Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Madonna -- Confessions on a Dance Floor
Warner Brothers; 2005

Before Ashlee, before Kelly, before Christina or Britney, there was the Material Girl. Becoming the queen of pop by deftly ignoring rules about content, context and sound, Madonna firmly planted herself as an icon of American pop music. And though her kung-fu grip on that sacred title has held strong for 20 years, the very performers she's inspired have started to make attempts on her thrown. Her last album, American Life, did little to fend them off, barely even making a blip on pop radio’s radar. A little scared about her own relevancy and unsatisfied with the already substantial impact she's had on music, Madge has put up her dukes on her latest record, Confessions on a Dance Floor. No one will fill her boots without a fight.

If blood is going to be spilled in the battle for pop queen-dom, it'll be on a dance floor. More of a clubbing soundtrack than a collection of Madonna's been up to musically, Confessions is ballad-free and constantly in motion. Its tracks are seamlessly blended together so the fun, in theory, never has to stop. Long in form and often repetitive, the tracks on Confessions come together more like a house DJ's set than 12 independent songs. An album as cohesive as this is hardly for the faint of heart or those lacking stamina.

That being said, Confessions contains some incredible ass-movers. Noted producer Stuart Price is largely responsible, as he co-wrote (read: he wrote, Madge co-signed) the majority of the record. The album starts with the galloping "Hung Up," the massive first single. Built around an ABBA sample, the dark and pulsating disco-house aesthetic is as much 1979 as 2005. The Mirwais-penned "Future Lovers" is burbling and subtly ferocious, and also one of Madonna's best dance songs. It's guaranteed to get boys and girls sweaty, but only if they can ignore the breathy babbling that haunts the first minute and a half. "Jump," "I Love New York" and "Forbidden Love" are all likewise excellent, uplifting and smile-inducing. Of course, Madonna's vocal work is flawless (thanks, Auto-tune!) and full of her bubbly personality.

Only a small handful of tracks fail to meet Madge-level expectations. "How High" is greatly nuanced, but strikes the ear in a hardly-tuneful way. "Isaac" does a poor job of balancing Eastern flair and Western pop sensibilities. While props are due for the effort, it's not nearly strong enough to be included on Confessions. The undulating "Push" is also a misstep, sounding like a Gwen Stefani castoff.

What keeps the delectable portions of Confessions from overshadowing the gristle are the lyrics. Although the Material Woman (let's be real here) has never been a pop Shakespeare, it's unusual that her words are such a stumbling block. The worst offender is "I Love New York," a track that's otherwise fiyah. Only two years after penning the U.S.-deriding album American Life, here's Madge trying to cozy up to her homebois in NYC. She also sings awfully juvenile lines like "Other places make me feel like a dork" and "If you don't like my attitude / Then you can F off / Just go to Texas / Isn't that where they golf?" Who let Madonna's kids have so much input? The overtly Kabbalah-influenced "Isaac" is like an awkward commercial for the celebrity-filled religion. Some songs like "Get Together" and "Push" say almost nothing worth listening to, bilking content for ignorability. Madonna’s past lyrics used to be as much a part of her as the music. Now it feels like she’s on auto-pilot, coasting her way through songwriting.

As a grab at the reins of relevancy, Confessions on a Dance Floor manages to hold on, but the grip is rather loose. Madonna's time left wearing the pop queen tiara is running out, and Confessions merely slows the process. As an album, Confessions is entertaining and will keep rumps shaking, but not among Madonna's best. Her reign has been incredible, genre-defining and an inspiration to many. As long as she acknowledges that and bows out gracefully, that’s how she'll be forever remembered.

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