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 Madonna: The Inventress

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— by Jennifer Vineyard

Ticking clocks. Sirens. Pounding, nonstop, irresistible beats. And somewhere in the midst of it all, things — particularly a voice — that sound familiar, but also don't sound much like anything you've heard before ...

Madonna's new album, Confessions on a Dance Floor (out November 15) borrows from the past — even from her own past — to create a sound that's classic but also new. And it works.

The album merges elements of '70s disco, '80s electro-pop and present-day club burners, but it also allows us a peek into Madge's mind, with her thoughts on love, religion and fame bubbling into the album's frothy mix. "Ergo Confessions,' " she says. "Is [the title's meaning] coming together now?"

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Heavily self-referential, the album might find Madonna singing about the weighty topics that informed her last LP — Kabbalah, questioning fame and the material world — but the lyrics come with the sweetener of thumping, pulsing, shimmering dance beats. You can understand the words, but the songs aren't diatribes like those on her last album, 2003's American Life. (There's also, thankfully, no rapping.) The beat is paramount: The songs are even segued together, so that one runs seamlessly into the next.

"When I wrote 'American Life,' I was very agitated by what was going on in the world around me," Madonna says. "I was angry. I had a lot to get off my chest. I made a lot of political statements. But now, I feel that I just want to have fun; I want to dance; I want to feel buoyant. And I want to give other people the same feeling. There's a lot of madness in the world around us, and I want people to be happy."

Fair enough. Madonna started writing the material with collaborator Stuart Price (who also works under the noms du disco Jacques Lu Cont, Les Rhythmes Digitales and Thin White Duke) with the intention of scoring a movie musical. But the movie ended up not happening, so she turned the beats around. "That's how it all started," she says. " 'Let's go disco!' "

She brought aboard Mirwais Ahmadzaï, her collaborator on the 2000 Music album, but after recording two songs, she ended up making the bulk of the album with Price. "I tried several different things when Stuart brought me music," she says. "And it was like divine inspiration. It just clicked, like: 'This is the direction of my record.' That's what we intended, to make a record that you can play at a party or in your car, where you don't have to skip past a ballad. It's nonstop."

"Hung Up"
Confessions On A Dance Floor
(Warner Bros.)
Fun music requires serious research, so they studied the classics. Together, they soaked up vintage disco hits by Donna Summer, the Bee Gees and, she says, "ABBA, ABBA, ABBA! That's all we ever played." In fact, the album's first single, "Hung Up," uses a sample of ABBA's 1979 disco hit, "Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)," and in other songs, she weaves in snatches of the Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" and "Being Boring" and Donna Summer's "I Feel Love," along with elements from songs by Depeche Mode, Daft Punk, Erasure and Kylie Minogue.

And "self-referential" doesn't even begin to describe "Get Together," which incorporates Stardust's "Music Sounds Better With You" — which, in essence, is a rewrite of her own "Holiday."

Bits of Madonna's musical history have been incorporated as well. "Hung Up," for instance, contains lyrics from "Love Song," her 1989 duet with Prince. "Isaac," the song that had some Israeli rabbis in a lather last month, resembles a slightly sped-up "Frozen." "Jump" is like a sequel to "Keep It Together," and the lyrics for "How High" (which is cleverly sequenced after "Jump") reference two song titles from Music: "Nobody's Perfect" and "I Deserve It."

 Madonna: The Inventress

And there are now two (totally different) songs in the Madonna canon called "Forbidden Love": the lush ballad with Babyface from 1994's Bedroom Stories, and the Erasure-esque perculator on Dance Floor.

"I did all of that on purpose," she says. "I mean, if I'm going to plagiarize somebody, it might as well be me, right? I feel like I've earned the right to rip myself off. 'Talent borrows, genius steals,' " she laughs. "Let's see how many other clichés I can throw in there."

Hardly cliché, even the big love song on Confessions has a twist. "Push," a tribute to her husband, Guy Ritchie, picks up where "Borderline" left off by thanking him for challenging her. And although spiritual matters are still on her mind, they're tempered by the beat and by experience. "I continue to ask questions," Madonna says, "hoping there's a sense of hope and happiness in the record as well." Even the prayer-like "Isaac," which features Yitzhak Sinwani of the London Kabbalah Center chanting religious lyrics in Yemenite-Hebrew, has a pulsating rhythm.

Yet the album's strongest track might be the second single, the Pet Shop Boys-esque "Sorry," which is punctuated with Madonna singing the title in about 10 different languages, and wistfully evokes the sounds of the '80s-era dance clubs that first lofted her toward stardom.

As if to hammer the album's old-but-new theme home, "I Love New York" finds Madonna lyrically shunning her adopted hometowns to praise the city that made her a star. "Los Angeles is for people who sleep/ Paris and London, baby, you can keep." (This coming from a woman who now lives in England.)

"Can't I love New York the best?" she says. "There's enough room in my heart for other cities, and there's also a bit of irony in the song, you know. I actually wrote that while I was on tour and in New York, and I was loving the energy of being here and just feeling like I stuck my finger in an electric socket. I can't wait to do it live — I'm going to throw my hair around!"

And she probably won't be the only one: Confessions is likely to please anyone who's been longing for a Madonna album like the ones she used to make. And if it doesn't, well ...

"People might think I'm cuckoo, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it," she says. "I hope that I reach people, inspire people. Not everyone's going to agree with my point of view, and they shouldn't. That's what makes the world go round."

— Additional reporting by Jasmine Dotiwala, John Norris and Vanessa White Wolf

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Photo: Getty Images/ MTV News

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