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Madonna

Music (Maverick)

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I don't even know your name, Madonna coos on "Impressive Instant" from her new Music. And for a few awkward moments, you don't know Madonna's name, either. It takes "Instant" and the title song, a pair of slickly produced come-ons that run her voice through the hip-hop meat grinder of vocal processing without tenderizing it, to remind you that as recognizable as Madonna the cannily self-celebrated icon is, her voice is what flips the switch. And for too long after she turns on her glaring disco light, Madonna doesn't sound like Madonna, but she doesn't sound any better, either. ("Oh, Cher, I didn't see you come in.") Neither the glumly cynical electronic backing tracks nor her too-casual delivery makes an impression.

Luckily, a long stretch in the middle of Music picks up where 1998's Ray of Light, her high-water mark, left off. The vocal processing never goes away, but it doesn't hinder songs such as "Nobody's Perfect." Even before Evita, Madonna was well-served by lush, pensive ballads; hearing her voice modulated here is an ironic truth-telling, a contrite admission of guilt swathed in technological camouflage that only goes to show that being imperfect is no reason not to continue fooling people. Too bad that on about half of the otherwise appreciably catchy Music, Madonna tries to fool her audience into thinking she's someone else, someone lesser.

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