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Review: Madonna is back with strongest record in years

By L. KENT WOLGAMOTT

Madonna, “MDNA.” Madonna is back.
That’s the simplest summary of “MDNA,” the 12th album from the 53-year-old Material Girl, which is available Monday. She spends about half the release referring to her divorce with Guy Ritchie, opening up to create her most personal, revealing set of songs ever.

“Love Spent” wonders where the love went and makes reference to the millions Ritchie received in the divorce. The insistent “I wish I could take you back” ballad “I (expletive) Up” and the rattling “Best Friend” from The “Deluxe Explicit Album” are the most direct of those songs.

But the semi-rap “I Don’t Give a (featuring Nicki Minaj)” includes this little couplet, “I tried to be a good girl/I tried to be your wife/Diminished myself,” as it re-establishes Madonna as a strong woman with a head for business, music and love.

And the dark techno “Gang Bang” is a sinister little number about a woman shooting her lover. Care to guess how she really feels?

Madonna marshals a flotilla of producers to apply their magic, most notably bringing back William Orbit from “Ray of Light” for three songs, including the ultra-catchy “I’m a Sinner.” It’s the best song on the record and spins her Catholic upbringing into its irresistible beats and hooks.

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Another gem from the deluxe version is the bouncy “B-Day Song,” a reminder of Madonna’s garage rock/girl group vocal roots that’s just fun.

Madonna’s never drifted far from the club. Nor does she here. The record opens with the pop banger “Girls Gone Wild,” which feels like vintage Madge, and swirls Daft Punk-like on “I’m Addicted” where she chants “MDNA.” That’s either a knockoff on her name or a sly reference to the club drug Ecstasy (MDMA).

Strangely, the weakest track on “MDNA” is the cheerleader pop of “Give Me All Your Luvin’ featuring Nicki Minaj and MIA” that they performed at the Super Bowl. Her “Masterpiece,” a pretty little number, came out early too, as the Golden Globe-winning theme song for her movie “W.E.”

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The regular version of “MDNA” ends with “Falling Free,” a string-filled ballad that is a declaration of independence — “we’re both free/free to go.” It’s a perfect ending to a very strong disc from, as Minaj calls Madonna, the “only one Queen.” Grade: B+

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