The Queen of Pop’s 12th album has left critics squirming uncomfortably by how revealing “MDNA” is — but not because they’re being prudish.
The album, which debuted Monday, isn’t pushing Madonna’s usual boundaries of taste or fashion but rather, of familiarity: “MDNA” is her divorce album, and it’s rare to see her being this frank and earnest about her personal life, and her painful divorce from Guy Ritchie.
• “Its strength is in how it shows Madonna—she of cartoonishly meticulous self-presentation: toned arms, put-on accent, and vanity film projects—as sh--ty, worn out, and human as anyone ... ‘Gang Bang’ camp and track titles aside, MDNA features little self-conscious provocation, which is the second-most surprising thing about it. The first? That it makes the argument for Madonna as the most honest dance-pop diva we have.” — Spencer Kornhaber, the Atlantic.
• “’Falling Free’ is one of her better ballads – just voice, strings and a credible sense of vulnerability. It's a glimpse of a fascinating possible future, of a grownup Madonna at ease with herself, trusting her talent over passing trends. It makes you crave her next album, not this one.” — Gareth Grundy, the Guardian.
• “Unlike previous late-period records in which she had the luxury to indulge in creative tangents and not get too hung up on scoring several hits, MDNA is a record that comes with major commercial expectations. The ‘this has to work’ factor is high, and it's hard to shake the impression that she has some measure of contempt for the contemporary pop audience.” — Matthew Perpetua, Pitchfork
• “The Madonna of today has lost the art of surprise, and the shock and awe she used to inspire with each new move have gone the way of her bullet bra and taffeta skirts. More important, Madge seems to have lost her ability to create in that magical space that pushes pop forward while remaining completely of the moment.” — Randall Roberts, the LA Times
• “She's been personal, but never this detailed before. In part, it's an old punk-rock impulse: Show the world no one can hurt you more than you hurt yourself. Except she has cross-wired exposure and pain, which gives this set of confessions their discomforting immediacy.” — Joe Levy, Rolling Stone
• “A lot of the music here feels hollow and strained, and all the lyrical and sonic references to Madonna’s history — lines about lucky stars and getting into grooves, a winking reuse of the Abba sample from “Hung Up” — only underline that fact. There is much expensive workmanship and machine-tooling around here, but not much … Madonna.” — Nitsuh Abebe, New York Magazine