In 2005, Madonna dropped the world like a discoball. She created one of the decade’s best albums as she had created her entire career: by producing a self-context so great that it becomes the world’s Pop conscience. If “the main problem with 2008’s Hard Candy was that Madonna seemingly didn’t care,” and “with American Life she cared too much, to the point where it came across pushy and self-important,” 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor was the perfect medium where she cared-enough-to-count. Madonna’s greatest strength is her narcissism. She is Pop, and Confessions is nothing short of a brilliant response to Madonna’s answer to her own morning inquiry: “Mirrors, mirrors on the ball: whose four minutes saves them all?”
Madonna collaborated with British DJ Stuart Price (aka The Thin White Duke) to produce a sonic landscape based solely on herself. The atmosphere is the concept: pure, unadulterated Dance Pop. The gapless wonder gallivants glamorously through an hour-long soundscape; it is Madonna’s Magnum Opus and sonic aesthetic: timeless, constant, substantive within its style, and forever cosmic vintage.
Confessions opens with the track that won’t hold back: “Hung Up.” The intro is perfection as the head of an album that is paramount as a complete body of work. The faded clock sets the steady baseline and increasing urgency; the sole voice: “Time goes by… so slowly… time goes by… so slowly;” then comes the faint bass as a third wave building the back-beat riding along in tandem with airy synth; said bass descends then as the synth rises to a fever pitch over the open hi-hat, before they all drop like four-on-the-floor.
“Hung Up” is the antithesis of 2005 pop culture – it was five and a half minutes long in the midst of ringtone tracks; it was distinctly Euroelectronic in a sea of generic Americana Top 40; it was completely detached and irrelevant in a time of political satire and topical everything. Most importantly though, it came from Madonna in face of general Pop skepticism – and because of that it is the H.B.I.C. of singles last decade.
What follows the masterful “Hung Up” is an electronic blueprint symphonic. Madonna lays the groundwork for the next generation with the anthem for digital era dance Pop: disco 2.0. “Get Together” samples Pink Floyd’s “Time” and segues into an album that is a continuum of pulsating beats and hypnotic riffs. The electroacoustic layers create an atmosphere reminiscent of Dark Side of the Moon. Track-by-track the album ebbs and flows between heavy four-on-the-floor beats and vaporous vocals like a laser light lullaby. “There’s no love, like the future love… come with me,” echoes as an invite to see what the future feels like. If it feels anything like it sounds, it feels like fame.
Madonna constructs an environment where she can reflect and release; and for the once “Most Famous Woman in the World” – right below the rotating spotlights – the dance floor is her confessional. Confessions tandems lyrical content with the rhythms below to reflect the rise and fall of fame. The album peaks as electric guitars screech over double time kick bass and heavy synth keys in “I Love New York” while Madonna calls “If you can’t take the heat, get off my street.” Then, two lone violins usher in “Let It Will Be” over cellos as the signature aerial vocals sigh, “Now I can tell you about success, about fame, about the rise and the fall of all the stars in the sky – don’t it make you smile?” As much as Confessions is a stylistically vapid sonic spectacle, it is also a quite astute perspective on fame… the rise and the fall of the stars in the sky: Ziggy played guitar, Madonna rides on lucky stars. “Now I can tell you the place where I belong… it won’t last long… the lights they will turn down… Just watch me burn.”
Whether igniting the future of Pop culture, or going down in a blaze of glory, Madonna is an eternal flame. While she may be known as the Material Girl, Confessions reflects her underrated lyricism when she goes metaphysical and writes breakthrough rays of light:
Remember remember and never forget, all of your life has all been a test; you will find the gate that’s open, even though your spirit’s broken. Open up my heart, and cause my lips to speak; bring the heaven and the stars, down to earth for me.
If “Hung Up” is the head of the album, “Isaac” is the soul. It blends indigenous rhythms with smooth syncopated basslines, and beautifully crescendos to a stratospheric strobe peak before leveling out as the steady penultimate pillar track.
Confessions is just that: it is purely Madonna. It being so deliberate and thorough in its sonic aesthetic is why Madonna is the Queen. Instead of making songs that fit with the mainstream, she put out an album that – as a gapless track trumped contemporary singles – made the mainstream change its mold to fit her sound. Dense bass, atmospheric synth, and echoing distantly detached vocals, the new sonic aesthetic: speak softly, but carry a disco stick.
Confessions came at a time when Madonna was on the brink of imminent irrelevance – again. American Life was all but a mainstream flop – though it was a well solid album, all things being equal. The Re-Invention Tour all but capstoned an illustrious career – in a Hall of Fame welcome-to-the-401k kind of way. Maroon 5, Hoobastank, Kelly Clarkson, and Britney sitting atop the charts all but branded Madonna’s sound with the kiss of death. A marriage to Guy Ritchie, residence in the UK (with a half-accent to boot), and Ladies Home Journal cover all but solidified her place on a Victorian couch with a cup of Earl Grey to accentuate her undoubtedly gray locks.
Madonna’s genius though, is in her ability to recreate relevance when she seemingly needs it most – when the Pop world forgot themselves under the illusion that she was no longer Pop. She is the adrenaline shot to cure Pop culture comas, and the jagged little pill dealer to get the disco ball rolling. First and foremost though, she is the Madgesty of Modern Pop’s Manor. Confessions on a Dance Floor is Madonna’s 2005 reflection on herself as the Queen, her renaissance for the kingdom, and the necessary reminder that even after the lights go down, you can still dance in the dark – forget-she-not.