Madonna: Hard Candy Album Review

Madonna has released a Dance-pop album called Hard Candy produced by Timbaland, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell; no further description is necessary. Even with the not-as-good-as-you’d-hope lead single “4 Minutes,” it’s hard not to have dangerously high expectations for this album. Every female Pop star of the last 25 years has at least partially modeled herself after Madonna, and the artists that make up the production team have been responsible for some of the finest Pop and R&B of the last ten. Expectation is art’s worst enemy, but with this much talent gathered together, could anything possibly go wrong?Apparently not. While Hard Candy does have some academic problems to be found if you’re looking for them, every track is above average and the album stays enjoyable throughout. In the best moments. Her Madgesty is closer to the Madonna we met in the ‘80s than she has been in years, because Hard Candy drops the art-house intentions of her recent work and gets her back to the roots. Pharrell in particular seems to understand her intimately, and it’s on his tracks that Madonna really feels like The Material Girl again. The (relatively) mid-tempo “Heartbeat” and “She’s Not Me” accentuate Madonna’s strengths without overextending her range or smothering her with pretentious tracks that steal the show from her vocals.Despite clocking in at over six minutes, “Incredible” manages to stay interesting by switching tones and remaining fluid, and though “Spanish Lesson” leans more towards Pharrell than Madonna, the core of the song still properly retains her attitude.Surprising as it may sound, Tim and Justin hold up their end of the bargain in a general sense but… something is missing. Timberlake is undeniably gifted but still seems unable to write a song for another artist that doesn’t sound like he originally wrote it for himself. While this may be good enough for a Rihanna, “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” loses the Madonna element and therefore seems a little less special than it should. “4 Minutes” has a similar problem.Timbaland doesn’t stretch far enough beyond his usual tactics, making it feel less like a real collaboration and more like some song that Tim and Justin brought to the studio and told her to sing. A decent Timbaland track is always likeable and there’s really nothing wrong with anything he’s done, but it’s a tad disappointing that he neither innovates a new sound for Madonna nor reinterprets any of her old ones; he merely wanders around the middle instead.As a well-known expert at reinvention, most of Madonna’s various albums aren’t truly comparable so attempting to rank Hard Candy against her 25 years of releases is pointless if not impossible. It can be said, however, that it’s one of her best overall works (especially of the last decade or so) and for a woman with a career older than a lot of her fans, that’s a high compliment. Simply put, Madonna has done it again; what did you expect?