Hark! Celestial trumpets are sounding from the clouds hovering near the heavens! It can only mean one thing: Her Madgesty, the Queen Of Pop, has new material on the way.
Let’s reign it in a bit, though. With all due respect, we’re still waiting for Madonna to release a great album this decade. But the good news is that her 14th LP is on its way, and she’s absolutely got it in her to give us a batch of tunes to be reckoned with. After all, you don’t become the queen without capturing lightning in a bottle multiple times over.
Her unrivaled string of hit releases in the 1980s seemed to all be building toward the golden — actually, make that quadruple-Platinum — Like A Prayer in 1989, an album that would have been an enviable career best for any other artist if they’d simply stopped there. But this is Madonna! She proceeded to triumphantly march forward by eschewing the big, glossy sound that helped make her famous and stripping down — both the music and, um, herself — and giving us 1992’s brilliant, confessional house-pop hybrid Erotica. The Queen of Pop would end the second decade of her reign with her pièce de résistance, 1998’s reflective Ray of Light. Her seventh studio album, it saw her pick up a staggering 10 statues between the Grammys and the MTV Video Music Awards alone.
Subsequent years have seen tireless Madge raise her kids, direct films, open schools, launch a chain of gyms and launch clothing and skincare lines. Those consistently fantastic full length releases, meanwhile, tapered off after 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor, a bumping, peak-hour trek through clubland that earned the singer yet another Grammy. That’s not to say Madonna’s post-Confessions studio albums are all bad by any means — the urban thump of 2008’s Hard Candy remains a mostly satisfying experience, thanks to the focus of collaborators Timbaland, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams; while 2015’s Rebel Heart, though spotty, contains about seven playlist-worthy tracks throughout.
Looking on the bright side, the best could very well still be to come with Madonna’s 14th studio release. What do we want from it? Nothing short of everything, of course. But we’d settle for any (or all!) of the following.
Let Madonna Sing
You know what needs to be hung up? Auto-Tune. At least in the Queen of Pop’s case. This is Madonna, and she’s amassed a loyal army of fans, sold hundreds of millions of records and inspired countless Gwens, Britneys, Katys and Gagas by simply being herself.
Cuts from the last decade like “Ghosttown” and “Messiah” off Rebel Heart, MDNA’s “Masterpiece” and Hard Candy single “Miles Away” seem, for the most part, to be devoid of too much technical wizardry affecting her voice. And she sounds great on each one! Alas, for every one of those, there’s been a “Bitch I’m Madonna,” “Girl Gone Wild” or “Give It 2 Me” — performances that find the singer coming off like she downed a vocoder smoothie before stepping to the mic.
Madonna, voice included, is a national treasure. Also, she kicked ass performing live at the Met Gala in New York three months ago. Just give it to us plain and simple going forward.
Stick With One or Two Producers, Rather Than Ten
This is something we all want, including Madonna! In February, upon her manager Guy Oseary commemorating the 20-year anniversary of Ray of Light on Instagram, the pop legend lamented the following in the comments: “Can you help me now please! Remember when i made records with other artists from beginning to end and I was allowed to be a visionary and not to have to go to song writing camps where No one can sit still for more than 15 minutes…”
Well, damn. That’s quite to the point. Think of Madonna’s work with Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray on Like a Prayer; Shep Pettibone and Andre Betts on Erotica; William Orbit on Ray of Light; or Stuart Price on Confessions on a Dance Floor. They were cohesive, ahead-of-the-curve albums, one and all. Now try to count the writers and producers she was thrown together with for her two most recent LPs, MDNA and Rebel Heart. There aren’t enough fingers and toes.
What’s promising is the fact that Madonna appears to be collaborating once more with French “Disco God” Mirwais Ahmadzai, the lone producer behind her 2003 fan-favorite release American Life. Like the above-mentioned albums, American Life is noteworthy for its singular sound and vision.
A European Influence
Who doesn’t love hip-hop, right? But okay, let’s try this: Who wants to hear Madonna rapping? Exactly.
From the role Spanish music has played in classic cuts like “La Isla Bonita,” “Who’s That Girl” and “Deeper And Deeper” to her work with European collaborators like Orbit, Ahmadzai and Price, Madonna has typically been strongest with she aims for a more global vibe. Let’s hope her current status as a resident of Lisbon — and, again, her hitting the studio with Ahmadzai — has the superstar singer brewing some cutting edge beats once more, a la when she cranked out Confessions during her years spent living in London.
No Features Necessary
When was the last time you shot up out of bed and said, “I really can’t imagine how hollow ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’’ might have been if LMFAO hadn’t lent their angelic pipes to the ‘Party Rock Remix’”? Never, that’s when. Likewise, who in the world was asking for Mike Tyson to pop up on Rebel Heart track “Iconic”? Madonna probably doesn’t even remember the fact that M.I.A. appears on ridiculously unnecessary MDNA bonus cut “B-Day Song.”
One of Madonna’s impressive feats is that for the first 25 years of her career, she largely managed to avoid recording a duet with another artist. When the Justin Timberlake-featuring “4 Minutes” came along as Hard Candy’s lead single in 2008, sure, it went on to become one of her biggest hits in the digital era. But it played, vocally, like Timberlake had hijacked Madonna’s own song from her.
Fans have shown up to the Madonna party for four decades now. They’ll likely keep doing so even if Nicki Minaj isn’t in the credits.
A Return to Upbeat, Escapist Pop
Remember “Borderline”? “Open Your Heart”? “Express Yourself”? “Vogue”? “Deeper And Deeper”? “Ray Of Light”? “Beautiful Stranger”? “Jump”? Irresistible and hooky, one and all. More of that, please.
Yes, artists evolve and mature. But you know what would be revolutionary 35 years into the Queen of Pop’s truly remarkable story? Getting back to her roots! We don’t need her to save the planet. Nor are we looking to her to fix the political system. Upon the release of Confessions on a Dance Floor 14 years ago, Madonna stated, “I feel that I just want to have fun; I want to dance; I want to feel buoyant. And I want to give other people the same feeling. There’s a lot of madness in the world around us, and I want people to be happy.” That’s a distraction we’ll still gladly accept from her.
In the end, all we really want from Madonna is to put the current state of the world on a shelf for a bit, and get into her groove as we have so many times before.