Hard Candy is the latest album from Madonna, and marks the final phase of her 25-year contract with Warner Brothers. In many ways it is like a greatest hits compilation, composed of new material. Various stages of her evolution, from club darling to pop tart, provocateur to mystic, are remixed and revisted here.
The cover art shows Madonna scantily clad in designer boxers’ kit, at once triumphant and battle-weary. The first track, ‘Candy Shop’, is a deliberate tease, and laden with innuendo. ‘4 Minutes’ brings in her big-name collaborators, Justin Timberlake and Timbaland. It’s urgent and bombastic, a call from superheroes to ‘save the world’ before it’s too late.
On the follow-up single, ‘Give It 2 Me’, Madonna needs no allies in her declaration of intent. It’s a relentless nu-rave odyssey and sure to be a hit. ‘Heartbeat’ follows the same trail, but with more sweetness and humanity, leading in to the light, radio-friendly ballad, ‘Miles Away’.
Pharrell Williams comes to the fore as co-producer and vocalist over the next two tracks, the longest and busiest on the album. ‘She’s Not Me’, a riposte to a love rival (or perhaps one of the many pop pretenders who have tried to steal her crown), recalls a younger, cheekier Madonna. ‘Incredible’ has a euphoric, acid house feel, but despite the high energy and sass, the lyrics suggest a dejected lover trying to recapture her sexual spark.
If love is her battlefield and sex her lethal weapon, Madonna’s salvation lies on the dancefloor. ‘Beat Goes On’ takes us back to where she began, recalling those long nights at the Danceteria in the early 80s which inspired her very first album. Another dancefloor anthem, but altogether funkier and more soulful, it also boasts yet another star turn, this time from Kanye West. ‘Dance 2Night’ continues in this vein, a joyous, celebratory ride that will have handbags dropping to the ground across the globe.
The mood shifts again with the experimental ‘Spanish Lesson’, more reminscent of Gogol Bordello than ‘La Isla Bonita’. The sombre ballad, ‘Devil Wouldn’t Recognise You’, is among Madonna’s best work in years, and the album closes on a dark, atmospheric note with ‘Voices’. These final tracks make for a startling coda to what is essentially a feel-good trip to the club, perhaps less sophisticated than its predecessor, Confessions On A Dancefloor, but with a raw energy all of its own.