This is Madonna’s last album for Warner before leaving the label system for a deal with concert promoters Live Nation, and she’s decided to blow the last of the label’s cash on the top American producers of the day instead of the up-and-comers with whom she’s often collaborated. As her last album did well everywhere but the U.S., it also seems like a calculated decision to bring Timbaland and Pharrell Williams on board to co-write and produce.
This is a very consistent album, the only real dud being the closer, Voices. Unfortunately, much of Madonna’s own personality has been overwhelmed by her helpers, especially in the case of Timbaland’s contributions, many of which sound interchangeable with his work with so many lesser pop stars. Pharrell seems more interested in writing for Madonna, in particular the gorgeous disco anthem She’s Not Me, which recalls her earliest hits.
Overall, Hard Candy sounds a bit too much like Madonna’s trying to catch up with the American R&B princesses. Having said that, she holds her own for the most part, and when her own voice shines through, she reminds us why she’s outlasted so many.