For someone who hasn't released a truly great album in upwards of twenty years, Madonna is clearly fighting tooth and nail to retain her throne as the incumbent Queen of Pop. Having seen off challenges from Britney and Christina in the past, Madge is now staring down Rihanna and Lady Gaga in her never-ending quest to stay relevant - even though nowadays it's getting more and more difficult to disguise the fact that Gaga does a better impersonation of Madonna than Madonna does.
MDNA, for all its sheen and gloss and ultra-produced studio trickery, never hits the heights of any of Madge's superstar contemporaries, despite attempting to elbow her way into their midst. All the efforts spent on this album - the hours in the studio, the ultra-hip and edgy title, the big name collaborations - were no doubt aimed at giving it a sleek cutting edge but have left the album with a sense of being over-cooked and over-complicated, reducing any verve that these songs might have had earlier in their lives to a mess of hooky synth beats, awkward phrasing and Madonna's exasperated vocals.
'Give Me All Your Luvin'', the lead single from MDNA and Madonna's worst chartperformance in 29 years, sees Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. do for Madonna what Madonna used to do for other pop acts - an endorsement. The duo chant "L! U! V! Madonna", which comes across more as a desperate plea than an impassioned musical statement.
While MDNA doesn't work at all, that's not to say that this should be the end of Madonna as an artist. She has an in-built fanbase who will buy anything with her name on it and, for this reason, this album will be a commercial success (albeit a critical failure). Is it time for Madonna to return to the more enigmatic role she inhabited in the mid-to-late 90's with Bedtime Stories and Ray of Light? Probably. Trying to play the same game as artists 30 years her junior is always going to be an uphill struggle. One day Lady Gaga will face these same accustaions but for now there's no doubting who has assumed the pop music throne. The Queen is dead, long live the Queen.