Love New York, “then you can eff-off.” Dancing queens of every variety should be delighted.
From an article by Alexis Petridis from The Guardian