Madonna, Hard Candy
Official release date: April 29
The verdict: For the past decade, Madonna's been impressing her own ideas on Mirwais Ahmadzaï, Stuart Price, and other dance producers that most of her fans had never heard of previously; on Hard Candy — which leaked in part over the weekend and in full this morning — she bends to the will of Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, and Justin Timberlake, three guys that everyone has been sick of for years. The results? Not bad!
Crotchy album cover and creepy video aside, Candy sounds less like a midlife crisis (than, say, Confessions on a Dancefloor) and more like something you'd actually listen to (than, say, Confessions on a Dancefloor). A couple Timberland/Timberlake tracks can grate ("Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" is practically a note-for-note rewrite of "What Goes Around…/…Comes Around"), but Pharrell's contributions are uniformly inspired, with his "Candy Shop," "Heartbeat," and the cowbell-enhanced "Give It 2 Me" being the album's most immediate highlights. On a first listen, this is way better than we expected.