Madonna without the marriage, the children, the British estate? Such is the fantasy world conjured up in Confessions on a Dance Floor. Madonna never completely deserted clubland, of course, but she hasn't made an album this consistently beat-driven since 1992's Erotica. Once again, she's the restless soul aching to connect, this time by way of fluid Ibiza techno (''Jump,'' ''Get Together'') and a robo-voiced Kraftwerk homage (''Forbidden Love''); ''Hung Up'' shows how effortlessly she can tap into her petulant inner teen. Unencumbered by the freneticism and unevenness that marred her last few albums, Confessions glides on a jet stream; for that extra rave-new-world touch, the songs segue into one other.
For all its pretenses of being giddy and spontaneous, though, Confessions is rarely either. Madonna is no longer the free spirit of her youth, which is plenty obvious when she ponders the spiritual ''place where I belong'' (''Let It Will Be'') or indulges in further self-pity over the price o' fame (''How High''). It's as if a rain cloud has settled over her nightclub.
Yet Brit techno whiz Stuart Price, her new co-producer, overrides her clichés by focusing on the beats. The disingenuous ''I Love New York'' wants us to believe she feels like ''a dork'' when she's not in that city and that she's down on London, her new home. But damn if that chorus won't make for a perfect jingle for a tourism commercial. Like so many Madonna albums, this one eventually runs low on gas; not even Price can make sense of her Kabbalah parable, ''Isaac,'' which evokes older, better Madonna hits. But she's smart enough to know that dulcet dance music for grown-ups is a worthy niche waiting to be filled.