Madonna’s Confession: My new album could be so much more

By Matt Zakosek

People will dance to anything with Madonna’s name slapped on it. And by “people,” I mean “gay men.” This is the woman who changed the face of commercial radio. She reintroduced show tunes to the Top 40 with “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”; made us all dance along to a song about a woman considering an abortion; and inspired countless choruses of “Mommy, what’s a virgin?”

I’ve heard dance remixes of songs such as “Mother and Father,” with the lyrics, “My mother died when I was five/ And all I did was cry and cry.” (Now, doesn’t that make you want to shake your booty?) And don’t forget DJ Junior Vasquez’s 1995 club hit “When Madonna Calls,” which was literally just a message Madonna left on Vasquez’s answering machine set over a techno beat. (Madonna was reportedly pissed.)

So no matter the quality of Confessions on a Dance Floor, it’s a given that Madonna’s fans will line up in droves to hear it. But is it any good? Kind of.

Let’s cut to the chase. The stand-out tracks here are “Jump” and “Push,” which sound as close to the ’80s Madonna as we’re probably ever going to get again. The lyrics of “Jump” are joyous, recalling the fun, community-minded Madonna of True Blue and Like a Prayer. “We learned our lessons from the start, my sister and me/ The only thing you can depend on is your family,” she coos—and I’ll be damned if this track won’t give “We Are Family” a run for its money at wedding receptions for big Italian families (like Madonna’s).

“I Love New York” is almost as good. The lyrics leave much to be desired; she actually rhymes “New York” with “feel like a dork.” And someone tell Madonna that if she’s going to say “eff” (as in, “If you don’t like my attitude, you can eff off”) it doesn’t make any sense to use the word “pussies” in the next line, unless you’re talking about cats.

But the beat is a treat, and unlike some critics, I don’t think Madonna’s gunning for an inclusion in a tourism ad. This is her least jaded music in years, effortlessly evoking the era in which Madonna became a star and celebrating the city that made it all possible. (Even though I’m not quite buying it, at least until she sells that estate in London.)

The first single and leading track, “Hung Up,” is inarguably infectious, but it feel weird to hear such an innovative artist sample someone else’s work—in this case, ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight).” The next single is rumored to be “Sorry,” an odd choice. The song distinguishes itself only with its nasty lyrics: “Don’t explain yourself, ’cause talk is cheap/ There’s more important things than hearing you speak.” Sure, much of Madonna’s subject matter has involved jilting an unsatisfactory lover. But the message is usually one of self-empowerment, not petty put-downs.

Other tracks prove similarly problematic. “Get Together,” “Future Lovers,” and “Forbidden Love” are all great dance tunes, but they’re something one would expect from a group like Daft Punk or I Am the World Trade Center, not the Material Girl. Of the three, “Get Together” is probably the best, but it’s hard not to feel that Madonna’s computerized voice is a cheat (perhaps to cover for the high notes she can no longer reach?) “How High”—which would have fit snugly on Madonna’s American Life CD—is an enjoyable listen, but it sounds too much like “Jump,” which directly precedes it.

“Like It Or Not,” the closing track, sounds like a bouncy Bedtime Stories outtake—even cribbing its lyrics shamelessly from “Survival.” (What are the artistic merits of “You can call me a sinner/ You can call me a saint” versus “I’ll never be an angel/ I’ll never be a saint, it’s true”? Discuss.) And the rest of the lyrics are just plain embarrassing. “Sticks and stones will break my bones/ But your names will never hurt” is intoned completely without irony. With couplets like that, I’d rather be pilfering Junior Vasquez’s answering machine.

“Let It Will Be” ranks among Madonna’s catchiest work, although filled with trite observations about the price of fame. And “Isaac”—the song that generated so much controversy for purportedly being about Rabbi Isaac Luria, though Madonna claims it’s not—is a garbled mess, like something removed from Ray of Light because it was too electronica-heavy and faux-spiritual.

So why am I giving this album a positive review? Because it will make you dance, dammit. The songs all segue naturally into each other, and the CD booklet comes complete with a cut-out disco-ball graphic. The boys down in Boystown will be making out to this one for a long time coming.

One final note: The title Confessions on a Dance Floor comes surprisingly close to that of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder on the Dancefloor,” one of the best dance songs of the past five years. While I don’t expect Madonna to ape Ellis-Bextor, she would be wise to listen to Ellis-Bextor’s body of work, which contains a harder edge than Madonna’s early pop hits but nonetheless retains some of same spirit. I’ll always line up in the clubs and the stores for a new Madonna song, but I wish she’d save the generic deep-dish beats for Basement Jaxx—and the platitudes about fame for Lourdes and Rocco.