The defining moment of the new Madonna album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, arrives during the song I Love New York. Over a pulsing synthesizer, a ticking clock, a rumbling timpani and countless other perfectly calibrated whirs and beeps, Madonna declares, "I don't like cities, but I like New York/Other places make me feel like a dork." This is not the most ridiculous lyric ever uttered in a pop song--that remains "Yummy yummy yummy/I got love in my tummy." Still, it is awfully silly, and before you press on with the album, you will need to ask yourself, Am I a serious person who listens to music for intellectual enlightenment and makes it a point of pride not to dance under any circumstances? Or am I merely a semi-serious person who makes it a point not to be seen dancing under any circumstances?
If you're the former, Confessions on a Dance Floor is not for you. If you're the latter, close the blinds. Because the words get goofier, and the song gets faster, and pretty soon all you hear are echoes of Madonna's voice behind a glossy thump and a grinding guitar hook. It is possible to remain still while that happens, but only if you are made of wood.
For all her shape shifting, Madonna has always been most comfortable when she's dancing--or singing about dancing ("You can dance, for inspiration," she proclaimed with adorable plasticity on Into the Groove back in 1985). After her dour 2003 album, American Life, she has migrated back to her safe place, and it's nice to hear her strutting again. Almost all of Confessions feels like I Love New York--exuberant, campy, shameless and cool. The songs flow into one another with no regard for things like track numbers (the album is premixed, as opposed to remixed), and nuggets of dance history--from the sample of Abba's Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! that anchors the massively catchy first single, Hung Up, to the buried bars of Like a Prayer that pop up for a few seconds--float by like glittery party favors. But what you notice most is the pure ecstasy of sound. It's not a Phil Spector--type wall but a galaxy, filled with collisions and comets zooming from speaker to speaker.
Madonna detractors will point out that most of this wizardry is the work of other people, notably Stuart Price, the British producer who has accumulated a dozen or so musical aliases (Les Rhythms Digitales, Paper Faces) in his 28 years on the planet. She didn't break too many pencils working on the lyrics either, but as Mrs. Ritchie might say on the manor, horses for courses. In dance music, words exist to be repeated, twisted, obscured and resurrected. How they sound in the moment is far more important than what they mean, and Madonna knows that better than anyone. Confessions on a Dance Floor is 56 minutes of energetic moments. It will leave you feeling silly for all the right reasons.