The Madonna Timeline: Song #49 ~ 4 Minutes ~ Spring 2008

{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

Come on boy,
I been waiting for somebody to pick up my stroll,
Well, don’t waste time, give me a sign,
Tell me how you want to roll.
I want somebody to speed it up for me then take it down slow,
There’s enough room for both,
Well, I can handle that, you just gotta show me where it’s at,
Are you ready to go?

It’s hard to believe that itís been over three years since Madonna released a proper studio album. It’s one of her longer stretches, and I believe it’s been due to her touring schedule (the ‘Sticky & Sweet’ show was a two-parter) and her directorial duties on her upcoming movie. Usually after an absence like this she comes back big – witness ‘Like A Prayer’ following her Broadway run in ‘Speed-the-Plow’, and ‘Ray of Light’ in the aftermath of ‘Evita’. Both were stunning examples of her musical relevance and prowess, and with Lady Gaga stealing much of the musical thunder on the last few years, Madonna does have a little something to prove. ‘Hard Candy’ was fine for what it was – though in retrospect it was mostly her riding on her laurels and employing the hit-makers of the moment to give her some up-to-date credibility. It didn’t fail spectacularly, but it wasn’t a highpoint in her musical career.

I do, however, happen to like the next song on the iPod ~ ‘4 Minutes’ ~ the lead-off single to the whole ‘Hard Candy’ experience. Musically I’ve never been a huge fan of Timbaland or Justin Timberlake, but Madonna has a way of making all her collaborators fit her style – even if she has to expend her range to make it work. For ‘4 Minutes’ she does just that – sharing billing for a lead-off single – a sign both of humility as much as clever zeitgeist calculation. With its pounding bass and blasting horns, it was a new sound for Madonna, but it seemed that she was just playing a bit of catch-up with the musical scene.

Madonna doesn’t usually fare well in duets – in fact, most of her rumored duets never get off the demo ground – and this is probably a blessing. (Anyone who’s heard her work with Britney Spears can attest.) The only way it succeeds is when she subverts her partner to the point where itís really a Madonna song with a featured performer, as was the case with ‘Take A Bow’ and Babyface, and, in some respects, ‘4 Minutes’, though she clearly is giving Timberlake greater billing than anyone else ever got.

Though it’s a bit of a lyrical muddle, the music is engaging enough, and it’s good to hear a beat that matches the cumulative power of Madonna. That thundering intro was used to great effect when she performed the song on her Sticky and Sweet Tour – the lights were lowered and it felt like Armageddon approaching.

As for the video, there’s a bit too much Shakira-hair and flesh-colored corsetry for my taste, and not enough plot-line or interaction with Mr. Timberlake to make it truly interesting. It’s almost as if they thought the pairing was enough, and by some accounts it is – particularly when you take into account the fact that Madonna normally doesn’t pair off with stars of equal, or even close, magnitude. (Most of her romantic co-stars in videos are relative unknowns.)

The song itself may prove as forgettable too. In the ensuing years, it has not held up as well as some of her others, attributable in part to its of-the-moment sound and production. It’s a fate that belies much of her work – but she usually manages to make one or two songs on each album that are so classic that they carry her through. I’m not sure if ‘4 Minutes’ was enough.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions,
But if I die tonight, at least I can say
I did what I wanted to do.
Tell me how about you?

Song #49: ‘4 Minutes’ ~ Spring 2008

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