What on earth is up with Madonna these days? After all, withdrawing the anti-war video for her new single on the grounds that "it might offend people" is hardly the sort of behaviour you expect from a woman who prides herself on being a fearless iconoclast. Perhaps she just felt she could do with the publicity - since her latest album is undoubtedly one of the most drab and colourless she's ever produced. It's not so much the music itself, although these mid-paced dance grooves certainly sound suspiciously like inferior rejects from 2000's Music sessions. It's more to do with the fact that the lyrics - on global politics, Madonna's family and (yawn) the downside of fame - are by turns irritating, banal and downright lazy. American Life isn't a complete disaster - just when you're beginning to think that Madge has lost it completely, she pulls out a couple of the sublime pop melodies that made her such an iconic figure in the first place. The sad truth, however, is that there's simply not enough of them to prevent this from being one of her least essential efforts to date.