"MDNA — her 12th studio album — is a collection of thoroughly pumping pop tunes, some of which are slices of sheer brilliance. Not only does Madonna take us to the club with MDNA, she exhausts us, drains us, and confides in us," Billboard writes in its track-by-track review. "Five minutes after an aerobic workout on the dance floor, we're in her private booth, where she's spilling her guts about relationships and how things just didn't turn out the way they planned."
Slant magazine calls the album "surprisingly cohesive" given the seven different producers who worked on the project, but has particular praise for the tracks produced and written by Madonna and her Ray of Light collaborator William Orbit. "It's obvious Madge and Billy Bubbles [Orbit] can still create magic together," the magazine writes.
"Songs like 'Gang Bang' serve as reminders that what separates Madonna from most other mainstream pop stars is her willingness to try new things," Slant continues. "Fear — of failure, of looking uncool, of death — can either paralyze or propel you. MDNA finds Madonna continuing to defy the laws of nature by doing both."
In an otherwise middling review, Entertainment Weekly praises Madge's vocal performance on the album's love songs, which are parsed out between darker tracks that seem to focus heavily on Madonna's divorce from Guy Ritchie. EW gives particular props to the Golden Globe-winning Orbit track "Masterpiece" and the "synth stomper" "I'm Addicted," which it says is "a warm ode to a crush [and] offers a good excuse to join in when she says, 'I need to dance.' "
We think "Turn Up the Radio" needs to be the next MDNA single. Find out why!
Many critics compliment Madonna's decision to be so emotionally revealing. She's gotten personal in the past, of course, but on MDNA, she takes it to the next level.
"There's something remarkable about Madonna's decision to share her suffering the way she once shared her pleasure," Rolling Stone writes. "Her music has always been about liberation from oppression, but for the first time the oppression is internal: loss and sadness."
The Poughkeepsie Journal sees that as a natural extension of the best Madonna songs. "Yet in some of her most beguiling songs, Madonna has opened her heart and let her defenses down a bit," the Journal opines. "Think of the pregnant teenager in 'Papa Don't Preach,' begging for support even as she declares her resolve. Or the giddy lover pledging eternal devotion in 'Cherish.' Then imagine that those gals had lived a few more years, maybe married and divorced, and you'll have an inkling of the emotional wallop waiting in Madonna's most personal effort to date, MDNA."
More than anything, though, critics seem to be assuring fans that they can breathe a sigh of relief on two fronts: Not only is the album good, it is 100 percent Madonna and no one else.
"There's no denying MDNA delivers thrills. In true Ciccone fashion, club pop pounders like 'Some Girls,' 'Love Spent' and 'Turn Up the Radio' seem to push a bit harder than the competition — that last one's got a drop like an open manhole," the BBC writes. "MDNA also has something the last two Madge albums lacked: ballads, both of which are quite lovely. ... Best of all, several moments prompt a welcome sigh: 'God, only Madonna.' "