A SHARPER BLUR

Wide Range. Cultural Focus. Editor Patrick Neithard

Madonna`s “MDNA” – The DNA of the shaman of a biblical term part 2

Essay Part 2 by Patrick Neithard. Zürich, April 15th 2012

Manga masks appearing in the  "vaudeville deluxe etablissement" in: "Gimme all Your Luvin`".  Copyright © Madonna 2012, boy toy inc.

Manga masked pop dolls appearing in the
vaudevilleesque scenery in: “Gimme all Your Luvin`”.  © Madonna 2012, boy toy inc.

“MADONNA” an anagram, “MDNA” triple play with a cypher

Certainly. In order to show progression, (re-)inventing an image creates space for interpretation. Madonna would not be Madonna if she wasn`t looking for a change this time by means of a new record deal with another company. Changes such as from one to another record label are not always running smoothly. After all, it is a business. Contracts are contracts. Yet the music business is an artistic business. Change therefore is inevitable. Music and ideas come first, one should think. Not always. As an example, although dating back to 1993, Prince endured great struggles over intellectual property with his company Warner Bros Records. At first things were not that obvious. Prince issued more albums but within a much shorter period. One might see this as prolific. Yet it was in fact his urge to sheer off the course by solely fulfilling his contractual amount of albums, following the idea to free himself earlier from the contract. But contracts are contracts. Records also need to be sold to a certain extent, therefore each release obeys an overall marketing strategy taking place at a certain milestone. In times before iTunes it was either record, Single, Maxi Single – or CD. Prince`s strategy only led him astray. To too many records, not enough buyers (within the much too short time period) Both sides got into a fight. Consequently, Prince took on a new name. Switched from cool brand name “Prince” to a symbol. “The symbol” thus in 1993 was causing additional efforts. The graphics department suddenly had to be busied again finding the right  typography (combining the sign of male and female gender thus symbolizing androgyny). Of course any marketing material had to be redone. Aside from now being a symbol, thus unnamed, and sort of inexpressible, Prince wanted to point on his rights on intellectual property such as songs or its verses. He certainly made Warner Bros Records not only run for that. They also had to introduce him. As “The Symbol,  The Artist formerly known as Prince”. Once he had changed his name, things were different in respect of rights and creation. It led to a lawsuit. Sadly, his idea was not leading to an upheaval of his musical success. Partially, Warner Bros Records went over to outsourcing some of his productions into one of their subsidiaries. Kind a like banks and their offshore work. In times before iTunes and digital reproduction his increasing success became apparent. One album sold about 500`000 times only. To this day, Prince still refuses to distribute his music in common channels, if we speak in mainstream terms.

However Madonna`s “MDNA” is an album title. Identifiable, thus somehow “showing how it`s done”. I is a cypher, not a symbol. It is something written in some sort of “secret” language, it is still identifiable due to its resemblance with her name. It is a word play. It may or may not be a sign, it certainly is a reminder, pointing on conditions of the market (probably its historic development) and it is linked with artistic freedom. When Madonna got to finalizing details (last december only) with her new contractor, even she “had to obey” to terms of the market. In december 2011, “MDNA” must have been in its final stage. How things where in detail, we will never know, fact is, Madonna and Interscope Records made the deal for at least three albums. The deal is said being worth about $ 1 Million for each album, while Interscope is being owned by Universal Music. After a four years break since her last studio album “Hard Candy” (2008) and after having quit Warner Bros Records in 2008. The contract  stretched back to 1983, thus both parts look back on a partnership over 25 years.

Madonna “MDNA” Album Cover
copyright 2012 boy toy inc Interscope

The Queen of Pop seems to flirt with her own beginnings as if to glance back to “how it all began” – with her first released album “Madonna” 1983. And she is looking forward steadfastly. Gazing at the new album`s energetic artwork the letters “MDNA” leave an “A” and an “O” missing in the album title. The work on the label “Madonna” is not yet finished. Spoken biblically, in the Genesis, A and O stand for alpha and omega, the beginning and end – God. The Italo-American has always been into spiritualism and has studied the Kabbalah for quite some time. The cover of the album version shows Madonna in a red gown by Antonio Berardi. (Yes, fashion too is a religion) The view on this Madonna however is slightly distorted feigning a hallucination through the Art Work by Mert & Marcus (there is a twelve track studio album and a deluxe album version containing seventeen tracks with a close-up of Madonna on the cover). On the album version however her arms abducted in an angle of an “A”. One letter lost. One found. With the palms slightly lifted towards us this resembles a holy sacred image, she is magically presenting the four hovering letters “MDNA”. Clearly, the cards are being mixed anew. Of course, in the Madonna context, this imagery is a shy reminder of the crucifixion. It is a safe assumption, the cover portrays the label Madonna as an oracle. Even more so when one glances at the centerfold of the booklet, where she shows herself off in an extreme close-up. Corn poppy colored red lips form an “O” while the letters of her name are adjusted graphically so that both her lips and the “O” align. Yet again the same blurry vision, slightly veiling the view on her majestically closed eyes entwined by luscious eyelashes. Here we are. In a new cycle of reflection.

Centerfold Album Version copyright 2012 boy toy inc Interscope

Oh Totem, Oh Taboo.

From the abbreviation “MDNA” the album somehow unfolds magically. In december 2010 Her Royal Pop Highness twittered that she was on the hunt for the “madddest, sickest, most badass people” to finally get the work started. And she answers the threadbare question as to if she hadn`t yet said it all with breath that is bathed with chuzpah. “I`m addicted” (produced like “Girl Gone Wild” with Alessandro and Marco Benassi and as co-producers the Demolition Crew) unveils the hidden formula of MDNA. It`s a reflection in the mirror. “When did your name change from a word to a charm?” Dry self-reference. Slight shudders, the charm is almost palpable, sneaking up from behind (and the sung “charm” sounds a bit like “chore”) There comes the musical rollercoaster driving up to start position, routinously. Sober 808 beats lure deeper into space. Profane Hi Hats hammer. It is a staggering sound. It nails. It screws and hammers a stage. Serial production chain. Detroit progressive. Madonna loves what moves the masses. ”No other sound makes the hair stand up on the back of my arm”. (aarrhhh…) Divine narcissism. Guitar riffs pull off the coming: “All of the letters pushed to the front of my mouth. Saying your name is somewhere between a prayer and a shout! And I can`t get it out.” Quick echo in a meaningful vacuum. Until the sermon goes into its next verse.

Shaman of a biblical term

The before silent guitar now emerges and no longer keeps out of mischief. It is a fervid blast. (Andante, ma non troppo) “When did your name change from language to magic? I`d write it again on the back of my hand and I know it sounds tragic.” (schoolgirl in love again? Borrowed habitus out of a ritual excurse? Maddest, sickest, most badass?) (con brio) “Feels like a drug and I can`t get enough and it fits like a glove I`m addicted to your love.” (Allegro ma non troppo) In slices, an echo of the last letters race hauntingly through the opened space, well held back on their track by the songs sheer gravity. And turn another round. Something is decentered, choral, driven, pre-ecstatic. Deus Ex Machina. This is how La Queen opens a stage for a discourse and yet another taboo is established. (be sure there are many to follow). The beat cannot seem to unwind, it runs in circles like crazy and swallows the last vowel “I-I-I-I” , a last reminiscence to human being, now slushed into a massive flow of humping, grinding beats spiced with growling string arrangements. A howl: “I`m addicted! I`m addicted to your love!” Frazzles of sound fly by, heaven is hell is up is down. Everything flows, the rollercoaster completes its first circle, is now close to the ground. A tiny time slot to set off the bomb: „Now that your name pumps like the blood in my veins, pulse` through my body, igniting my mind its like MDMA (- thats ok)“. Discourse bomb ignited. Its dynamite MDNA. A triple formula both standing for

Love / DNA / and herself as Proxy for chemical substances

“MDNA” shifts to “MDMA”, chemical formula of a well-known widespread 1990ties drug used by partygoers throughout the world. Its primary effect, said to be evoking the feeling of love, adding to tolerance, sensuousness and enhancing perception, for example the feeling for rhythm. As soon as the bomb is placed lovingly, Madonna and her mad/sick/badass team let this tracks beat swell on . Humming, pumping, grinding – into an uplift opening space both upwards and sidewards. (Some critiques were muttering “MDNA” would just be another dance disk yet better of use on hometrainers or at the gym. Not quite. With its definitely throw-off-a-lane, ecstatic upbeat fashion it would bring bike chains to glow and hard plastic pedals to melt. Madonna`s voice amalgamates with highest heights when the lioness belts out one last “I`m addicted! I`m addicted to your love” paraphrasing a drug, its field of use and herself being the proxy for it. And her devotion to dance and to what she does, always will do. From that highest height, in the fashion of “all of the letters pushed to the front of my mouth” she then descends the priorily erected stairway in a staccato, counting through the steps: “M-D-N-A, M-D-M-A!” Great musical. Fast-paced. 2012. A bit like Zarathustra descending. Analogically it is the most rhythmic scratching on the pillars of capitalism, (capitalism as seen as in “exchanging gifts and love”) which to be honest, would not be where it is without its flights into ecstasy, its fruitfulness, its escapism, and its dry, cyclopean, excrescent, babylonic excesses. Within a visually and ideologically entwined, highly coded world. And we know that capitalism is at a turning point. Some find deceleration would be the recipe while others seek for an acceleration mounding into an aesthetic superlative. It is as if two intertwining spirals (like those in a DNA) consisting of an upway and a downway spiral linking rich and poor, imagination and manifestation, the spiritual and the physical. The excess itself though might sound exactly like this in the language of pop. Luring, sick, mad, most badass. Poignant artistic interpretation. Not just another dance song. Self – sacrifice and landmark.

So be it… I`m A Sinner

Madonna`s musical roots can also be found in gospel, (though of her earlier stages in funk and disco) mending rhythmic voice arrangements of Chicago House with technical Detroit House. (She was born in Bay City, Michigan in the north of these cities) Both house branches hold postindustrial critique within, thus reflecting demographic developments. While Chicago went through conflicts between afro-american (during their great escape from the south in the time of segregation) and white entities in the 1920ties, it had later in the century constructed a solid basis resulting in a meaningful form of coexistence. In Chicago House we find such diamonds like “Promised Land” mending suffering soulful humble voices telling those stories combined with simple, logically build danceable beats. Detroit however, with its automobile industry also known as Motor City, consisted of a large amount of laborers suffering in the automobile crisis throughout the 1980ties. Detroits house production is thus rather complex in composition, it is edgier, funky, often disruptive, reflecting both economic upbeat, boom and that counterpart, the economic crisis. Madonna`s immigrated father Silvio Ciccone was an italian car mechanic, her mother Madonna Louise Ciccone was an immigrated franco – canadian, who died 1963 from breast cancer. Madonna was five. The very well IQ`d Madonna went to catholic and monastery schools, adding the firmname Veronica when receiving the sacrament of confirmation. Though once educated to pray by her mother, she still must have sought ways to put the painful loss of her mother behind her. These marks may have confounded the core of Madonna`s creative output whose core roots lie in the topic of puritanic, christian terms. The biblical term “Party”, became a highlighted one in Madonnas earlier productive decade. Those who work and obey gods rules shall receive fruit, therefore praise him, receive happiness in this praise. Madonna condensed this (verbally) in songs from “Holiday” (1984) to “Where`s the Party” on her Album “True Blue” (1986) up to the present “Celebration” (2009). Althoug very well understood, she has been demonized. She had been said to be blasphemic, especially after singing about childhood pregnancy “Papa don`t preach” also on “True Blue” (1986) adressing with the papa both pope and a father. In the eye of catechism, the thus condemned “beast” must have been uttering far too many laughs and giggles when praying candidly and guilelessly during her world tours though obviously living a vividly guided belief. Madonna invented herself further from provocative feminist “Like A Virgin” (1984) to married and romantic (thus pillar of a society) with “True Blue” (1986) to then again transform after her divorce from her first husband, actor Sean Penn, into a Madonna who was freeing people of African descent, from their stigmata in “Like A Prayer” on the eponymous album (1989). Each album circled a new topic, constantly in close proximity to forms of spiritualism. Somehow, we find this consolidated on “MDNA” within the track “I`m A Sinner”. Madonna entangles iconically what she has flown through in her 30 years evolution by constructing a melody resembling the above quoted phase musically. In a soulful voice she bewails “Like the moon with no light of my own. Surfs the sky for a place to call home. I woke up with my head in the fire. Get my kicks when I`m walking the wire.” expressing her devotion to music and topics no matter what consequence. This is certainly not just a bit prose created on a sunday afternoon.The chosen expression of faith and devotion through soul – inspired musical particles got transformed into a (post-)modern piece thanks to her chosen co – producer William Orbit.

Clearly, her changing the record label from Warner Bros Records to Interscope Records and signing for at least three records might have influenced the production of a song like “I`m A Sinner” reminiscing the above quoted older songs. The transition has to run smoothly. Thus a track like this satisfies both fans from the very first hour to the very young. Adding a bit of rhythmic gospel to these material-world-facts, she then continues “I`m a Sinner- I like it that way”. One can almost see flying locks, clapping hands, walling purple priest cassocks and crucifixes raving through the air. And somewhere a priest’s hand is pressing down Madonna`s neck as if everything just started to hum with ritual ecstasy. The invisible priest`s hand bows her in grace, just to let her be erect again by the received spirit. This constitutes what might be called Madonna`s discipline per se: a dialogue unfolding from within a song  – from bridge to chorus carried each time by a suitable rhythm. Bringing fruit. It might cross some minds that the myths of the old world (from the every day to godlike ones) have left the ancient cradle of civilization and incarnated transatlantic on the continent America. So when some european online press now point on her progressing age suggesting she should finally skip to “showing off her wrinkly, leathery skin”( saying it would then be subversive and madonnaesque again) such observations lack greater attention to detail – in a wider sense. It is a very male point of view expressing a desire which structures women into young and achievable versus old, settled and thus quiet. Of course Madonna has switched roles. She is the woman displaying a “behavior as a man by having younger lovers” only because she has dated younger men just as much. If that already suffices to make men scream she should finally age and shut up? So it seems. Then again that fact perfectly founds her arguments in respect of the young female blood. It seems as if she knows that women still need to work on many feminist topics or their respective aspects. It comes as no surprise that they are numerous.Repression of the female. Practiced for centuries. Why should a scar as huge as this have healed already? New wannabe superstars copy her. Wanna be like Madonna. It can`t have been for the sake of her extreme beauty, her admirable luck in amorous matters. It was and is because she is an icon. Have you ever seen a garment going out of fashion? Exactly. That is how fast an icon goes out of fashion. “Your card is no longer accepted here”. Meanwhile, Madonna rhymes on in gospel fashion: „Hail Mary, full of grace. Get down on your knees and pray. Jesus Christ, hanging on the cross. Died for our sins, it’s such a loss. Saint Christopher, find my way. I’ll be coming home one day. Saint Sebastian, don’t you cry. Let those poison arrows fly. Saint Anthony, lost and found. Thomas Aquinas, stand your ground. All those saints and holy men. Catch me before I sin again.“  That is quite a whole bunch of saints throughout history. With one thing in common. They are almost all male.

A Masterpiece – falling free

The album, edgy as it is, has one special surprise. Madonna`s daughter Lourdes, now aged 15,  sings on “Superstar”. Voice? Bold and clear. Text? Light as a feather, like dreams of a schoolgirl. Superstars still seem to be creatures a girl dreams about at that age. “Uh la la You`re a Superstar. I sing you a song on my guitar. You can have the password to my phone.“ Of course this led to harsh critique like “almost no text in the album” or “hideously superficial”. Is it? Way back in the 1960ties, french chanteuses were eroticising when singing in lolita-fashion. Thank Madonna!  Lourdes` strong voice is missing the Lolita context. Childhood is fun. There was so much love of the Lioness for this child in 1998`s lullaby “Little Star” ( Album “Ray Of Light”). The love of a mother never ends. It goes from “sweet with baby” to reasonable when adolescent. Motherhood is acting responsibly. Isn`t that enough “age”? Clearly, singing uh –la- la songs is a thing for young girls, not for women from their 40 ties going through rough patches and harmful experiences in relationships. That target audience is adressed with the very personal run-in-a-mill song “I don`t give A” where Madonna chops off a litany on her “Ex Wife Wake Up New life”. She is beating herself through the day-by-day with kids, twittering, directing projects (she has issued two films since 2008) while in parallel thoughts some grief must be hovering. Probably just awaken through a lawyers inquiries. Yet another separation, and all the while still no pre-nup, as if givers just do not learn. But multitask? Multitask, she does. And it all comes packed into one verse, any disgracefulness then high-pacededly and compassionately answered by a younger ( yet talented) singer generation aka Nicki Minaj: “Never let them stress you /I ain’t a businesswoman / I’m a business, woman!/ And I’m known for giving bitches the business, woman!”

And “MDNA” means business. The first of these three contractually promised albums ends with two ballads. “Masterpiece” sings of an image irrevocably fixed and unachievable, like the Mona Lisa. It comes in sweet, paradisiac fashion, is a melodic vacation trip to the hispanic, and immediately entwines ones heart, just to be disruptive just as much when it finally opens the deep gulf between two once bonded people now going on distance in a verse: “Cause after all, nothing`s indestructible”. Listening to her texts sometimes feels they way it should: Breaking up usually feels like ripping off adhesive tape. Sometimes, but only sometimes slow motion is perfect. Even the cheap seats in the back might get the message off the record. When a fighter comes home to her love she wants to be welcomed. Even one like Madonna who sings “I`ve climbed the three of life, and that is why I am no longer scared if I fall.” ( “Nothing fails” on “Ray Of Light”, 1998)

And all the while Mr. and Mrs. Malice and Family Accolade, both controversial archetypes standing front row in the public, are looking forward to the next albums already. Maybe there`ll be songs like “Falling Free”, the last ballad on “MDNA” which mixes sounds resembling gaelic minnesang with the musical diversity one finds in R&B ( where rhyming and instrumental rhythm miraculously collide) lifting her up on an invisible flying trapeze, letting her swing through space overlooking everything from a distance. In pure clarity, her voice tells. It is accompanied by orchestral sound arrangements, (thanks to the again chosen William Orbit as co-producer) – an organ hum here, a purr of a dragonfly there. All fly by, light crystals out of nothing, tiny supernovae here and there. It is illustrous, loftily and free. Free of judgement. Freed from knickknacks. One can choke it. Hum with it through a season. Like fresh air after a catharsis –  “MDNA” … is both. Over and over. Again and again.

Falling Free

When I move a certain way
I feel an ache I’ve kept at bay
A hairline break, that’s taking hold
A metal that I thought was gold

And pure so sure I’d struck a vein
I wanted you to feel the same
So when you did ignite a spark
Rescue me from all this dark
See our hearts are intertwined
Then I’m free, free of mine

I’m falling free

And see our hearts are intertwined
And then I’m free, I’m free of mine
Deep and pure our hearts align
And then I’m free, I’m free of mine

When I raise a certain wing
And crawl beneath that growing thing
It throws a shadow over time
And keeps yours falling next to mine

Your days were meant to fly and do
I fall and fold mine into you
And what you take is just enough
And what you give is what I love
And when you lift you raise the sail
And then I’m free, free to fail

I’m falling free

Deep and pure our hearts align,
And then I’m free, I’m free of mine
When I let loose the need to know
Then we’re both free, we’re free to go

When I lose a certain claim
That tries to know and needs to blame
Whatever river runs aground
It turns my head and washes down

The face of God that stands above
Pouring over hope and love
That all of might, and life, and limb
Could turn around and love again

When I let loose the need to know
Then we’re both free, free to go

I’m falling free

I’m fallin, I’m fallin, I’m falling free
I’m fallin, I’m fallin, I’m falling free

Deep and pure our hearts align
And then I’m free, I’m free of mine
When I let loose the need to know
Then we’re both free, we’re free to go

Deep and pure our hearts align
Then I’m free, I’m free of mine
I let loose the need to know
And we’re both free, free to go

Written by Madonna, Laurie Mayer, William Orbit & Joe Henry
Produced by Madonna & William Orbit

Full lyrics „Falling Free“ and any quoted (” “) Lyrics  © Madonna, All rights reserved, boy toy inc 2012

© this blog Patrick Neithard, Zürich, Switzerland. All rights reserved. Do not use or reproduce without permission.

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