I’ve said a lot on this blog in the past about this phenomenal song; I’ve said that it’s a clever throwback to the German Hard Trance sound that was populating the world’s nightclubs throughout the early 2000′s. I’ve also said the song borrows – once again, cleverly – from Neils Van Gough’s early 00′s trance-monster “Pulverturm”, which was – until now – uncharted territory by a pop star.
But this remix, William Orbit’s official ‘Kee Club Mix’, is by far-and-away the definitive version of this absolute sledge-hammer of a pop song, and takes the original to even darker, more disturbing and psychotic musical landscapes than it already housed.
And to those of you thinking the song is solely about her departure from Guy; have a closer listen to the lyrics. He’s not the only one being sung about in this song and that’s exactly why it’s called “Gang Bang.” Duh.
A truly wasted opportunity, “I’m Addicted” could have been the greatest kick-off to a Madonna album campaign since 2005′s “Confessions on a Dance Floor.”
The Benny Benassi produced opus hits hard (complete with what is probably the best middle-8 on all of MDNA), Benny himself hasn’t sounded this fresh and exciting since his 2003 debut “Satisfaction” and Madonna’s vocals and lyrics are so on-point – it makes you wonder how “Give Me All Your Luvin’” was – seriously – chosen to kick off an album campaign so many of us were hoping would slay our existence.
Instead, Madonna – or rather, her camp – were hellbent on releasing the worst possible singles from the record and moments like this (surely in Madonna’s Top 20 of all time), “Gang Bang” and “Love Spent” were left to collect adulation as either an album track or a moment on the MDNA Tour; nothing more.
This is exactly the kind of Madonna this era really needed to thrive. That whole MDMA/MDNA climactic finish as well is the most innovative Madonna has sounded in a long time, and would have more-than-made-up-for the lack of Madonna chanting during the Superbowl had this been rightfully chosen as the album’s leading single.
I’ve mentioned it before on the blog that if “Girl Gone Wild” had been anyone else’s song, it would have been a huge worldwide hit. The song is all kinds of brilliant, but it was the flashy MDNA Tour Studio Version that had the most plays on my iPod in 2012. With an added extra-ravey bit before the final chorus and a thicker, sharper bassline over the top of the original Girl Gone Wild, this tour studio demo sits up there with the Confessions Tour “Erotica/You Thrill Me” studio version (which you may or may not recall was my #1 Song of the Year in 2006) as one of the better tour-creations that have found themselves on the hard drives of Madonna stans the globe over.
Great song, amazing production, killer, Iconic video, but it still felt like a bit of a slap in the face for fans like myself who’ve been supporting her virtually since the beginning.
This particular version didn’t really add much to the original other than a heavier guitar lead, but that alone was enough for me to favour the MDNA Tour Studio Version over the album cut. Featuring Nicki Minaj, “I Don’t Give A” shoehorns itself as an instant Madonna classic and opens Our Queen to her first series of exciting white-rapper moments since 2002’s flawless “American Life.” The Nicki rap is very cheeky, but it’s Madonna’s hyperactive vocal and brilliantly honest (and very telling) lyrics that really seal the deal here; “You were so mad at me – Who got custody? Lawyers – suck it up! Didn’t have a pre-nup!”
But the real goldmine here is that bombastic, spine-tingling choir-fronted climax. Holy CRAP on a Cruskit; this is the Madonna that I live for.
When Madonna got it right on MDNA it was like she’d made a home-run. But when she misfired on the album you could tell from a mile off. Thankfully “Love Spent” – the sharp, vicious-in-lyric supposed song about former husband Guy Ritchie – was one of the home runs.
A banjo and the two very different choruses also make this one of the more interesting Madonna productions in recent times, and aside from the naff “Frankly if my name was Benjamin” lyric, the confronting themes Our Queen openly sings about in this song is exactly the kind of material we had all hoped for post-divorce.
We’re almost there folks…
10. MADONNA “MDNA”
How do you solve a problem like MDNA? The record was, in theory, to be Madonna’s enormous return to the pop world and, if history had actually served us correctly, it was also to be a post-divorce revelation, much as 1989’s “Like A Prayer” – a definitive album which came after a tumultuous marriage to the Paparazzo’s worst nightmare; Sean Penn. In light of Lady Gaga and the whole Born This Way fiasco, it really felt like a lot was riding on this new material. The problem, though, seems to be the insane time constraints behind the LP’s creation. Working with the likes of Martin Solveig on a large percentage of the record was enough of a nail in the coffin to assure a percentage of the record sounded dated, and did so very quickly. Aside from the monstrously fierce “I Don’t Give A” (a song in which Madonna snatches the dusty, carcinogenic weaves of all of her haters and wipes her arse clean with them), which is perhaps the only single-worthy moment of Solveig’s productions on here, a lot of Martin’s productions fell apart in the short months after the album was released. Abreast from the hysterical “B’day Song” which I wholeheartedly love, adore and worship even though I should definitely know better, songs like “Beautiful Killer” and “I Fucked Up”, complete with lyrics so naff you’ll find yourself developing tinnitus, really keep MDNA from being a truly great album from beginning to end.
And herein lies the problem with this record. MDNA was very obviously created in order to drum up promotion for the real money-maker; the MDNA World Tour – and it shows. As I’ve said, a number of the songs sound rushed and – at times – a little stale and unfinished, but then there are also absolute beacons of hope, glimpses into the creative and story-telling Madonna of old, which make up for the weaker shortcomings. This is where the work with William Orbit and Benny Bennasi comes in, the only two producers on this record with an actual formulated idea of what Madonna should be recording this far into her career. If we had stuck to a simple tracklist of Girl Gone Wild, Gang Bang, I’m Addicted (which should have been the first or second single), Some Girls, I Don’t Give A, I’m A Sinner, Love Spent (another wasted opportunity for a killer single), Masterpiece, Falling Free and Best Friend, MDNA would play out as a Top 5 album – like all of her other records. MDNA is mostly great but is it free of flaw? Hardly.
But then there’s songs like “Gang Bang”; an exciting foray into the early 2000’s world of German Hard Trance (which a total of Nobody is currently implementing into their sound in 2012) that borrows instinctively from Neils Van Gough’s “Pulverturm”, is one of the most innovative and forward-thinking moments of her career – this jarred and abrasive club romp that ends with the albums best climax, whilst the fully-loaded 2-chorus extravaganza of “Love Spent” may very well be the most honest and heartbreaking of all the songs from this era. “I want you to take me like you took your money;” Madonna tellingly coos before adding “Take me in your arms until your last breath. I want you to hold me like you hold your money. Hold on to me till’ there’s nothing left.” It’s a lyric that speaks volumes on the topic of her divorce from The Guy Itchy, and although Love Spent doesn’t do a very good job of painting him in the most considerate of light, the lyrics (which, admittedly, are at times a little naff themselves) for “Best Friend” do soften the blow. The chaotic “Some Girls” is distorted bliss; thick lashings of bass over a heavily vocodered Madonna who proclaims that some girls are not like her, “I never wanna be like Some Girls.” It’s Madonna paying homage to Miss Kittin once again; the beats slayed across this anthemic club-stomper are like an exciting journey into the underground world of electronic dance circa-2004.
Big ballad “Falling Free” is exactly the kind of thing I’d like to hear more from Madonna on the next album. You know, a couple more ballads and a bit more thought and consideration when it comes to pre-planning (like, eg, keeping the fans you already have rather than always trying to generate new ones) wouldn’t hurt at all. As for the Bennasi stuff, the highlights there are “I’m Addicted” – a song that sees Benny channel production in a way I haven’t heard him do since “Satisfaction” – and second single “Girl Gone Wild”, which would have been an International global mega-hit had somebody else been singing it. A flawless single, but at the same time a kick in the face for long-term fans like myself who were hoping for more. But where do we slot the infectious “Give Me All Your Luvin”? Very, very cute, enjoyable, and to be honest an actually quite amazingly fun pop song that came complete with an incredible video – but first single? Really?!! Let’s not beat around the bush here, it’s almost as if MDNA was doomed from the second they decided to release the song that’d been available online for months prior as the first single. And no, I will not be talking in length about “Superstar” but I will say it is quite literally the very single worst thing Madonna has ever been involved with, and that includes when she was fucking Dennis Rodman.
So, after all of that, how do you solve a problem like MDNA? You open a new playlist, make an abridged, 10 track version of the album on iTunes and call it a day; that’s how.
09. CRYSTAL CASTLES “III”
For their third commercially released full-length album, Crystal Castles have taken their sound to another level. The dark, twisted and often demonic sounds of Castles remains throughout “III”, however with this album the duo seem to be a lot more aware of commerciality, and how to combine a strong, sleek pop-sheen with these twisted computer game sounds. Fever pitch screams from Alice dominate the record (album opener “Plague” is like listening to a rabid Techno Enya), but it’s subtle vocals like the one she belts out for songs like “Kerosene” and “Sad Eyes”, the latter which is an exhilarating trip into Italo-electro-pop (a genre the band have never really experimented with, at least not at the level of this track) that not only plays as the duos best and most commercially viable moment to date, but also sounds like Sally Shapiro on a lot of ecstasy. Very strong contender for Song of the Year. There’s also really huge, near-instrumental cuts like the pulsating “Wrath of God”, complete with an eerie breakdown that’ll make your soul feel like it’s walking through a cemetery at 3AM. It’s this beautiful, graceful and almost whimsical air about these songs that, combined with harsh bleeps-and-blops, really send shivers up the spine and solidify why this blend of spooky dance-pop resonates with my listening tastes so well.
Make no mistake; Crystal Castles are at the very top of their game with III, a record with twelve perfect, near-psychotic tracks and a level of assurance we’ve yet to have heard from them.
08. IAMAMIWHOAMI “Kin”
Sweden’s alluring iamamiwhoami began with a bizarre stream of YouTube videos that were backdropped with frighteningly incredible electronic synths and pop melodies. As months went by we were slowly introduced to the mysterious Jonna Lee, albeit still to this day very mysteriously. The group are incredibly in tune with the audio-visual aspect of their art; every single released on iTunes to date has an accompanying video clip and the release of their (long awaited) debut album was no different.
Clocking in at a perfect nine tracks in total, each song on the record has its own video component and, unlike most record’s that suffer from anywhere between 3 and 6 tracks too long, KIN manages to present an actually flawless record. There isn’t a dud in sight, not a bad egg anywhere – iamamiwhoami have exceeded expectations since their first release and this record does not interrupt that flow in the slightest. Whilst it’s easy (and, perhaps moreso, lazy) to compare iamami’s sound to the likes of Bjork, Portishead and even the Swedish connection of The Knife (when, to be honest, things like “Idle Talk” are more Human League gone Swedish Acid Tab than Bjork), there’s something undeniably authentic and original about what is on offer throughout KIN. The sound of Lee’s voice with these very hypnotic synths and basslines is bliss to sit through, and subtle album opener “Sever” does so magically before merging itself into the slightly crazy and 100% amazing “Drops”, a chaotic moment in frantic beats and haunting harmonies; there’s a lot going on but not too much for you to be unable to keep up. Another highlight is “Rascal”, a slower-paced moment that harks slightly on the Kate Bush side of things (yes yes, more lazy comparatives), should she ever find herself making electronica on Ableton Live, anyway. It is however the final two moments on KIN that are most certainly iamamiwhoami’s finest. “Kill” is a six and a half minute excursion into exactly the kind of goosebump-inducing sounds she can generate – a song that builds upon itself into some seriously massive moments. The lyrics (if you can understand them – they’re all in English but sometimes you’d be pressed to realise it) are monstrously good too, but listen to Kill’s final two minutes and try to stop the waves of musical euphoria take over your senses. The most commercially viable song on KIN (which does not necessarily mean it is free of bizarreness) is the still bonkers “Goods”, complete with one of those choruses you hear once and will never forget.
On a production level as well this is their most extravagant adventure by far and, fittingly, serves as the record’s closer. If you’ve never heard of iamamiwhoami and are a little disillusioned with pop music at the moment then you’ll find KIN to be an absolute revelation. It does everything that pop isn’t doing right now and whilst I love all kinds of pop here (when it’s done well), KIN is definitely an album your high-brow ‘real music’ listener (whatever the fuck that is) can enjoy alongside your local pop freak.
07. VAN SHE “Idea of Happiness”
Over the years, Van She have been a major staple within not only the pages of this blog but also the magazines and papers I write for locally. Their incredible releases, from the promising self-titled EP in 2005 to the debut long player, 2008′s “V”, an album that has stood the test of time and remains one of the greater Aussie pop releases in years, to their pulsating live shows that leave no prisoners – It’s been four years since we’ve had real new material from the boys and a lot has changed since then. What’s perhaps the most exciting thing about this huge gap between record’s is the obvious growth and evolution of Van She as producers, song-writers, musicians and, more importantly, as Men.
The record is 11 tracks long – 8 vocal tracks and 3 instrumentals – marking it within the ranges of being the perfect length for a great LP. Essentially you’ve got a killer 8-track record with three really exciting dubs in between, something that was momentarily toyed with on 2008′s “Temps Mort” but has absolutely been mastered on Happiness. “Radio Waves I” and “Radio Waves II” are bass-heavy excursions into a proper musical trip, the pinnacle being the sudden key-change in the latter’s half-way mark. “Coconuts”, the record’s final Instrumental cut, sounds exactly like what a coconut would sound like if it had access to a recording studio/organs (HAR HAR) – the three of these tracks cement Van She’s importance within Australia’s music industry as producers – already aceing it last year with Sneaky Sound System’s “From Here To Anywhere” (my Album of the Year for 2011), there is a level of thickness within this record’s sound that can only be attributed to a real understanding of each song on the album.
The lead single “Idea of Happiness” re-sparked many music listeners interest in the band and translates incredibly well live. The middle 8 is killer but is it killer enough to have been chosen over “Jamaica” to be the first single? Perhaps not. It bridges the gap between their old sound and their new groundings quite nicely, but Jamaica does it so effortlessly, with its soaring chorus and Nick howling about Jamaica, it’s difficult to understand what went on with the single-choice decision-making. Look out for the massive Xylophone moment that runs basically through the entire song and comes complete with one of the very best final 40 seconds in pop this year. “Sarah” is by far-and-away the greatest thing Van She have ever put their name to (and is also the next single), this already Iconic step in Australian music is the band’s big Fleetwood Mac moment. A delicate opener that bursts into the most beautiful pop-rainbow the band have ever assembled. What is it about these boys and songs named after Girls? Maybe album Number 3 can be a record full of Iconic songs written about different girls and their names? But it’s the dark, alley-way nature of second best moment here “We Move On” that really captivates. A proper beast of a production that toys fleetingly with dubstep (blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fleeting, just how I like it, thank you), and the lyrics are major, some of the most advanced and personal in their repertoire.
This record is perfect in length and in its tone, with what it’s trying to do; everything. The boys have nailed it with this monumental 11 track religious experience.
06. WHIGFIELD “W”
After twenty-five singles and four stunning studio albums, Queen of the Clubs Whigfield is back with her fifth long playing record, and the return is indeed cause for celebration as it is her very first in over 10 years. The Danish beauty is back with her exciting blend of dance floor-ready club hits and insanely catchy pop hooks. Current single “4ever” places itself into Classic Whigfield Territory witihin its first minute, and last years “C’est Cool” sits comfortably here with these upfront club cuts.
Giving sad flop Alexandra Stan a run for her money, Whigfield delivers more life and gusto into these songs than any of the random dancepop divas flooding our charts for five minutes at a time; stuff like “Devil Called Love” and “Just Because You’re Beautiful” is the kind of material most of these faceless dance ladies would dream of, whilst corker “As I Go” not only shows the Black Eyed Peas how it’s actually done, it also has ‘Summer Hit’ written all over it. “Jeg Kommer Hjem” is one of the highlights, fusing Whigfield’s Danish tongue with twisted levels of dubstep, taking the sound and distorting it far enough for it to add a truly original element to the track. But it all lies with flaw-free album opener “Stay In My Head”, a track which takes the coveted title as W’s hallmark moment. From the song’s structure to those mind-lodging “Stay-e-yay-e-yay-e-yay-e-yaaayayayay!”s at the end of the track, it’s exhilarating to hear Whigger’s smash up the dance floor like she does on this bonza-beast of a song.
What’s clever about this album and its release is that Whiggers has unleashed it upon the world at exactly the right time; the 1990’s influence in music is stronger than ever at the moment. What Whigfield has done with “W” should be commended; she’s taken everything about the way she constructed her songs through the 90’s and fused it together with modern beats to create a truly brilliant album for the 21st Century.
Although it’s nice to finally have some official word direct from the woman herself, Madonna’s tardy apology to her Australian fans is perhaps too little too late for many of her admirers across the country today. The day I found out – just under two months ago – that Australia was off the MDNA tour itinerary I was sitting at my desk at work, counting down till 5 o’clock. It was 2pm that I had heard the bad news, and at 2:30 I swiftly left and explained there had been a “family emergency” (I know), and spent the next 90 minutes on a delayed train hiding my puff-pastry eyes with huge aviator sunglasses. Once again, Madonna had just as easily torn my hopes to pieces as she did build them. Here is the “video”, which is actually just audio.
The story is the same; Madonna discusses the horror of balancing a personal life that revolves around her children and her role as The Queen of Pop, using it once more to justify not coming to Australia. Interestingly, Madonna only admits to not bringing her tour to Australia last time; 2008’s Sticky & Sweet Tour. However, if my Year 9 math studies serve me correctly, it’s actually been the last three tours now that Madonna has failed to bring to Australia, once again after countless promises that she would be here next time.
This recycled excuse can only be legitimately used so many times. If Madonna was honestly trying her best to bring the tour to Australia then perhaps she would have started the first leg of it down this side of the world? Something I’ve said on this blog a million times before. Finally shut those Aussies up and kick off the tour down under and perhaps leave countries like Russia and France to either sit at the end of the tour dates or – like us in Australia – just completely detour them. It’s not like she hasn’t taken the last couple of tours to these countries, correct? I understand there is nobody to make a political statement for in Australia, but how about just coming because we really love you and have been treated to broken promises for so long? How hard is it – really – to commit to a few dates in Australia? Time and time again Madonna has continued to let her army in Australia down, whilst ungrateful fans in areas where her tour has graced its presence with are booing her and calling her a slut as she performs – and for the umpteenth time in their country. It’s a frustrating process to have to watch every Madonna tour via shoddy bootleg camcorder recordings and YouTube links before the DVD arrives, but it’s an annoyance I have more than become accustomed to. Australia may be a length away but that doesn’t stop big-named acts with even bigger-stage-productions like Lady Gaga and U2 touring the country; and if you recall, US pop-rocker P!NK proved there was an incredible amount of money to be made in Australia – the time and effort she put into working the country has been reciprocated; P!NK could release three minute audio of a plastic bag being ruffled and it would still debut at #1 on the ARIA singles chart. Madonna’s chart successes in Australia have dwindled since her no-show for 2006’s ‘Confessions Tour.’ Bypassing Australia once more is going to prove most detrimental to M’s sales; Aussies flock to record stores when artists come for a visit but Madonna’s lack of promotion for MDNA bar the actual tour has been non-existent. So, if the tour is in itself part of a promotional package spurred on by the MDNA album, does Australia’s removal from the itinerary mean the artist has absolutely no interest in promoting herself, and thus restricting her sales, in this particular country? How are we supposed to feel after each tour is announced, the same countries get first pickings whilst Australia’s left on the maybe back-burner for a grueling and lengthy period before that maybe is swiftly turned into a No?
The jig is up.
The excuse may be the same and in turn it is probably genuine, but how can we trust a woman who has cried wolf now a total of three times? If you recall, Guy Oseary, Madonna’s manager, tweeted months ago that “I’ve already made a promise to Australia and I intend on keeping my word.” Guess that’s just another promise to bite the dust then? I’m not going to turbulent extremes by trashing my enormous Madonna collection (OH MY GOD I COULD NEVER GURL) or shipping them off to the highest bidder as some other Australian fans have been in light of all this news, but who’s to say how I’ll handle the heartbreak a sixth time? What happens then? Whatever happens, I’ll be blissfully posting positively about her work on the blog and pretend like nothing has happened beyond this post. Bit hard to forget about it though, and the first time I watch the MDNA Tour on DVD, I’ll be emotional for all the wrong reasons.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Madonna’s career. But at the 30 year mark of her career things are not as they were when she embarked on her tall body of work; there’s a new Pop diva vying for her title and she didn’t have a family to worry about back in those days either. Times have changed, but as seasons and eras go by, the Aussie fans (the ones of us that are left) still want to see their Goddess on their turf. Australia should have been more than just an oversight with earlier bookings, but what can you do. And as for the record MDNA itself, it has a lot of strong songs with heavy weak-points, proving the album itself was too much of a rush-job to coincide with the launch of the tour. I plan on going into MDNA’s content with great detail later in the week, and I’ll go through where I think the records problems lie and where it truly delivers Classic Madonna Anthems. But in hindsight, how powerful would an album containing around four monolithic ballads be, as xolondon has once suggested? How amazing would it be to see her working with Patrick Leonard, Stephen Bray or even Jellybean again? Nile Rogers?! At the 30 year point she seems hellbent on self-referencing; so why not self-reference even further by creating some sure-fire radio-ready hit singles? And some solid, indisputable album tracks to go along with it? Put those old producers and songwriters in a room someone like Stuart Price or Mirwais (an underrated element to Madonna’s body of work), making it this massive composition of old and new, making something completely fresh and interesting that puts Madonna in the front-line once again as Pop’s reigning First Lady. In my eyes she still is, but I’m not sure I can say the same for everyone else; particularly older fans who have, in recent years, turned their backs on her completely and given up. Why is it so hard for a woman with such a long history in exciting the masses to understand what her fans – the ones she’s had for years and not just since the release of Born This Way - want so much? I feel like some better decisions could be made here, and if there had been, maybe the press and those ready to kick Madonna by-routine whenever she’s down wouldn’t be laying into her so much.
You know, in that audio message Madonna sarcastically says she was going to write everybody a letter. Well perhaps she should start with maybe not me, but the people around me who’ve had to put up with my incessant whining and sulking whenever you’ve bypassed a tour. Actually I’d love a letter thanking me, personally, for my near-29 years in service to this woman. I may not be rich enough to fly overseas to see her tour in another country but there isn’t a day I don’t spent a good hour or two doing something that is related to Madonna’s body of work. I don’t feel like I’m entitled to some personal apology but after all that it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
For gods sake Madonna, come and tour Australia, stop trying to win over new fans with your choons and start making songs to keep the fans you already have – before it’s too late. And maybe that personally signed letter too if you haven’t completely disowned me.
(Amazing picture at the top of the post taken from the stunning Madonnarama.com)