Shine on: Houston and company ‘sparkle’ on reimagined soundtrack

Sparkle, the 1976 cult classic about three singing sisters from Harlem that returns to theaters this Friday, is one of my favorite movies. Ever.

People rarely agree with me on this, but I must say that when it comes to the songs woven through the story, I have always preferred the selections used in the film that featured Oscar winner Irene Cara and Lonette McKee handling the lead vocals. There’s just something about them that resonates with me.

Before folks get upset, I am not throwing shade at Aretha Franklin. Her gold soundtrack album, which was composed and produced by Curtis Mayfield, is most certainly a treasure. It’s a thrilling LP, with “Look Into Your Heart,” the R&B chart topper “Something He Can Feel” and the haunting “I Get High” ranking among the best performances of the singer’s Atlantic Records era. However, the beauty of the original Sparkle was that at its heart, it was about average girls from the block with big talent and a bigger dream – and Franklin’s royal riffs and runs simply didn’t retain Cara and McKee’s innocence and earthy grit.  Lost in the collection that was released commercially was the joy of youth – and the pain of losing it – the made the film and its supporting songs so accessible.

Needless to say, the soundtrack for the new version of the film had a lot to live up to when it hit shelves a few weeks back. Longtime fans will be pleasantly surprised to find that the lean 11-track album is a satisfying nod to Motor City cool (the movie’s setting is changed from New York to Detroit), effectively uniting the gospel fervor of Martha and the Vandellas and the demure pop-soul of the Supremes. American Idol champion Jordin Sparks, one-time Universal signee Tika Sumpter and Carmen Ejogo work well within this framework, channeling the dreamy energy and underlying tension of the girl group phenomenon with a zeal that’s quite true to the original film’s interpretations.  In a sad bit of irony, however, the album will go down in the annals of film soundtracks as the coda to the musical that was the life of Whitney Houston, the fallen pop legend largely responsible for bringing the picture – a cherished part of her teen years in Jersey – back to the silver screen.

The holdovers from the original soundtrack – “Jump,” “Hooked On Your Love,” “Something He Can Feel” and “Look Into Your Heart” – recall the girlish fancy of Cara and McKee rather than Franklin’s declarative savvy, and that to me is a plus. “Hooked On Your Love,” which was my favorite ballad from the first film, is the strongest by far, as it simmers with an easy sexiness perfectly suited to Ejogo’s sultry rasp. The new tunes aren’t half bad, either: The charming Sparks shines on “Love Will” and the showy “One Wing,” while Ejogo does her thing on the kittenish soul-rocker “Yes I Do.”  Elsewhere, Cee Lo Green and Goapele offer up two of the album’s most exhilarating moments, bringing bottom heavy, proto-funk on “I’m A Man” and “Running,” respectively.

Much has been said about what years of hard living did to Houston’s voice, but on the chilling “His Eye Is On The Sparrow,” the pained, husky tones that supplanted that crisp mezzo-soprano are at once heartbreaking and triumphant. This is not the instrument central to The Preacher’s Wife and expecting such is unfair – what is here is the last stand for a Houston of a different time, a different journey and a different generation. The cry of a woman pushing past hurt and sorrow, it’s an unaffected performance that shows that under the right circumstances and with a little more time, Houston would have honed that voice into a fresh, newly seasoned gift. The classy neo-disco jam “Celebrate,” a duet with Sparks that closes the album, only heightens the sense of loss that will forever be associated with Houston’s tragic February passing.

It may not be as ingenious as the 1976 film’s backdrop or Franklin’s album, but this variation of the Sparkle songbook is its own brand of Motown-inspired ebullience. A fine tribute to both its origin and Houston, fans of good old-fashioned musicianship and retro glamour will find this soundtrack to be a delight.

Check out the film’s beautiful cast grooving in the video for “Celebrate.”

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Out now: Big Break Records’ expanded edition of Cheryl Lynn’s Instant Love

Big Break Records, a U.K.-based label specializing in reissues of rare funk, soul and jazz titles, has released a special expanded edition of Cheryl Lynn’s 1982 album Instant Love. Produced by the late Luther Vandross, the platter boasted hits in the title track and the classic Lynn-Vandross duet “If This World Were Mine.”

My liner notes feature delightful insights from former CBS Records promotional guru Kenneth R. Reynolds, as well as historical research and in-depth commentary. Reynolds’ reflections on Lynn, Vandross and record making in the early eighties help paint a bright picture of a remarkable album and the era it represents.

To order a copy of the album, click here.

Check out Lynn and Vandross performing “If This World Were Mine.”

Find Your Strength in Love: Revisiting Whitney’s Debut


In the days since Whitney Houston passed away, I have struggled to gather my thoughts about the situation. When the news hit us, I was angry. I was sad. Quite frankly, I was nearly speechless. We grew up with Whitney, and for all of the times we shook our heads at the tumult that marked much of her life, we never stopped rooting for her. At least I know I didn’t. While her tragic end wasn’t totally surprising it was still shocking, the kind of twisted finale reserved for the celluloid universe – or, on a more realistic level, fallen screen sirens and belters of a bygone era.

We didn’t want this kind of ending for Whitney. It just doesn’t seem right.

Amid all of the tears, tributes and speculation from talking heads, I decided to do the one thing that would bring me a bit of comfort: I turned my attention to the music. Between 1985 and 2009, Whitney issued just seven full-length studio albums – a relatively small canon when you consider the strength of her decades-long chart history and overall impact. More often than not she is filtered through popular culture in a statistical vacuum, and given her status as the most awarded female artist in history that makes sense. However, in my mind the numbers are secondary to the organic connection the Whitney phenomenon made with those of us raised during the earliest, pre-Bodyguard years of her heyday. In the moments after my mother called my sister Stephanie and I to tell us Whitney had left us, I was immediately taken back to that space in my life. I think my heart has been floating there ever since.

While America pushed Whitney’s towering rendition of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” from the blockbuster The Bodyguard back into Billboard’s top 10, I pulled out what for me remains her most joyous, unfettered musical document: Whitney Houston. Much like Michael Jackson’s epic masterpiece Thriller, this long-player was equal parts song cycle and cultural statement. Remember, this was the post-disco era of Reagan and the Huxtables. Artists like Michael, Lionel Richie and Diana Ross had polished black pop to an almost blinding sheen and redefined modern-day blackness in the process. Whitney, with her model good looks and well-documented musical pedigree, fit right into the mold. Looking back on it, the Seventeen-meets-Essence album cover packaging and 45 picture sleeves say it all.  At once regal and youthful, Whitney looked like that older, fashion-forward cousin who stepped out of the box and made good. She was elegant but totally likable, a girl you wanted to see make it. She was a snapshot of the dream – OUR dream.

On the musical front, soul purists hammer the album as pap that squandered a beautiful instrument, but to dismiss it as such is shortsighted. This wasn’t an album that was intended to be Caught Up or Young, Gifted and Black, and anyone expecting the down-to-the-bone soul of Millie Jackson or Whitney’s godmother Aretha Franklin was sure to be disappointed. As far as debuts go very few are better, as it is one of the best examples of melodic versatility caught on record. A master interpreter, Whitney could do it all – and with Narada Michael Walden, Michael Masser, Jermaine Jackson and Kashif at the helm, the album collated her pop, soul and gospel sensibilities better than much of what would emerge in later years.

People praise “I Will Always Love You” endlessly, but “You Give Good Love” will forever and always – at least in my opinion – be the definitive Whitney love song. There was innocence to it, a sexiness and vulnerability that rarely came across in the bombast of the big ballads that eventually became her calling card.  Produced by label mate Kashif, the single flirted with hints of the chic New York-based Hush Productions sound immortalized by Melba Moore, Lillo Thomas, Freddie Jackson and Kashif himself. As journalist Steven Ivory noted in the Unsung installment on Freddie, it was an approach that wasn’t concerned with crossing over – it crossed over because it was good. It’s one of the few purely urban contemporary moments from the early days, a song elevated by Whitney’s knack for sensitive, emotive phrasing. Other slow cuts moved us: “Saving All My Love for You,” a song recorded years earlier by one-time Fifth Dimension leaders Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo, earned Whitney her first Grammy and remains an adult contemporary staple (buoyed by a lovely saxophone solo by Tom Scott), while the showy “All At Once” surely did diva Diana proud. The charming “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do” and “Take Good Care of My Heart” paired the singer with Jermaine – another Arista signee – and it’s somewhat clear that our Nippy was holding back a little bit in an effort to compliment her duet partner. Teddy Pendergrass proved a more suitable vocal foil on “Hold Me,” a tender duet that appeared earlier on the crooner’s 1984 comeback LP Love Language.

Given her persona as a purveyor of dramatic showstoppers, it’s funny to think of Whitney as a dance diva.  But to this day, club kids are as loyal to her as pop and R&B fans. “How Will I Know,” a dance floor burner on par with anything issued at the time by the likes of Madonna or Shannon, was the beginning of this clubland love affair and the children STILL go wild if a jock dusts it off. The video remains one of the most enduring images of the songbird, an explosion of teased hair, body paint, bright makeup and those comical off-kilter dance moves we often mocked but also loved and appreciated. The isolated vocal track that surfaced in the wake of her death only highlighted the performance’s power, proving that even the most fluffy, feel-good up-tempo cut can be moving when it lands in capable hands. Other synth-heavy ditties like “Someone for Me” and the R&B hit “Thinking About You” feel like filler next to “How Will I Know,” but they still shine as bright, if dated, toe-tappers.

Still, it was “Greatest Love of All” – popularized by George Benson – that truly endeared Whitney to millions across the board and set the blueprint for the slow-building power ballads that would lift her to one-name status. Whitney did with it what Aretha did with Otis Redding’s “Respect,” transforming the song from a solid R&B outing to an American standard and reference point for female vocal performance. Its simple sentiments seem bittersweet in light of what is unraveling before our eyes, and it is hard to not feel a bit sad when you think of the beautiful girl in the white gown who urged us all to find our strength in love.  We could speculate for days about whether or not that Whitney was the real Whitney. None of that really matters, as it’s the Whitney we came to adore, the Whitney we fiercely defend, and ultimately the Whitney we carry in our hearts.

At the end of the day, Whitney Houston may not be the great soul album of the twentieth century, but it was never supposed to be. The sum of its parts marked a new beginning in many ways, not only for a young artist but for a burgeoning generation of black kids like me who were growing up in an era marked by a series of social and political changes. As was the case with Michael, Whitney’s wide success was and is something of an inspiration to many of us, a moment in time that let us know there really were no limits to what we as blacks could accomplish. With that in mind, Whitney’s debut is just as relevant in the lexicon of black music as anything by her contemporaries and is deserving of the praise and commercial success that fans hold dear 27 years later. Maybe it was not “soul” in the textbook sense, but it touched people in a way that transcends some of the genre’s more lauded albums of years past.

As I said on my Facebook page, Whitney was not just a singer. She was an icon. She was a cultural signpost. Above all else, she was human. Embrace the legacy and the music.

We love you, and we miss you.

Vinyl examination: The rhythm of ‘Patti Austin’

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I will never understand why Patti Austin, diva of soul, pop and jazz, never became a major star.

Her voice is clear as crystal, the kind of instrument that you recognize as soon as you hear it. A gifted singer who honed her chops singing jingles and background vocals for everyone from Kenny Loggins to Angela Bofill, the Grammy winner has recorded songs in pretty much every style imaginable. From the light fusion of her early CTI LPs like “Havana Candy” to the standards that grace her most recent outing “Avant Gershwin,” Austin’s stylistic range is astonishing in its breadth and sheer technical mastery. Oddly, that may have been part of her problem: If there is one thing that baffles the record-buying public, it is a black chick they can’t easily categorize. Add to that the fact that Austin was building her repertoire in an era when the only thing major labels were building was a legion of image-driven artists, and it’s safe to say her remarkable recordings were destined to get lost in the shuffle.

The early eighties found Austin moving in a more pop-oriented direction, waxing sides for Quincy Jones’ fledgling Qwest Records. The singer is best remembered for the timeless 1981 gem “Baby, Come to Me,” a duet with crooner extraordinaire James Ingram that shot to the top of the pop charts thanks to the popularity of the ABC soap opera “General Hospital.” Jones, who is Austin’s godfather, handled the production chores for her Qwest debut “Every Home Should Have One” and she seemed destined for the big leagues, as the album was both a commercial and critical success. Employing the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, the label continued to push Austin into shiny pop-soul territory on her eponymous 1984 follow-up. A solid collection heavy on highly stylized dance tracks, the record deserves far more attention than it’s ever gotten.

Like many albums of the period, “Patti Austin” (which was reissued on CD in 2007) utilizes a series of producers and a stellar group of players in what was likely an effort to catch as many sides of both Austin’s personality and the current musical landscape as possible. Jones, Narada Michael Walden, David Pack, Ollie E. Brown, Clif Magness and Glen Ballard take turns twisting knobs on the LP’s 10 cuts, while the likes of Bofill, Sheree Brown, Phillip Ingram, Michael McDonald and Siedah Garrett offer musical support. Los Angeles Times writer Connie Johnson praised the album’s consistency and noted that Austin embraced a kind of freedom that eluded her on previous efforts. “She affects a lowdown growl on funk numbers and even tears loose with some scatty jazz inflections,” Johnson wrote. The latter has always been Austin’s greatest asset, giving her synth-based material a bit more grace than that of a lot of her contemporaries. In less capable hands, the hit single “It’s Gonna Be Special” (No. 15 R&B), “Shoot the Moon” (No. 49 R&B) and the Walden productions “Rhythm of the Street” and “Hot! In the Flames of Love” would have been mere filler, but Austin’s inimitable verve and phrasing up the aural ante. She also excels on the pristine pop of “Starstruck” and the reggae-influenced “I’ve Got My Heart Set on You,” grooves that signal a real broadening of the Austin sound.

Never one to holler and shout, Austin knows how to grab you quietly, which is what makes her love songs so appealing. Unlike most of her other albums, however, the ballads here are a bit weaker than the dance material. Still, they are quite lovely and the singer gives them all she’s got. Of the pair of slow jams featured on the LP, “All Behind Us Now” is the strongest; it’s a straightforward, languid love song that gives her lead plenty of room to breathe and fits well into the album’s overall vibe. Dark and moody, the album’s closing number “Any Way You Can” is a fitting cool down after nearly an hour of get down – though not remarkable, it’s the closest to any of her pre-Qwest material she gets here. I’m sure fans of her early material found it to be a breath of fresh air.

Though it likely pleased her existing fan base and grabbed some new folks along the way, the record failed to make a significant mainstream impact and stalled at a paltry No. 87 on the pop albums chart. Undaunted, Austin soldiered on at Qwest, issuing the equally glossy and highly enjoyable “Gettin’ Away With Murder” in 1985. While it featured production from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the album didn’t become a major hit, a blow that likely caused Austin to return to her jazzy roots on the outstanding “The Real Me” in 1988. From that point forward, fans found Austin grooving on the chic, smooth jazz tip, a medium that has helped her remain a popular attraction in concert and on record to this day. Just this year, she snagged a Grammy for her critically acclaimed album “Avant Gershwin.”

The Qwest album from Austin’s canon that always seems to get overlooked, “Patti Austin” didn’t shatter any glass ceilings and at its root was probably never intended to. A product of the big eighties, it’s as solid as anything fellow divas like The Pointer Sisters or Patti LaBelle were having success with at the time and should have found a similar fate. It just seems that it wasn’t meant to happen. No matter, as it’s as tasty as the brightest moments from any of the singer’s other incarnations. And at the end of the day, it is the versatility that records like this bring to Austin’s catalog that make her one of the most treasured stylists of the last three decades.

“Patti Austin” is proof that no matter what she sings, the sister will leave you starstruck.

Get well soon, Natalie!

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This wasn’t the kind of news I wanted to see about one of my favorite vocalists.

It was announced today that one of my cornerstone divas, Natalie Cole, has Hepatitis C. Doctors think the drug use of her youth is the culprit, as the disease is contracted through contact with infected blood. While they say Natalie is responding well to treatment, side effects such as fatigue and muscle pain are giving her problems. Nonetheless, her prognosis is good.

So, I just wanted to send Sister Natalie some love and a big, shameless GET WELL SOON! Here’s to your health and speedy recovery.

Below you’ll find “La Costa,” my favorite song from 1977’s “Thankful,” the Natalie LP I love best.

Again, get well soon Natalie!

Vinyl examination: Double your pleasure with A Taste of Honey

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When A Taste of Honey issued the 1980 Capitol LP “Twice as Sweet,” the R&B/disco group was looking to make some changes amid changing times.

The original four-piece lineup of Janice-Marie Johnson (bass), Hazel Payne (guitar), Donald Johnson (drums) and the late Perry Kibble (keyboards) made history in February of 1979 when they became the first black band – and second black act overall behind labelmate Natalie Cole – to take home the best new artist Grammy on the heels of the smash single “Boogie Oogie Oogie” and their self-titled platinum debut album. They bested favorites Toto and The Cars in the category, a triumph that surprised industry insiders and fans alike. As one would expect, many tried to make the win a black thing – but Janice-Marie wasn’t trying to hear it.

“Don’t get us involved in a racial thing. Look at it as a victory of R&B and disco over pop and rock,” the bassist told the Los Angeles Times. “How about the fact that two of us are women? I think that had more to do with winning than us being black.”

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Such out-of-the-box success, however, was tough to duplicate: Though the frothy single “Do it Good” became a Top 20 R&B hit, its parent album “Another Taste” was met with a lukewarm response in the States that left the band fending off the dreaded one-hit wonder label. Fearing that disco’s impending death spelled the demise of the band, they began to retool their sound and image. Perry and Donald exited the lineup after “Another Taste” and producers Fonce and Larry Mizell were jettisoned in favor of George Duke, who was having tremendous success with his fusion of jazz, funk and disco on hits like “Dukey Stick” and “Reach for It.” The result was the soulful, jazzy “Twice as Sweet” (No. 12 R&B/No. 36 pop),  a record that proved a huge shot of musical love for A Taste of Honey’s career.

A lean, sophisticated nine-track collection, the album could have easily been a follow-up to their blockbuster debut. Duke’s well-honed chops as a jazzman suited the talent of these lovely ladies to a tee because their panache for guitar playing was never really limited to disco in the first place. Janice-Marie and Hazel could swing from funky slap and pop bass to laid back blues licks in the blink of an eye, and Duke drew from their diverse approach beautifully. While the R&B charters “Rescue Me” (No. 16) and “I’m Talkin’ ‘Bout You” (No. 64) were textbook grooves, “Don’t You Lead Me On” and “Superstar Superman” glisten with a blend of grace, rhythm and femininity that was often missing from the funk the sisters brought early in the game. Hazel’s lead vocal on “Superstar Superman” in particular is noteworthy, as her distinct sense of phrasing is as precise as her nimble guitar riffs. That’s not to say they don’t bring the heat here, as the frenzied and fabulous “She’s a Dancer,” with Hazel’s searing rock guitar and Janice-Marie’s lead vocal, is a direct descendant of the material from their first two releases and the best dance cut on the LP. Even the Sugar Hill rap combo Funky 4 + 1 knew what was up: The pioneering rap combo sampled “Rescue Me” for the classic “That’s the Joint.”

Oddly, it was the album’s dramatic closing number, not its sophisti-soul center, that turned the duo’s fortunes around. Legend has it that Janice-Marie felt that an English-language ballad version of the 1963 Kyu Sakamoto chart topper “Sukiyaki” – a Japanese song about a heartbroken man who looks up while he whistles so his tears won’t fall down his face – was just the single the group needed to transcend the stifling disco label. Capitol rejected the idea, releasing “Rescue Me” and “I’m Talkin’ ‘Bout You” instead under the assumption that black folks would not want to hear a Japanese song – but it wasn’t long before Janice-Marie won out. Black radio had already jumped on the track, and massive airplay forced the label to issue it as a single. In a victory as stunning as the group’s Grammy win, the song shot to the top of the R&B chart and climbed all the way to No. 3 pop. Complete with a koto arrangement by Hiroshima member Dan Kuramoto, the song was the ultimate Quiet Storm classic. Janice wrote the special English lyrics heard on the duo’s version of the song, but a publishing dispute resulted in her name being removed from the writing credits before it was released. To this day official credit for the lyrics eludes her, despite the fact that everyone from Mary J. Blige to 4 P.M. have struck gold with them.

When I read that Capitol was not hot on releasing the song, it just didn’t make sense to me. In its original incarnation – which, ironically, was released by Capitol Stateside – it not only topped the pop chart, but it rose to a respectable No. 18 R&B, which shows that black people were in fact feeling the record the first time around. And I have to say that while I can’t understand a lick of what Sakamoto is saying, his version of the song has a nice feel to it. It’s easy to see why kids both black and white dug it. The fact that Janice-Marie was able to see the hit potential in such a song is a testament to her understanding of music and how people respond to it. The move was a sheer stroke of genius, and the woman deserves all of the credit she is due and then some.

A Taste of Honey would score one more major hit with a beautiful cover and the Smokey Robinson and The Miracles classic “I’ll Try Something New,” but the duo split up after the 1982 album “Ladies of the Eighties.” Janice-Marie issued the album “One Taste of Honey” and the single “Love Me Tonight” for Capitol in 1984, but neither proved a major hit. Today, both Janice-Marie and Hazel travel with their own configurations of A Taste of Honey and occasionally appear together. Hazel has carved out a niche as a stage actress, while Janice-Marie continues to record for her own Tastebuds Records label.

Thankfully, “Twice as Sweet” is not too terribly difficult to come by. The album is available for download on Itunes for under 10 bucks, and back in 2000 it was issued along with “A Taste of Honey” in a two-disc set. Though it’s now out of print, used copies sell regularly on the Web for reasonable prices. Perhaps one day, the group’s entire catalog will be made available. In the meantime, “Twice as Sweet” remains the perfect starting point for anyone with a hankering for the sweet, sticky stylings of A Taste of Honey.

Nearly 30 years later, it still proves that they indeed had the groove.

Check out A Taste of Honey in a lovely performance of the hit “Sukiyaki” below.

‘Candy’ girl: Maddy’s latest a bittersweet treat

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As the release of “Hard Candy” approached, Madonna and company praised the record as a sweet, ass-kicking return to the roots of her self-titled debut, “Like a Virgin” and “True Blue.” Hailed as a hip-hop infused dance party helmed by everybody from Timbaland to The Neptunes, it’s definitely filled to the brim with energy and a skyline vibe. But in translating Madonna’s sound from the posh throwback disco of “Confessions on a Dance Floor” to the of-the-moment groove of her latest release, Madonna was lost. As a result, the album feels more like a hard pill to swallow than a hard candy.

As I said in a previous post, the issue is not Madonna working with producers like Timbaland, which left a lot of her fans questioning her judgment. His work with Madonna’s fellow MTV veterans Duran Duran on last year’s “Red Carpet Massacre” was quite good, because despite all of the trademark Timbaland production touches it still sounds like a Duran Duran album. “Hard Candy” falls short because while it’s high quality, it’s not Madonna quality. It sounds like leftovers from Nelly Furtado and Fergie sessions, an undercurrent that leaves the album a bit stilted. There are some transcendent moments that remind you of why Madonna’s one of the world’s premiere divas, but more often than not it sounds like a new artist gunning for a hit rather than a seasoned pro about to become a quintagenarian.

If she wanted a hit, she got one with “4 Minutes,” a grating collaboration with Justin “I’ll throw ya under the bus” Timberlake that’s already landed in the Top 5. Things improve a bit with the fuzzy, bubbly beats of “Candy Shop” and “Incredible,” but characterless cuts like “Give it 2 Me” and “Heartbeat” are boilerplate Neptunes and break no new ground. Still, there are remnants of the ragtag “Lucky Star” Madonna those of us raised in the ‘80s know and love. “Beat Goes On,” which features hip-hop divo Kanye West, is a colorful swirl of squiggly synths and hand claps that brings to mind the boom box Saturdays of years long gone. (I have visions of Saturdays at the roller rink with my big sister each time I play that one.) The slinky “Dance 2Night” is another highlight, a pop-funk ditty that channels the spirit of the Chic sound of Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers – icy vocals, chunky bass-line and all – in what’s clearly a nod to the Rogers-produced “Like a Virgin” and its respective era. With the right push, either could be her next hit.

Though the singer’s much-improved vocals don’t get much shine this time around, the atmospheric “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” showcases a solid performance and displays the growth she has become known for more than anything else on the record. A synthesis of classic Timbaland and the quiet Madonna of the “Ray of Light” years, it’s an interesting reflection on looking through someone despite the many faces they wear. When you think about the fact that the song is being rendered by a pop queen who built her career around donning a slew of faces, hairstyles and philosophies that still leave her court guessing about who she really is, the song takes on a new resonance.

Ultimately, I guess you could say “Hard Candy” is bittersweet. It’s the Material Mom’s eleventh time at bat and the bitch is swinging hard, but one can’t help but wonder exactly what her target is. She got a hit and some attention from kids who in truth are attention span challenged, but at what cost? The mark of Madonna’s greatness was always her refusal to play second fiddle to anyone, a tactic that made her brand a bit stronger that those around her. She’s an icon who’s earned the right to enjoy the ride and coast in and out of any sound she chooses, but hopefully next time she’ll remember that, much like fabulous disco diva Sylvester once said about himself, nobody conceptualizes her.

Madonna’s the concept all on her own.