Is there any big name left in the world of music who has yet to be touch by the hand of 'Land? That's Timbaland, by the way - musical ubermensch, reviver of ailing careers and general collaborator extraordinaire - now on hand to service one Madonna Louise Ciccone-Ritchie. Not that her career is in any need of a revival, though; the almost-50-year-old pop legend has had her fair share of success in recent years, the most recent bout courtesy of 2005's 'Confessions on a Dance Floor' album.
Still, it hasn't stopped Madonna from enlisting the help of several A-List big-hitters for her 11th studio album: Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West all feature in some capacity here.
The obvious assumption, therefore, is that Hard Candy's sound will be infused with the slick r 'n' b/hip-hop sound that such a roster would suggest. While that's certainly true - Timbaland and The Neptunes' influence is tangible throughout the majority of the album - Madonna similarly seems determined to maintain some sort of control.
For every juddering slice of r 'n' b sleaze (Candy Shop) or unremarkable, seamless pop (Miles Away), for example, there's a welcome dose of disco-glam (She's Not Me) or Ray of Light-era forcefulness (Voices); yet that same control is seemingly voluntarily relinquished on the likes of Devil Wouldn't Recognize You - a dark pop song eerily similar in tone to Timberlake's 'Cry Me A River'.
The end product, therefore, is in real danger of becoming a strange conundrum: a Madonna album that sounds like a Neptunes/Timbaland/Justin Timberlake album featuring Madonna. Whether Mrs. Ritchie had always intended on handing over the reins to her collaborators to such an extent is unclear. Whatever the strategy, though, the three or four tracks that comprise Hard Candy's sweet, tasty centre are reward enough for its sometimes-predictable outer shell.