To the matter at hand-- Hard Candy is largely touted as Madonna's 11th and final studio album for Warner Bros. Records. For the effort she recruited the top names in hip-hop/r&b today when enlisting Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake, and Kanye West to produce, assist with songwriting, or add guest vocals. With these big-hitters onboard one would expect this to rank among Ms. Ciccone Ritchie's greats. However, her ambition to add some hip-hop flava to this candy has placed her in the role of follower as opposed to the trendsetter she has been throughout her career.
The first single "4 Minutes" is without doubt a top-notch club hit. With Madonna and J.T. trading lines and Timbaland providing his signature thumps and bumps for the track, it is guaranteed to get even Stephen Hawkins on the dance floor. But does this song sound any different from anything heard on the last Justin Timberlake, or even Nelly Furtado albums? Meh, not really. That is pretty much the feel most of the way.
While songs like “She’s Not Me” and “Dance 2night” fall flat, Madonna does give us a reason to smile with “Miles Away,” a great tune about long distance love (both physical and emotional) that adds some acoustic guitar to the mix. But the ending duo “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” and “Voices” are definitely the best songs, which give Hard Candy a solid closing.
It's no classic like Bedtime Stories, but then again it’s not a mess like the social and spiritual uplifting attempt that was American Life. This album ranks somewhere between those two; it carries some mundane material but enough good to keep you satisfied. Perhaps that’s the way it was meant to be⎯a bittersweet ending to the Warner Bros. stage of Madonna’s career (a follow-up compilation release will officially end her contract before she becomes the pioneering artist on Live Nation’s new label).
But the most important question still remains unanswered; is a line like, "I'll be your one stop candy shop," still sexy coming from a nearly 50-year old Madonna? The answer is an astounding Hells Yeah. Obviously the biggest draw of Madonna throughout the years has always been her sex appeal, and as long as she has that her devout fans will eat up pretty much anything that she gives them. And yes, that even includes a little punk rock kid like me.