Superdivas: Madonna! Mariah! Leona?

Audiophile

Suck on it Madonna’s 11th studio album, “Hard Candy,” is an interesting combination of the fizzy dance-pop of her 1983 debut and the urban luster of 1994’s “Bedtime Stories.” Unfortunately, it never quite matches the best of either, lacking the coquettish charm of the former and the musical sophistication of the latter.

Which is not to say or even imply that the album is a bust. Far from it. Producers Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams and Nate “Danja” Hills provide Madonna with a stable of propulsive beats and she rides them straight toward the upper rungs of the singles chart. The Timberlake duet “4 Minutes” is already a huge hit and there are three or four more tracks (“Give It 2 Me,” “Heartbeat,” “Miles Away,” “Beat Goes On”) with similar potential.

The drawback with “Hard Candy” is that it lives up to its name: a sweet confection that pleases while it lasts, but melts away leaving you with nothing to show for the experience. The feeling is compounded by the fact that Madonna’s preceding release was 2005’s excellent “Confessions On A Dance Floor.” In comparison, the new album comes off like a step backward.

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Carey on “The Emancipation Of Mimi” was a musical juggernaut. Mariah Carey’s 2005 album was the biggest-selling release of the year, spawned two #1s, including the Grammy-winning smash “We Belong Together,” and re-established the singer as America’s biggest pop and R&B star after a string of personal and professional missteps had dimmed her glow.

Fans have been anxiously awaiting the follow-up for two years. Industry watchers have also kept an eye on the situation, openly questioning whether Carey could capture lightning in a bottle and reach the same level of commercial success.

In the face of this scrutiny comes “E=MC2,” Carey’s 11th studio release. Artistically, the album picks up right where its predecessor left off — which means it’s filled with mid-tempo tales of love and relationships that showcase Carey’s voice and the beats of an army of the industry’s top urban producers.

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The set is consistently solid, but the best tracks are the ones where Carey changes things up, like the disco-fied “I’m That Chick” (which perfectly re-uses a line from Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall”) and the gospel-fueled piano ballad “I Wish You Well.” It’ll be months before the sales questions can be settled, but MC fans are no doubt happy right now.

‘Spirit’ed beginning With the recent ascension of Leona Lewis, it looks like we might have a new diva on the block. She’s certainly got all the ingredients — a wonderful voice, stunning beauty and a career that’s being guided by a pair of the industry’s heaviest hitters, “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell and J Records chief Clive Davis. With her debut album, “Spirited,” and single, “Bleeding Love,” Lewis has already accomplished two impressive feats

“Spirited” landed atop the album chart in its first week, making the singer the first British artist to reach that position with a debut album. Not to be outdone, “Bleeding Love” became the first track by a U.K. female to hit #1 since Kim Wilde, who achieved this feat in 1987 with a cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”

It’s no surprise that Lewis is already being compared to uber-divas Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. But, she says she’s keeping the accolades in perspective. “Those women are the people who’ve inspired me to sing, so it’s flattering that I’m being compared to them. But I have a lot of hard work to do first!”

info: audiophile@q-notes.com

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Posted by David Stout

David Stout is the associate editor of QNotes. He can be reached at editor2@goqnotes.com.