Madonna's new CD is not a failure because, as some people suggest, she's working with big-name hip hop producers and allowing them to have too much control over her sound. After all, her producers have always had a ton of influence on her music, from the top 40 stylings of Patrick Leonard in the '80s to the electronica-pop of William Orbit and Mirwais in the late '90s.
Rather, Hard Candy is a failure for a much simpler reason: The songs suck. Too much style and no substance. Exhibit A is the lead single, "4 Minutes." Timbaland and Justin Timberlake create a hypnotic marching band loop, but it's not long before that gets annoying. And all that's left is an awkward track with flimsy lyrics about saving the world.
This project is very much like Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds, in that Tim & JT created most of the beats. But while that album featured a handful of killer tracks (even the haters can't deny the brilliance of "Summer Love"), the beats here are pretty stale. Few of these songs are deserving of a second listen. "Candy Shop" - boring. "Dance 2night" - boring. "Voices" - boring.
The most tolerable track is "Incredible," which sounds more like Madonna's typical dance-pop sound and less like hip hop. The Pharrell-produced tracks are better than the Timbaland tracks, but even some of those are suspect - "Spanish Lesson" features an exotic-sounding acoustic guitar riff that is blatantly ripped off from Pharrell's own N.E.R.D. track "She Wants to Move."
I'm a Madonna fan, so much so that I even liked American Life. But Hard Candy isn't doing it for me.