Proof that Madonna's handlers have given up on her: Nobody stepped in and slapped the gap-toothed smile off her face when she insisted on rhyming the words "York" and "dork." Well, at least she isn't trying to sound smart this time. On Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna makes progress in returning to form after the preachy, pale American Life, but this seamless, beat-filled ode to dance clubs isn't enough to restore her pop relevance. From a dance perspective, Confessions doesn't do much wrong, but other than the breezy synth-flute that pervades the single "Hung Up," producer Stuart Price isn't breaking sonic ground, either. These are the sounds of 1998, halfway between The Chemical Brothers and Stardust, and Madonna explains the reason why this stuff is danceable on "Sorry": "I've heard it all before." The biggest problem, then, isn't the dance side, but the pop side: Madonna's personality, which turned previous techno thumpers like "Ray of Light" and "Music" into all-out hits, has been muted on these dance cuts, which means she sounds like any other generic singer slapped onto a DJ track...when she doesn't act like a "dork," at least. "New York"'s attempt at dancey N.Y.C.-related camp is a lazy rip-off of Prince's "All The Critics Love U In New York," and worse, it sees Madonna subscribing to the Rivers Cuomo school of lyric-writing: "If you don't like my attitude, then you can eff off/just go to Texas, isn't that where they golf?" Wow. That almost makes me want to hear Madonna sing about the Kabbalah again.


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