Today we take a look at Madonna's 11th, Hard Candy. Hearing it leaves me with many a thought, some positive, some not. From the opening beats, you can hear the Neptunes production style and sound-of-today influence. "Candy Shop" is a bubbly, bouncy pop confection as sickeningly catchy as its title suggests. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though. The Neptunes' productions are all over the place in the last few years, but in this case they work well - a sparse beat, letting her voice, such as it is, tempt, tease, and do what Madonna does best. She did much the same thing with one of her earliest tracks, "Holiday" - different producers, but still a simple beat, that let the vocals do the work.
The first single, "4 Minutes" is a decent club track, but certainly not the best on the album. Gets stuck in your head, but is sure to be forgotten quicker than some of her past hits. The real shame about this album is that, buried amongst all the slick club-inflected "timbalake"-esque tracks, there are some gems. "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" slows it down nicely, with lyrics covering a theme Madonna has written about before (re: "Thief of Hearts" from Erotica, as one example), but she knows how to mine that theme for repeated spins enough to keep it interesting enough to make a good song. "Dance 2Night" is a lightly rollicking number that brings to mind the carefree effervescence of her earliest work, dripping with a current-day sensibility. The inclusion of kanye west on "Beat goes on" is a real head-scratcher, but one clunker can't ruin the album all on its own.
This album may inspire many thoughts. "She's sold out!" / "She let Pharrell and Timbaland just take the wheels and sleep-sang her way through it all!" / "She just squeezed out one more album to finish up her contract with Warner, that's why it sounds so lazy!". Each of these could be as right or wrong an assumption as the other. This is NOT the introspective soul-searching of Ray of Light. It is NOT the burlesque-drenched raunch of Erotica. It is Madonna doing club/dance tracks, with a few beat-centric ballads thrown in between them all. Is it her best work ever? No. But one thing strikes me hearing it - this album is Madonna coming full circle. She STARTED doing tracks like this with her self titled debut. This time around just happens to have the most recent trends in club beats, production, and pop-producer talent of the time. Her debut had the same, just adjusted for what was the latest trend in 1983, vs. 2008. Listen for what it is, and you might just find a catchy confection or two, with only a few clunkers to disrupt it. Again, not her best, but worth at least a try.
Overall: 6 out of 10