USA TODAY:review Madonna's 'MDNA'

Madonna's 'MDNA' is rocking and revelatory

Madonna opens up to reveal inner pain and turmoil on her new album, but the dance groove never slows.

Madonna, MDNA
* * * 1/2 stars (out of four)

Vulnerability isn't likely the first trait that comes to mind when you think of Madonna. The woman who titled her last studio album Hard Candy (2008) is contemporary pop's most durable alpha female, coolly courting fascination and controversy on her own terms.

Yet in some of her most beguiling songs, Madonna has opened her heart and let her defenses down a bit. Think of the pregnant teenager in Papa Don't Preach, begging for support even as she declares her resolve. Or the giddy lover pledging eternal devotion in Cherish.

Then imagine that those gals had lived a few more years, maybe married and divorced, and you'll have an inkling of the emotional wallop waiting in Madonna's most personal effort to date, MDNA, out Monday.

The album opens with single Girl Gone Wild, a breathless ode to dance-floor hedonism. "Girls, they just wanna have some fun," Madonna chirps over a thumping club groove. Several tunes share an almost defiant buoyancy; I'm Addicted and Turn Up the Radio celebrate romantic surrender, but there's a sense that what's being sought more is escape.

The standard and deluxe explicit versions of MDNA offer an early hint that we're headed for darker terrain. The second track, the pulsing, sardonic Gang Bang, describes not an orgy but a revenge fantasy, in which a woman shoots and kills a wayward and possibly abusive partner. Chanting profanely, Madonna could either be mocking a persecutor or turning the tables on him.

Anger isn't this album's defining quality, though. The songs that seem to allude to Madonna's ex, Guy Ritchie, are charged with sadness and self-doubt. Love Spent is the most stinging: "Would you have married me if I were poor?" she asks, after a bluegrass-tinged intro segues into a radiant electro-pop arrangement.

Spent is one of numerous tracks co-written and co-produced by Madonna's Ray of Lightand Beautiful Stranger collaborator William Orbit, whose sonic savvy is just as keen here.I'm A Sinner has a groovy ebullience reminiscent of the latter hit, even as the lyrics again evoke a woman racing past pain. On the gorgeously ethereal Falling Free, Madonna sings of finding both grace and alienation in love.

But MDNA is no self-pity party. There's wry humor and unabashed yearning; check out the semi-confessional multi-tasker's lament I Don't Give A, co-written and featuring a rap by Nicki Minaj. And Madonna emerges, as always, a survivor.

"Nothing's indestructible," she admits on the Latin-kissed Masterpiece, but still vows, "I will not renounce all hope." And why should she, of all people?

>> Download:Falling FreeSome GirlsI'm A Sinner


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