Artist: Madonna

Title: MDNA

Label: Boy Toy, Inc./Live Nation Worldwide Inc./Interscope

Given her propensity for shock value throughout her storied music/acting career, perhaps one of the biggest surprises was Madonna's utter restraint during her Super Bowl halftime performance.

Fully dressed and content to simply play her hits with some cool, eye-popping choreography, one couldn't help wondering if the quinquagenarian was (finally) growing up.

But Madonna being, well, Madonna, it probably shouldn't have been surprising that she was planning on switching things up for her first album in four years. After all, with the likes of Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Rhianna continuing to dominate the pop charts, playing it safe simply wasn't an option. So with MDNA, she gets back on the dance floor with plenty of club-friendly songs.

Trouble is, while a few of the songs are catchy from a purely sonic perspective, Madonna still seems to have lost her edge somehow. Unlike those trendsetting days where whatever she came up with sounded way ahead of its time, the bulk of the MDNA is behind the curve. In fact, the only moments that feel remotely inspired are when the ever-kooky Nicki Minaj shows up for the party.

Co-produced by William Orbit, the producer the Material Girl turned to for 1998's Ray of Light, a winning fusion of electronic and straightforward pop sounds, MDNA lacks a freshness, not to mention a distinctive identity. Truth be told, MDNA sounds like it could've been recorded by any run-of-the-mill dance/pop artist, not someone who's made such a definitive contribution to pop music.

Further adding to the clutter are ho-hum lyrics that are hardly revelatory, whether she's taking a jab at her ex-husband, filmmaker Guy Ritchie on "Falling Free," giving the proverbial middle finger to her haters on "I Fuc--- Up" or attempting to showcase her still-sexy side on "Girl Gone Wild."

While you can't help applauding the artists who offer up new artistic statements when they could settle for reliving their past glory, you still can't help thinking that Madonna has way more to say than she is here. It's not that someone pushing 54 still can't be sexy or seductive, it's just that you'd expect a little more depth and life experience to creep into the songs at some point. But with MDNA, that's certainly not the case. It's all pretty one-dimensional and not very innovative to boot. 

*This Review First Published 4/3/2012