Madonna Treats Her Fans With Delicious New "Candy"

What’s needed for a successful comeback, especially for a starlet of the 80s? Paula Abdul’s answer is to recruit modern hit making producers such as Will.I.Am to revamp her old hits and mix them with new songs. The result is a “new” album set to be released this summer. Janet Jackson attempted to pull off a similar feat with her atrocious new album “Discipline,” which for some unexplainable reason debuted at #1. For Madonna, however, a comeback is a complete change of both sound and style.

The reigning and untouchable queen of pop evolves on each one of her records, experimenting with completely different genres each time around. Most recently, it was 2005’s exquisite techno-influenced dance record “Confessions On A Dance Floor” (arguably her best work since 1998’s “Ray Of Light”) that reminded the world why we fell in love with Madge in the first place. Still conquering charts twenty-eight years after the release of the debut album that set her on the path to a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the original Material Girl is back with a new album and a brand new sound.

Having not only achieved record-breaking album and tour sales, Madonna has also been a Golden Globe winning actress (1996’s “Evita”), an author, a fashion designer for retail giant H&M, a leading figure in the Hollywood trend of Kabbalism, and the director of a humanitarian documentary called “I Am Because We Are” to raise awareness of the severe issues in Malawi. But now she is ready to rewind to the beginning of her huge resume and plunge head first back into the music market. In the process, she’s transcending the pop borders she is accustomed to and crossing over into the hip hop field.

Recruiting current platinum ensuring producer Timbaland as well as hitmakers Pharell and Nate “Danja” Hills, Madonna revolutionizes herself yet again. With the top producers in the industry working with the top pop star, it was a collaboration guaranteed to not only create another hip hop influenced pop album, but the definitive genre defining album.

On board is also former NSYNC front man and current solo megastar Justin Timberlake, who helped Madonna’s return to the scene by contributing vocals to the lead single “4 Minutes.” Already breaking records by giving her the 37th Top 10 hit of her career, the song (currently #1 on the United World Charts) has moved Madonna above Elvis Presley to the top of the list of artists with the largest number of hits in the rock era. Accompanied by a hyperactive music video featuring Madge and Justin jumping all over cars, the song gives the illusion of Madonna as a super hero – a persona not that far from the truth. No, that is not a reference to the children she adopted to create her United Colors of Bennetton friendly family portrait. It’s simply referring to the fact that over the past three decades, she has been arguably the key player in steering contemporary pop down the path it has gone. Think about it: Without Madonna, there would never have been a Britney or Christina.

The track following “4 Minutes” is the standout number “Give It 2 Me.” By far the catchiest song on the album, it is currently (smartly) slated to be released as the second single. The music of the song sounds like what one would imagine a Jay-Z/Cascada mash-up to sound like: it’s got the electric pulses of a dance song yet still plays over a hip hop structured beat. It’s virtually impossible to hear this song and not have a rush of endorphins that hunger for a dance floor.

Next comes “Heartbeat,” a smooth and chilled-out song that makes listeners feel like they’re sipping their last fruity drink at 6 a.m. after their E has worn off and the rave is clearing out. Madonna actually tries her very own rapping skills on the track momentarily, in a way that shows that she has grasped the concept of it much more than she did during her rapping debut on “American Life” a couple of years ago.

The song is succeeded by “Miles Away,” a song that feels like the lovechild of Madonna’s previous hit “La Isla Bonita” and basically any number off of the “Evita” album. Yes, it doesn’t really sound like that appealing a fusion; however, it does more than deliver. The same can be said for “Spanish Lesson,” a song clearly influenced by an urban Latin-American club sound. Any doubts about this collaboration evaporate after hooks of violent chords of a traditional Spanish guitar are heard as the song begins. Then Madonna starts singing “Yo te quiero,” only to have the listener instinctively respond with “I love you too.”

The two most hip hop influenced tracks on the album are “The Beat Goes On,” a duet with Kanye West, and “Dance 2Night,” another Timberlake/Timbaland production. The first of these two tracks sounds like Madonna broke into Rihanna’s recording studio and stole her best demo. Similarly, “Dance 2Night” could easily be the lead single off R&B diva Ciara’s upcoming new album if she won the musical lottery. Both of these songs incorporate traditional hip hop rhythms with Madonna’s trademark vocals, producing a result that is pure pop flawlessness.

The album finishes off with two darker tracks – “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” and “Voices.” These songs are layered with multiple harmonies and slow synthesized beats. Rather than tackling issues of relationships and sex like the rest of the record, the songs serve as Madonna’s crash course in philosophy, featuring lyrical questions such as “Who is the master? Who is the slave,” and “are you walking the dog, ‘cause that dog isn’t new, are you out of control, is that dog walking you?”

After “Confessions On A Dancefloor” was released, Madonna had already dominated multiple genres of music and made them work with her pop sound. That album budded off into “Hard Candy,” another album designed to make her audience shake and dance. What’s most interesting about the record is that, although it is her most recent and contemporary effort, it is the closest thing to a homage to her vintage 80’s sound. Yes, it is full of hip hop elements and modern influences, yet somehow, these manage to loop back to and compliment her original musical styling, picking up pieces of all her recent albums and intertwining them. With mediocre and rather disappointing albums like “Music” and “American Life,” hope for a post-2000 Madonna was beginning to fade. But first with “Confessions” and now with “Hard Candy,” the Queen of Pop is back in full swing—and really swinging.

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Ashlee Simpson’s New Album Far More "Bitter" Than "Sweet"

Dear Ashlee,

All I have to say to you is: Why? Why would you create such an atrocious album? Why would you let down all the fans who have stuck by you through everything? We stood at your side when you made a complete fool out of yourself on national television during your infamous Saturday Night Live lip-synching incident. We made both of your previous albums debut at #1, putting you on the fast track to possible superstardom. Hell, we even defended you when you abandoned all you said you stood for by getting all that plastic surgery and turning into another of many eminently forgettable modern blonde starlets. “Boyfriend,” the lead track off your last album, “I Am Me,” had you singing “Hollywood will suck me in but it won’t spit me out.” Now what I want to know is when you wrote that song, did you know you were lying and would morph into a corporate sellout?

On April 22nd, you’re released “Bittersweet World,” your third major label album. What I don’t understand, however, is how a major label supported this “record” at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if after this album fails to generate any good press, you’ll be dropped. It’s sad, yes, but you brought this on yourself. What I also don’t understand is why you’re using your relationship with Fall Out Boy Pete Wentz the completely wrong way. I mean, you could have taken advantage of his musical genius and entrepreneurial expertise to help you evolve your pop/rock sound and make an actually good album. His influence is clearly there on “Little Miss Obsessive,” the only legitimately good song on the record. It just boggles my mind that you wouldn’t work with this same formula on the rest of your CD. Instead, you’re using Wentz to generate publicity. Don’t even try to tell me that the fact that you and he announced your engagement and are constantly in the news squandering pregnancy rumors just a couple of days before your album was released was not a publicity stunt. I mean gee, Ashlee, it must clearly be a coincidence that your name is all over all the celebrity gossip blogs the week you try to get yourself press and hype for your record. And to answer the questions you’re probably thinking, no, you did not spark enough interest in anyone to buy this record to support this future family.

Instead of utilizing your connections and having your talented fiancée help you out, you recruited producers like Timbaland to turn yourself into a horrible pop star. Just because he changed Nelly Furtado from a semi-decent songwriter to a washed out Top 40 friendly robot, does not mean he can do the same for you. The whole rock-star-gone-bad-pop thing has already been done! At least when Gwen Stefani did it, she did it with a bit of originality. She didn’t try and just imitate every hip hop beat she heard on TRL. I mean really Ashlee, there’s a reason why you released the first single off this album, “Outta My Head,” way back in December, and now four months later it still has not caught on anywhere. You should have learned from your previous albums – pop/rock songs like “Pieces Of Me” and “Boyfriend” actually did amazingly well, whereas simply bad pop songs like “L.O.V.E” did not take off half as well. I bet you wish you had listened now when your mother taught you as a little girl that history repeats itself.

I know I’m coming off harsh. It’s just that my main issue with this album is how much I wanted to like it. It’s been three years since your last album. For three years, I have been waiting to hear more from the Ashlee Simpson that I had grown to love and seen in concert three times. When I read that you were changing your sound, I had high hopes. Nobody wants to record the same album twice, I get that. If you did that, you wouldn’t be an artist. But the difference is your sound needs to evolve. You can’t ditch the artsy clothes, surgically fix the imperfections (yes, I’m referring to your nose) that made you so quirky, different, and cute. And most importantly, you can’t jump from pop/rock princess to dull, boring, pop tart sounds that are exactly like everyone else’s.

When “Autobiography,” your first record, came out, I could not pick a favorite song because they were all so good. Now with “Bittersweet World,” it is not difficult at all to find a favorite since there’s the only one good one. To be fair, my ears did not bleed when listening to the songs “No Time For Tears” or “Never Dream Alone.” However, I also wasn’t relating to it like it was a page from my diary like your previous songs made me do. These songs are maybe decent enough to serve as B-sides from the “I Am Me” sessions, but that’s about it. Unfortunately for you though, the bad completely outweighs the good, and songs such as “Rule Breaker” and “Hot Stuff” are beyond abysmal. In fact, these are two of the absolutely worst songs I think I’ve ever heard. I actually feel sorry for you that you think they were good enough to even be recorded. You have no idea how sad it makes me to say that about your music Ashlee, no idea.

I feel betrayed. I used to love you. In fact, I still have a poster of you on my bedroom wall at home. I used to look up to you. I used to put at least one song of yours on every mix CD I would make for myself or my friends. I would even put a song or two on a mix I would make for my mother, a woman who’s most contemporary idea of pop is Tom Jones. I just wanted to hear a song of yours as a refresher while in the car with her. It’s like the old saying: “When you meet your hero, you will either fall in love or be completely disappointed.” Well, Ashlee, I don’t need to meet you to be disappointed.

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Leona Lewis’ "Spirit" Guarantees Her Success

Throughout music history, the United Kingdom has been one of the primary producers of many of the most successful and talented artists of all time – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Spice Girls, and, more recently, musicians such as Natasha Bedingfield and Mika. Enter Leona Lewis, America’s hottest new U.K. import, who has shot right up to the top of the British Invasion list. I mean she belongs there, especially given that major publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, People Magazine, and Entertainment Weekly have all already dubbed her as one of the “hottest stars of 2008.”

Back in the day before Mariah Carey discovered hip hop collaborations and still actually sang (a skill she clearly no longer utilizes judging by her current single “Touch My Body” and pitiful new album “E=Mc2”) she was a remarkable talent. Remember her early hits such as “Always Be My Baby” or “Emotions”? It is songs such as these that could very easily have been from the same recording session as Lewis’ debut album “Spirit,” the fastest selling British debut of all time, which was released this side of the pond on April 8th. Everything from the trademark soaring vocals to the R&B infused pop sound make up this exquisite album. Lewis doesn’t even pretend to deny the inspiration, as the photo on her album cover is practically a replica of the cover of Carey’s self-titled 1990 debut. Perhaps the similarities and successful path Mariah took was the premise for the decision of music giants Clive Davis and Simon Cowell to team up for the very first time to work on the creation of “Spirit.”

Lewis’ lead single, “Bleeding Love,” the UK’s best selling song of 2007 and the current #1 song on the United World Chart, has been in the Top 10 Billboard chart for the past seven weeks in a row. It peaked at #1, falling slightly back only due to entrances by fellow multi-platinum divas Madonna, and ironically, Carey. This was the first time that a British female solo artist hit the top spot on the American charts in over twenty years (the last time being Kim Wilde’s 1987 mega-hit “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”). Written by Ryan Tedder of 2007’s breakout band OneRepublic, “Bleeding Love” is a mid-tempo track about a woman knowing she is an emotionally abusive relationship, but is unable to leave because she is too much in love. Even though you can hear it on every radio station in the country at least once every half hour, it is still refreshing simply because of how different it sounds from the rest of today’s mainstream pop.

As quickly as “Bleeding Love” took off, so will many other tracks on the record. Songs such as “Better In Time,” “Take A Bow,” “Forgive Me”, and “Angel” are all guaranteed hits, with the words “radio smash” written all over them. In fact, it is hard to believe that “Spirit” is Leona’s first record, as it sounds like it could very easily be a greatest hits album rather than a debut. Seriously, I’m not kidding, the songs are that good.

One of the standout tracks on the record is “Misses Glass,” one of two newly recorded songs exclusively for the U.S. release of the album (the other is the Akon-produced “Forgive Me”). Despite its somber and cliché lyrics, the song is insanely catchy, as it was conjured from a recipe that provides the perfect amounts of pop, rock, and R&B all in one. In other words, you can both grab your hair brush and sing into it like a microphone, or flip it around and play it like a guitar. Either way, this song will get you on your feet and moving.

Like any reality TV singing contest winner (Leona won season three of the U.K. series The X Factor), she packs her album with quite a few ballads to show off her incredible voice, range, and belting ability. Big numbers such as “I Will Be” and “Here I Am” allow her gorgeous voice to send chills down the spines of listeners. This is particularly the case with her flawless rendition of Roberta Flack’s 1972 #1 smash “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” Not only does she completely trump the original, but she also outshines every other vocalist who has ever attempted to sing this song. And, yes, I am taking Celine Dion’s version into account.

The tricky thing about breaking into America is that once you’ve hit the mainstream market, it’s hard to stay there. So many famous British artists have made it here, but are never heard from again after their hit single is no longer in rotation (Robbie Williams, anyone?). This, however, is far from the fate that will await Leona Lewis. Already a household name, this new international icon is not going anywhere anytime soon. Judging by the impeccable debut album, “Spirit,” the only place you will find her in the years to come will be at the very top of the charts.

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