Confessions on a Dance Floor
That’s what it boils down to, really: it’s about damned time she decided to burn the world’s discos out again. American Life wasn’t just a commercial failure, it out-and-out sucked, was Madonna’s worst full-length in—well, ever. She’d gotten too self-important, was doing what we thought she’d never do, seemingly believing her own press. The fun was missing, replaced by what—wack rapping, rhyming “lattes” and “pilates”? There was a slight stench of inevitability to it, like we knew it couldn’t last forever but we couldn’t help hoping against hope anyway.
Just like that, though, she’s back, and not just back, but reminding us that we can still dance, for inspiration. Thank God, by whom (in this case) I mean Stuart Price, a/k/a the Thin White Duke, a/k/a Les Rhythmes Digitales, a/k/a our savior of our lady Madonna in the year 2005. Apparently, Mrs. Ritchie’s recently been reminded of how much she loves dance music, reportedly thanks to the remixes she commissions with each single release. Word is that she thus wanted her new album to be one giant throb, no let up, no ballads, just pure uncut dance music. As it was before, so shall it be again.
Confessions on a Dance Floor is Madonna’s most purely beat-driven album since her self-titled 1983 debut. (Erotica may have been a down-and-dirty club record, but it still included the likes of “Rain.”) Price fills the Reggie Lucas role here, and like Lucas did so long ago, he helps Madonna make pop that pops like yeast bubbles in fresh bread dough, spiced with peppermint extract. “Physical Attraction” and “Burning Up” were perfectly of their moment and transcended it too, sleazy pop records designed for sweaty up-all-night dancing. “Sorry” and “Hung Up” may not be as sleazy (or sleazy at all) but have the same basic modus operandi, and do it just as well as her now-over-20-years-old singles did.
There hasn’t been another Madonna album that references so much music by other people. The bassline of “Future Lovers” (the album’s weakest track, due largely I think to the hand of old-and-in-the-way co-producer Mirwais—and did I mention that Madonna co-produced the entire album?) is clearly cribbed from “I Feel Love,” while in an odd juxtaposition, the next track, “I Love New York” (good music, facile lyrics) takes its bassline from the Joy Division catalog. Of course, there’s the brilliant ABBA sample leading the brilliant-or-something-close-to-it “Hung Up” (from “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”) as well, and nearly the whole of “Jump” sounds to these ears like a Pet Shop Boys homage. It’s always been clear that Madonna’s a music lover, but it’s nice to see evidence that she’s a fan, too, hearing her quote and crib and steal—like great art does.
Apart from the aforementioned Mirwais contribution, the only other tracks not produced with Price are a pair done with Swedish popmasters Bloodshy & Avant (they did Britney’s “Toxic,” need I go on?). Plucky closer “Like It Or Not” is good (its garden of Eden references are delightful), but it’s “How High” that’s the knockout, an electropop throb like an intense migraine—only, y’know, a good one—sweetened with symphonic stabs. It’s followed by the Hasidic throwdown “Isaac,” akin to “Don’t Tell Me” if that hit hadn’t been so wimpy-wimpy-wimpy, and had taken Jewish mysticism (um, I think) as its subject.
Lyrics have never really been Madonna’s strong point, and her Confessions are [sic] no different. But with this album like no album of hers in quite some time, the point here is the groove; this album finds one, locks in, and works it relentlessly, like Madonna herself did Willem Dafoe in Body of Evidence. Easily her finest effort since Ray of Light, I guess this means that English country living’s doing her a world of good. This is one Dance Floor whose pull is irresistible.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: NOVEMBER 21 – NOVEMBER 27, 2005