Album Club is an irregular series that looks back on an album that matters.
There is a reason Madonna has stayed on top of the pop world for three decades. When she’s at her best she’s majestic – Confessions on a Dance Floor is peak Madonna. This was an album where Madonna wasn’t chasing a bandwagon; she was riding way out ahead. Confessions was an EDM record, long before EDM came to define the sound of mainstream music. Structured like a DJ set, the tracks are sequenced to bleed into each, the album becoming the soundtrack to one hell of a night out. Channelling the best of the Bee Gees and Mordor through a Stuart Price-prism, the album heralded the return of disco to the mainstream.
Beginning with upbeat tracks the album then morphs into something weightier, more personal. This is Madonna deploying her full arsenal – a delicate light and shade that hadn’t been heard in her previous records. There is a constant ratcheting up of the intensity, Madonna dragging you through the night at her pace.
However, the album works mainly because it is a collaboration of two incredibly gifted equals. Stuart Price’s production is flawless. While the songwriting, momentarily, dips on “I Love New York” (an awkward hangover from the Re-Invention tour) the production never lets up. It’s a stunningly cohesive articulation of Madonna’s vision.
Speaking in 2014 to Thump, Price said: “She helped to create an environment where we were like two kids working together in a studio. She was really… I don’t want to say “smart,” but she was really honest about music. She’s really instinctive in understanding that dance music comes from a very minimal way of working. It doesn’t come from throwing lots of money on a lavish production.”
Madonna never really gets the credits she deserves. Confessions and Ray Of Light are frequently held up as the best Madonna albums but dismissively referred to as Price or William Orbit records. The products of two male producers not seminal pop records that wouldn’t exist but for the artistic drive of Madonna.
The album was much more than a return to form; it helped shape the sound of the ‘00s. Madonna is at her best when she is not chasing a zeitgeist and the album was an important reminder that while much time had passed since her debut, she remained (and deserved to be) an integral part of the pop landscape. It also displayed a remarkable amount of confidence. Following the less than positive reviews for American Life, Madonna could have given us what she thought we wanted but instead went out and made something really special. Confessions on a Dance Floor was an album that no other popstar could have made.
Madonna’s recent studio efforts are frustrating because there are flashes of genius but all too often you get the sense she’s following a path others have tread, that she’s ignoring her instincts. Madonna is a leader and that’s when she’s at her best.