Madonna has managed to keep most details about her still-untitled follow-up to 2005's Confessions on a Dance Floor (due April 29th) under wraps, but Rolling Stone got an early listen to five tracks today and some behind-the-scenes info from producer Nate "Danja" Hills.
Fans who worried that Madonna might be losing inspiration as she approaches fifty need not be concerned. The new album takes a few steps away from the hyper-polished future disco of Confessions toward a more urban-oriented, thumpy funk, featuring production by Timbaland and Pharrell, as well as collaborations with Justin Timberlake. Danja says he worked on the album in London, and that Madonna indicated "she just wanted uptempo, dance, club [sounds] and everything to have a hip-hop underlining." He adds that Madonna was easy-going and frequently in the studio putting in long hours alongside himself, Timbaland and Timberlake: "She would come in and sit in her chair in the corner and just vibe with us."
The record's first single is "4 Minutes to Save the World," the track Timbaland partially debuted during a Philadelphia Christmas concert in December. "4 Minutes" has a bit of a marching band aesthetic as blasting brass play a scale-like riff, a hard, clanging beat enters and Madonna sings that the "road to heaven is paved with good intentions." Timberlake and Madonna trade verses, and he appears on the chorus, doing his best Michael Jackson impression while quickly crooning, "We've only got four minutes to save the world." The track ends after a brief breakdown where everything drops out but one of Tim's signature Bhangra beats, some stabs of brass and Madonna's urgent tick-tock's. It's a loud, busy, energetic track that is apparently getting an equally adventurous video: As previously reported, the clip (which is still being completed) is directed by hot French duo Jonas & FranÃ§ois (Justice's "D.A.N.C.E."). Timbaland makes an appearance, and Madonna and Timberlake play superheroes tackling physical obstacles. The clip features choreography by Jamie King, who worked on Madonna's Confessions, Re-Invention and Drowned World tours as well as her video for Confessions' "Sorry."
The Pharrell-produced "Candy Store" opens with a big beat and Madonna's invitation to "Come on in to my store, I got candy galore." The track is pretty bare on the verses, but there's a flash of brassy soul on the chorus when harmonies join Madonna singing, "I'll be your one stop (one stop) candy shop." The track is punctuated with throbbing breaks filled with hypnotic synths, and Pharrell jumps on the mike for a brief rhyme.
The most lyrical of the five songs is "Miles Away," a wistful tune about a long-distance relationship with a melody that resembles Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds, an album Danja says Madonna admired. "We would come up with a track and him and Madonna would come and do lyrics and melody together," Danja explains. The song opens with a quickly strummed acoustic guitar, then a stuttering beat drops in and the track slowly swells until it's filled with atmospheric synths. "You always seem to have the biggest heart when we're 6,000 miles apart," Madonna sings grandly, lamenting, "I guess we're at our best when we're miles away." The song has a more airy aesthetic compared to the heavy beats on other tracks, which reflects its more emotional lyrics.
The track that sounds most like a more urban, edgy continuation of Confessions is the excellent "Give It to Me," which bumps along to a thick synth tone Danja employed on Britney Spears' Blackout. It's an aggressive, clubby track with a raw, house-y beat that's ripe for remixing, and Madonna sings, "When the lights go down and there's no one left I can go on and on." It ends after a fast, killer breakdown where she chants "Get stupid" over a xylophone chime as the beat builds into a frenzy and she proclaims, "Give it to me / No one's gonna stop me now."
The dance floor theme returns again on "Heartbeat," which boasts a thumping hip-hop beat with a sandpaper shuffle and twinkling Eighties-reminiscent synths. Madonna opens up her voice more, singing, "Can't you see when I dance I feel free / Which makes me feel like the only one the light shines on." The song features a brief rap breakdown that recalls Nelly Furtado's chanty "Promiscuous" ("See my booty get down," Madonna speak-sings), but returns to its clubby roots in the end.