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Sunday, 17 September, 2000, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
CD Review: Madonna
Music (Maverick/WEA)
By the BBC's John Hand

Welcome to Music - a simple tale of girl meets Guy, girl falls in love and records another groundbreaking album to tell the world exactly how much.

Madonna is in a mellow mood and clearly happier than ever.

She may no longer pen gushing sleeve-note dedications to "the coolest guy in the universe" as she did to Sean Penn on True Blue but this is undoubtedly a collection of Songs for Guy.

Without feeling the need to warble a succession of Celine Dion ballads, she displays her love for Mr Ritchie with an album borne out of a personal contentment she never seems to have attained before now.

Sense of fun

The sometimes melancholic tone of her 1998 album Ray Of Light has been replaced by real energy and a renewed sense of fun.

Happier than ever: Madonna's contentment shines through
Music is more disjointed and sees Madonna back to her genre-hopping best, largely because she now has more men in her life.

Ray Of Light knob-twiddler William Orbit works on five tracks, but the concepts he introduced into Madonna's musical make-up are further expanded by French genius Mirwais Ahmadzai on six others.

Bjork associate Guy Sigsworth chips in on one of Orbit's tracks and Oasis remixer Mark "Spike" Stent shares duties on two more.

Music's title track - which musically stands as a homage to Madonna anthems gone by - is by far the standout track on the album it opens.

But French producer Mirwais's quirky influence comes to the fore on the trancey club track Impressive Instant, chopping up and bouncing Madge's voice off a vocoder.

Camping it up

Far from taking it as a personal affront, Madonna joins in the fun as she camps it up Gallic-style, with lyrics such as "I like to singy, singy, singy/ Like a bird on a wingy, wingy, wingy" making her sound like a Eurotrash musical guest trading lines with Antoine de Caunes.

Several of the other tracks with Mirwais at the helm are even more quirky and experimental. Occasionally, the Frenchman's sonic trickery gets too clever for its own good. Don't Tell Me is marred by effects that sound like a CD skipping.

But generally the collaboration between Madonna and Mirwais is a marriage made in musical heaven.

So what of her "other man" - William Orbit? Unfortunately his stamp is on the album's weakest tracks - the insipid Runaway Lover and the tacked-on reworking of American Pie which seems so out of place.

The album mixes her New York dance roots with the European sound of today
But in between he produces the aptly-titled Amazing, the upbeat track that Ray Of Light yearned to have but never quite managed. It's an obvious hit single in the vein of Beautiful Stranger.

Tender lyrics

Although Music opens with a run of strong dance tracks, it is not typical of the whole album. Elsewhere, Madonna is at her most reflective with tender lyrics openly revealing her state of mind.

It is almost as if she is inviting us for a heart-to-heart chat on her sofa.

I Deserve It is a tender love song for the man in her life, proclaiming: "This guy was meant for me and I was meant for him" and later "All the pain was worth it.... I know that I deserve it."

Nobody's Perfect strikes an almost apologetic tone as Madonna intones "What did you expect, I'm doing my best". A bit different from the strident statements of yesteryear.

Music also seems to be the album on which Madonna discovers guitars. Accoustic guitars appear on so many tracks it brings to mind for the first time the idea of Madonna Unplugged.

But the biggest achievement of this album is that Music moves Madonna forward without her losing touch with her past.

She has taken on board the William Orbit influences that made Ray Of Light a critical success but the follow-up has a much wider range of styles.

Mirwais has supplied a fresh Euro-dance sound but she retains the roots of the New York disco soul of her youth.

The production may be breathtaking thanks to Orbit and Mirwais but at the centre of it all is Madonna, resolutely doing it her way.

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