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Confessions on a Dance Floor
A confession of my own: 1994's "Secret" was the last Madonna single to keep me up at night, and my longtime obsession has since cooled into something like cultural appreciation. (Yay, Britney kiss.) I say this as someone who tried to love 2003's "Love Profusion," but in the end couldn't help noticing it was called "Love Profusion" ("Love Protrusion," per my girlfriend). Next to the readily available timelessness of her greatest work--the entire first album, "Material Girl," "Into the Groove," "Like a Prayer," "Justify My Love"--the late singles feel like warm-up.
But Confessions on a Dance Floor is the first Madonna album in 11 years to contain that essential quality no graduate thesis paper has yet put a finger on. Part of the equation is sass. "I don't like cities but I like New York/Other places make me feel like a dork" will no doubt be the most quoted rhyme from the album, partly because it dares to be stupid, partly because you can't miss it--it's delivered over a Stereolab-like guitar riff and slow-building bass line straight out of the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog." The line's also funny, and the follow-up is funnier: "If you don't like my attitude, then you can 'F' off/Just go to Texas/Isn't that where they golf?"
Even better are the three opening disco tracks, which each capture unmistakable sentiments in simple phrases over lush rather than brassy synths--more Everything But the Girl with balls than Gwen Stefani with anxiety. "Do you believe in love at first sight?/It's an illusion/I don't care" will carve its slow-burn mark on your mind's dance floor whether "Get Together" gets you out there or not, and no matter how clichéd those phrases read in print. The ABBA sample on "Hung Up" is a vast improvement over the Swedish original, "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)." And "Sorry" actually has something to say (hint: It's not "sorry"). As for the rest, co-producer Stuart Price/Les Rhythmes Digitales helps wring beauty from even the well-rehearsed riffs on fame ("How High"), motivational songwriting ("Push," the very pretty "Jump"), and critic-proofing ("Like It or Not"). It helps that the songs are spread out in a continuous dance mix, where Madonna's voice sounds like the abstract, rhythmically exact plastic instrument it is. I'll take it over a vocoder any night.
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