Music Reviews

‘Hard Candy’ well past its sell-by date

Timbaland is a bit of a slut. Since relaunching Nelly Furtado’s career two years ago the producer has worked with everybody from Bjork to Duran Duran. A project with the Smurfs is probably in the offing, provided Papa Smurf can front the cash.

Now Madonna is the latest in the long line of clients that, in just the past two years, totals over 30. And therein lies one of the biggest problems with ‘Hard Candy’ – Madge is usually at the front of the queue when new music trends come along.

Now she’s using someone so ubiquitous it won’t be long before the cheapest Casio keyboard has a Timbaland rhythm preset – and relying on him so heavily she forgot to finish writing the songs. Granted, the man born Tim Mosley can transform a 15-second clip into a hit single (see Justin Timberlake’s ‘Sexyback’) but, no matter how extreme her musical reinventions, Madonna’s best songs have always benefited from solid melodies. On her 11th studio album the tunes range from repetitive to infantile, clearly intended for the urban dance market but with Timbaland’s rhythms now beginning to sound like the punches from ’70s Hong Kong karate films, she’s missed the party.

‘Miles Away’ sounds just like Furtado’s ‘Say It Right’ did two years ago; slow jam ‘Devil Wouldn’t Recognise You’ is a third-generation photocopy of ‘All Good Things (Come To An End)’; the burping backbeat of ‘Voices’ does little to disguise the feeling that it’s a ‘Loose’ outtake; and ‘Dance 2night’ resurrects Michael Jackson circa 1979. Even the recruitment of Timberlake and Danja (most prominently on lead single ‘Four Minutes’) fails to refresh the Mosley sound; if anything, they turn the Queen of Pop into the Wannabe: Britney.

Pharrell Williams, who produced the remainder of the 12 tracks with his Neptunes partner Chad Hugo, fares better – although he’s not exactly cutting-edge either. The hyperactive ‘Give It 2 Me’ has Madonna sounding as she should: in command; ‘Heartbeat’ packs four minutes with a half decent melody and an album’s worth of studio trickery; and, even if the Kanye West rap is less surprising than expected, the highly repetitive ‘Beat Goes On’ boasts a killer groove.

But ‘Spanish Lesson’ is the umpteenth update of ‘La Isla Bonita’ and its Flamenco flavours; the one-dimensional ‘She’s Not Me’ and ‘Incredible’ go on interminably; and not even Williams’ studio virtuosity can mask the embarrassment of the title track which has a 49-year-old mother of three pedaling her Turkish delights alongside other “sticky and sweet” treats.

There’s a reason Madonna’s candy is hard; it’s well past its sell-by date.

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