You've seen the video for ''4 Minutes,'' Madonna's flirty duet with Justin Timberlake. Perhaps you've heard that roughly half of her new album, Hard Candy, was produced by the Neptunes, with the remainder entrusted to the team of Timbaland, Nate ''Danja'' Hills, and Timberlake. Maybe you know that Kanye West pops up on one song (''Beat Goes On''). Between the fountain-of-youth dalliances and hookups with hip-hop kingpins, we know what you're thinking: Just how massive is this midlife crisis of hers?
Pretty major, probably, but she makes it work with this surprisingly rejuvenated set. Now 49, Madonna has spent the past decade unevenly exploring moody trip-hop, chilly Eurodisco, and ethereal electronica all of which are absent here. Candy finds her dropping her Kabbalah string on the dance floor and readopting an American accent to offer up an unpretentious, nonstop dance party. In tunes like ''Give It 2 Me,'' she's unabashedly reviving the celebrative spirit of early singles like ''Lucky Star'' and ''Holiday,'' filtering it through hip-hop's sonic boom. She's not above nicking from other carefree singers and eras, either. The giddy opening track, ''Candy Shop,'' has an easygoing synth hook that Jam & Lewis might've devised for Janet Jackson in her '80s prime, while the scrumptious deep bass of ''Dance 2night'' gets closer to the thump of '70s disco than anything Madonna's ever done in or out of a leotard.
If you're looking for softness, of course, you've come to the wrong place. ''Catch me on the floor/Working up a sweat/That's what the music's for,'' she asserts in ''Heartbeat,'' coming soon to a Pilates class near you. In the most exciting club banger, the aforementioned ''Give It 2 Me,'' she threatens, ''When the lights go down and there's no one left, I can go on and on and on.'' Often willfully vapid, the lyrics offer candy as a metaphor for sex, sex as metaphor for dancing, and dancing as metaphor for world domination. In fact, there's so much perspiration-soaked determination that you may detect a slightly scary C+C Music Factory-meets-Ayn Rand vibe.
Offsetting the grind are a few actual confessions on this dance floor enough to give the tabs speculative fodder. ''You always have the biggest heart/When we're six thousand miles apart,'' she complains in ''Miles Away.'' (There, the Timba-lake arrangements get a bit too close to ''What Goes Around... Comes Around'' for comfort.) In ''Incredible,'' a mini-masterpiece of domestic woe in which the Neptunes do their best work, Madonna recalls how spectacular the sex used to be, over a furious house beat. Then she makes a desperate plea for reconciliation: ''I am missing my best friend.... Let's finish what we started.'' With this crowd-pleaser of a CD, she may be sending a similar message to fans,
DOWNLOAD THIS: ''Incredible''