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Madonna, ‘Confessions on a Dance Floor’ (Warner Bros.)

Madonna and George W. Bush may have less in common than Kabbalah strings and W.W.J.D. wristbands, but the pop politician seems to have learned a lesson from the president: When things are bleak on the home front, make waves abroad and appeal to your core constituency. After two remarkable albums of progressive, synth-driven throb rock, Madonna unleashed her flat meditation on the state of the union with 2003’s American Life, which received a chilly reception. So for her latest studio album, Madge has generated 12 tracks of pure dance music sure to please the international club community and her most unshakable supporters: gay men.

With its surges and dips, Confessions mimics the rising/falling action of, say, a DJ set, a hit of Ecstasy, or Madonna’s own career. The killer single “Hung Up” spins a trilly Abba keyboard sample into a four-on-the-floor disco reverie. Producer Mirwais Ahmadzai crams layers of funky effects into the bass-buzzing “Future Lovers” and Stuart Price transforms “Sorry” into a bouncy talk-to-the-hand groovefest. But Confessions also has a few missteps: “I Love New York” — which rhymes the titular city with “dork,” and “beat” with “street” — is a love note so lame it might as well be posted on the side of a municipal bus. And the “Fever”-biting closer, “Like It or Not,” offers a neutered retread of the singer’s raison d’être: “This is who I am / You can like it or not.”

That last sentiment packed a far bigger wallop when Madonna was a Sex model, not a children’s author — though she can still occasionally piss us off. The savvy chameleon should know better than to lob ethnic signifiers and rehash her own triumphant moments, as she does on “Isaac,” which is essentially the Middle Eastern “Frozen.” And she nearly admits as much on Confessions‘ standout, the bumpy “How High” (on which Price joins Bloodshy & Avant, the pair behind Britney Spears’ “Toxic”). As her clear voice cuts through seesawing synthesizers, she asks, “Should I carry on / Will it matter when I’m gone?” We won’t tell her to stop, but if she doesn’t put a different spin on her message, it might be time to call in James Carville.

See Also: Les Rhythmes Digitales, Darkdancer (Astralwerks, 1999)