At the conclusion of the Re-Invention World Tour, many people wondered where Madonna would go next. Her previous album, “American Life”, while performing well, received lukewarm reception at best. The album left many fans bewildered and newcomers very turned off by its style. However, there was one fatal flaw that everyone was guilty of in 2004 – Never. Doubt. Madonna. We should know by now that this woman always has a plan. And what a plan it was – On November 9, 2005, Madonna released an album that took people by delighted surprise. Earning her the highest reviews she had gotten since Music, Madonna scored a totally unexpected home run with her tenth studio effort. But, breaking the album down, what are the parts that made this record so incredible?
The album opens with a track that took the world by storm upon it’s release, talking about the incredible “Hung Up”, of course. The song (which was a number one hit in over 41 countries) samples a popular ABBA tune “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” which was something impressive in itself. Before this, ABBA had only allowed one other artist to sample of any of their work, but they gave Madonna their expressed permission to use it in this song. And boy does she use it to her advantage. Lyrically, the song is a look at the brighter sides of life. At the start of the song, the narrator of the song is in relationship issues, but finds herself letting go of all the baggage of the relationship by partaking in all life has to offer, no longer sitting around and waiting. The song is a call back to traditional disco and is structured as a total love letter to the disco era. With some impressive studio tricks from Stuart Price (who should be praised for his work on this record), the song serves as an impressive opener to the record and one that you can’t help but dancing like no one is watching.
Going into the second track, we are shown something incredible about this album; every song blends into each other, playing as one long megamix style piece of pop perfection. The second song of the album, “Get Together”, is similar to the previous song, however it also presents something new and exciting. The song talks about “love at first sight” and how she doesn’t care if it’s true or not. This is another song that reflects the Madonna live-in-the-moment attitude. What’s interesting about this song is that it’s a song that out of context from the album sounds very strange coming from Madonna. However, that isn’t a bad thing. The song is somewhat of a risk for Madonna. She has always had dance flavour but never outright disco as she goes in this song. This is also one of the first times Madonna gets self referential, passing references to her songs Holiday and Secret. This song is a ballsy move, especially placing directly after Hung Up. But the risk of blending one disco inspired song with a direct disco emulation payed off very well.
Next up we have a song that caused Madonna a lot of headaches: “Sorry”. This was one of the first songs written for the album. Madonna continuously sent this track to the back burner as she felt it was “too melodramatic”. However, inspiration came from a strange look at things. Madonna grows tired with material quickly, including new songs, and she stated that she “often likes the remixes better than the original versions” so Madonna made a novel decision to start the song as if it were a remix. The song is one of the most empowering songs of Madonna’s catalogue., as the lyrics talk about the strength of a woman and her ability to leave a man not worth her time in the dust. Musically, this song is pretty straightforward and has a similar sound to the two previous songs on the record. The lyrics though really set it apart. It isn’t thoughtful or romantic, and really rolls out the punches. This song is a winner for its lyrical strength, even if it’s instrumental is a bit too on the nose when it comes to disco inspiration.
Next up is a very strange song in and out of context of the album – “Future Lovers” takes a total 180 from the opening trio. This song kicks off the more experimental explorations in the album. The first noticeable thing is that there isn’t much singing at all. The music takes front and centre in this song, which is one of the riskiest things that any artist can do. Does the risk pay off? Yes and no. While the music is very entertaining and well put together, it becomes a bit over indulgent at almost 5 minutes in length. Even though that isn’t even the third longest song on the album, it feels like it takes longer due to the long stretches of Madonna absence. However, the first 3 minutes of the song are rock solid which is quite interesting. The lyrics to the song are very throwaway and don’t make much sense, however paired with the admittedly sonic music track makes for a very interesting, if not self indulgent, experience.
Next up is far and above the weakest link on the album. “I Love New York” is, as the title suggests, a love letter to the city that never sleeps. But oh man does this song stick out like a nun at a strip club. It doesn’t fit into the album in any way and feels like it is just a novelty song. The song carries a rock vibe while trying to infuse the disco vibe while also trying to stand out. And it does stand out. Just not for the reasons it should. The lyrics to the song are very dumb. Like…really dumb. While this song isn’t skippable due to the smooth as silk transitions fading into and out of the song, it is certainly one that doesn’t need too much attention.
Now we have another curious entry in “Let It Will Be”. This song marries orchestral pop with the updated disco sound and it actually works. In normal circumstances, this would have been a disaster. But in Madonna’s world, this is exactly the type of thing that is common. The song is another lyrically light song, very repetitive. However, it’s music is inescapable. It captures you in and doesn’t let you go. It’s captivating beyond belief and possess a very ethereal style that is both meaty and airy all at once.
Next up is a song that is in a tie with another song (more on that in a bit) as my favorite on the album. “Forbidden Love” is a song that carries such a simple message but is presented in such a beautiful way. If there was a moment for Stuart Price to be a star among Madonna’s galaxy, this is it. The music to this song is beyond words. It is spaced, psychedelic, fresh, and totally different from anything that was around at the time. Lyrically, the song is an update of the classic Romeo and Juliet story, however it is more than that. The song carries symbolism of intertwining personality, maybe even race or religion. The song is layered and very textured and is very enthralling. One of the gems of not just the album, but Madonna’s career.
“Jump” is another left field song that wasn’t predictable. Madonna is always on the lookout for inspiration and this song was inspired from a friend as well as her own growing experience as a young woman. The lyrics for this talk about seizing the moment, taking control of your life, and cherishing the people in your life. What is so striking about this song is that it’s directly techno inspired. 80’s techno to boot. This song is something that many thought Madonna would never cover, and Techno seems to be something Madonna wouldn’t ever touch, but she did. The production on this is slick and it feels tight while still sounding loose (to fit the style). This song is a strong song, especially this late in the album.
“How High” is one of the few songs on that album that is just average, compared to the other consistently strong effort on the album. Lyrically, this song sticks out because it lyrically doesn’t fit into the album in really any way… self serving almost and disconnected from the other songs. “Push” is another one of the more “meh” songs, and even more so when sandwiched between “Isaac” and the strong closing track that follows, it can’t help but to be a little uninteresting. Lyrically, the song fits in with some of the themes explored in the back half of the album. However the lyrics can be a little too on the nose at some points. The music in both of these aren’t anything sonically different from the others on the album, and aren’t overly memorable once the album comes to a close.
The other song that is in the tie for my favorite on the album is the sprawling epic “Isaac”. This song is as gutsy and risky as any song of the year and maybe even of Madonna’s later discography. In a post-9/11 world, anything to do with Middle Eastern culture is automatically risk taking. What is so striking about this song is that this song holds back the temptation to oversaturate the middle eastern elements to the point of pandering. It is incorporated naturally into the song and is totally respectful of the culture. Lyrically, the song is incredible. It speaks of strength, the journey, and the motivator in life. This song is a risk that paid off in spades, not to mention it supplied one of the most breathtaking performances on the already breathtaking Confessions Tour.
The album closes with one of the strongest album closers of the 21st century. “Like it Or Not” is typically Madonna. Unapologetic, kick ass, taking names peek into Madonna’s self described “fuck you attitude.” This song talks about how if you can’t take M as she is, then basically it’s just a go to hell moment. This song is understated in it’s instrumental which is impressive because it is tempting to throw everything at the wall for the closing song. But boy does this song’s simplicity sell it hard. The song is impressive due to Madonna’s conviction, strong writing, and impressive instrumentation.
In short, Confessions on a Dance Floor is one of the most perfect albums of the 2000’s and is in the running (with Like a Prayer and Ray of Light) for Madonna’s best album. Designed as a throwback to the disco era, it not only hits it’s nostalgia mark, but simultaneously propelled the industry forward.