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Madonna Puts a Personal Edge on a Bold Mix

*** MADONNA, "Music," Warner Bros./Maverick

September 17, 2000|ROBERT HILBURN

After the striking artistic stretch of her introspective, Grammy-winning "Ray of Light" album in 1998, you can see where Madonna might just want to express her lighter, party-starter impulses this time out.

And the tone in the key tracks on this follow-up is so upbeat and playful that you have to smile with her--especially when she comes up with a couple of lines that seem aimed at nothing more than tickling her 3-year-old daughter: "I like to singy singy singy / Like a bird on a wingy wingy wingy."

Even if the sophistication level of the electronic and funk textures is light years beyond that of her early dance hits, Madonna still can't escape some of the vocal anonymity that often accompanies dance-oriented workouts.

Don't, however, let the dance frenzy of the title track, which is a runaway hit single, mislead you into thinking that "Music" is only aerobics-friendly--just as you shouldn't let the cowgirl look she's adopted for the album campaign make you think she's taking a detour into country music.

There are moments in the album when Madonna demonstrates, both as a writer and a singer, that the creative advances in "Ray of Light" were no fluke. In this 10-song collection, Madonna, who co-produced most of the album with French dance-music producer Mirwais, turns in some stylish set pieces, from the Edith Piaf, torch-song feel of "Paradise (Not for Me)" to the Broadway-like stage sweep of "What It Feels Like for a Girl."

But Madonna is most commanding when she reaches for the personal edges that worked so well in "Ray of Light"--this time, the moody apology of "Nobody's Perfect" and the romantic resolve of "Don't Tell Me."

"I Deserve It," a daring mix of folk and hip-hop elements, is the track to remember. It's a statement of devotion that is all the more effective because it seems to be a proclamation of her love for director Guy Ritchie, the father of her new baby boy. In the song, she declares, "This guy has prayed for me / And I have prayed for him / This guy was made for me / And I was made for him."

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are due in stores Tuesday.

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