Madonna's new album, "Confessions on a Dance Floor," has been leaked onto the Internet 10 days before its official release.
The album is marked by a defiant self-defense of her whole career, when she sings on the hilarious and forceful "Like It or Not": "You can call me a sinner/you can call me a saint/Celebrate for who I am/Don't like me for what I ain't/Don't put me up on a pedestal/Or drag me down in the dirt/Sticks and stones will break my bones/But your names will never hurt."
And: "Better the devil that you know/This is who I am/You can like it or not/You can love me or leave me/Because I'm never gonna stop. Oh no." She compares herself to Mata Hari and Cleopatra, too.
Warner Music Group is said to not be very happy about the leak. "Confessions" was being held right until the last minute. Copies aren't even available at the record company's offices yet.
The album contains a song called "Isaac," first reported on this column several weeks ago. It's supposedly about Isaac Luria, a 16th century Kabbalah philosopher.
I've listened to it, and there's nothing particularly shocking about the lyrics. It has a good beat, though, and some chanting that's meant to sound Hebraic. It could be anything. I don't think there will be religious concerns.
The lyrics are basic pop stuff: "Wrestle with your darkness/Angels call your name/Can you hear what they saying/Will you ever be the same?" Basically, it reduces Kabbalah to the stuff of T-shirt slogans.
I wouldn't get excited, and neither should any rabbis. She does try and mix some religious gobbledy-gook in other tracks, like the electronica-based "Future Lovers," but it's about as benign as a yellow smiley button.
"Isaac" is not much different from a couple of Sting songs that use Arab chanting, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's where she got the idea. Madonna is nothing if not the great synthesizer of existing material.
One track on the album, "Push," out and out samples Sting's "Every Breath You Take." That's what I call a nice friend, since Sting usually demands 100 percent of the publishing rights when other artists do that.
Apart from "Isaac," "Confessions" sounds like a good dance record. "Hung Up" is already a hit. "Get Together" is a full-on disco pumper from the early '80s. "Sorry" starts with Madonna saying that word in different languages, then rocks along with an infectious melody that recalls her best songs from 20 years ago. This is the one that contains a sample from a Jacksons song, "Can You Feel It?" circa 1980. It should be the next single, after "Hung Up."
But someone had better tell Jackie Jackson, brother of Michael Jackson and co-author of that song. His rep tells me no one's asked for a sample license so far. Lawyers are already picking up the phone, no doubt.
All in all, "Confessions" is a return to what Madonna does best: mindless, fun, dance music. There's none of the grenade-throwing politics that got her in trouble last time out with "American Life," her lowest-selling album and a total bust for her and for Warner Music Group.
Like Santana's new album, "Confessions" is mixed to be one hit after another, no filler. It's a great idea, and in a time when nothing is selling and Warner is barely functioning as a record company, Madonna has come riding to the rescue.
I never grade CDs, but let's give her an A- and head for a nightclub. It's just good fun.
Good news for a change.
UNICEF is starting a George Harrison Memorial Fund so it can continue funneling proceeds from the CD and new DVD of "The Concert for Bangladesh."
Since Harrison recorded the now-famous (and first-ever) all-star charity concert at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 1, 1971, UNICEF has collected millions of dollars for the troubled nation.
Last night, Harrison's widow, Olivia, premiered the new DVD of the concert at a screening downtown at the new IFC Theater on Sixth Avenue in New York City.
Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone magazine sponsored it along with Capitol/Apple Records, and the turnout was like a reunion of music stalwarts from all over.
Barbara Orbison, widow of Roy Orbison, hugged Olivia, while Pete Bennett — the Beatles' legendary promotion man — reminisced with Apple's chef de guerre Neil Aspinall.
Manhattan Records' Ian Ralfini with his wife Sunny, head of the Nordoff-Robbins Foundation, as well as terrific record producer Russ Titelman all showed up, as did Bruce Springsteen's guys Max Weinberg (also Conan O'Brien's guy) and "Little" Steven van Zandt, also of "The Sopranos."
This shows the diversity of Springsteen's E Street Band: Weinberg was dressed in a gorgeous Italian to-die-for blue pin-striped suit; van Zandt was in a one-piece outfit that looked, as his beautiful wife Maureen noted, like it was cut from someone's Persian rug. It was one-of-a-kind, just like Little Steven!
Before the screening, Olivia told us, "When George was going through the footage and listening to the tracks, he reconnected with Phil Spector, who produced the music. Phil sent back letters in gigantic Gothic type proclaiming his love for George, and George ended his with drawings from Lenny Bruce. It was like it was 30 years ago."
Later Olivia confided, "I feel like 'Whew! I'm done!' This is what George wanted me to do."
She said the hard part would now be receiving the constant praise for Harrison that people keep giving her.
"He wouldn't approve of it. He would say it would take away from the spirituality, building up an ego like that." Then she added, "But he deserved it."
Every spouse should have a survivor like Olivia Harrison, that's all I can say.
If you're too young to know, or you've forgotten, the Concert for Bangladesh was devised by Harrison at the request of his pal Ravi Shankar as civil war left millions in the then-East Pakistan facing starvation.
The show featured performances by Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Billy Preston. The backing band was Badfinger, who were six months away from releasing the album that would make them famous, "Straight Up." The sidemen included Jim Keltner on drums, Jim Horn on horns and Jesse Ed Davis on guitar.
Shankar, whom no one appreciated at the time because we were impatient to hear our "stars," opens the show with what now seems like a tour de force performance of Indian music.
I don't think I understood Shankar until about five years ago, and now I find him mesmerizing. You will, too, when you see him in tandem, playing sitar with Ali Akbar Khan on sarod. There is something so subtle and beautiful in their frenzied melodic renderings that maybe it can only be understood by more mature, accepting ears.
Olivia told me that even though the DVD package is brimming over with extras, including unseen rehearsals with George and Dylan, there's still a little more in the vaults.
"There's another Dylan song, and some more interview material," she said. "I'm keeping that in my back pocket for now."
What is included on both the new (remastered — throw out those old CDs) limited-edition album and the DVD limited edition is a Dylan performance of "Love Minus Zero/No Limit."
Dylan, as it came to pass, had a grand time on stage that night. He hadn't been seen in some time. At the ripe old age of 30, he'd become a little bit of a recluse.
Six of his songs are included on the album. Two more — "If Not For You" and "Come On In My Kitchen" — are on the DVD. His take on "Blowin' in the Wind" is earnest, heartfelt and, for Dylan, disarmingly innocent. It's quite lovely.
Harrison shines all the way through the show, and it's worth watching all the DVD extras to know what was going on behind the scenes as he was planning the show.
Clapton missed several flights and almost didn't show up, for example. It was only when Harrison let him know he was being replaced that Clapton got himself to the airport. Dylan was also a question mark, and when he showed up, Harrison simply put him right on without making him wait.
Other highlights: Leon Russell nearly steals the show with his medley of "Youngblood" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." The screening audience all applauded Preston, then about 26 years old, knocking out "That's the Way God Planned It."
And seeing Ringo playing drums next to Keltner — it looks like ballet. Poor Ringo — he never gets the credit he deserves. Here you see him out from under the Beatles' shadow, and he's a giant.
Both the new CD and DVD by the way include information from UNICEF about where the money's gone and how it's been used. You can also read it about at www.georgeharrisonfundforunicef.org.
Essentially, George and Shankar were prescient in creating an annuity for Bangladesh. Their heirs are Elton John, with his AIDS Foundation, and Sting and Trudie Styler's Rainforest Foundation.
From the sublime to the ridiculous: Mr. Britney Spears, aka Kevin Federline, is recording rap music.
Yesterday, some of it was leaked onto the Web. It is — surprise, surprise — quite awful. Thanks to an intrepid soul on the Velvet Rope Web site, here are the lyrics that could be determined:
"I should be saying keep my damn name outcha mouth but y'all people keep increasing my change amount
So, go ahead and say whatcha wanna, I'm gonna sell bout two mill, fool, then I'm a-gonna
I know you wish you was in my position cuz I keep getting into situations that you wish you wuz in, cousin
I'm not your brother, not your uncle, I'm daddy, dude
Steppin' in this game and y'all ain't got a clue
My prediction is that y'all gonna hate on the style we create, straight 2008
But I know that you really can't wait because people are always askin' me — when's the release date?
Well maybe baby you can wait and see
Until then, all these Pavarottis following me
Gettin' anxious, go take a peek, I'm starring in your magazine now every day of the week
Back, then, they call me K-Fed, but you can call me Daddy instead..."
This is what we get, 34 years after Harrison, Dylan, Clapton, et al. And you say the world is not ending.
Tonight, the above-mentioned Sting and Trudie will be honored by the Soil Association, of all things.
Sounds dreadful, but their Food for Life program is an important one concerning organic farming and making sure school children are fed properly with healthy foods.
The event takes place at the Metropolitan Pavilion, a smallish catering hall on West 18th St. in Manhattan. I tell you this because — shhhh — Sting is performing around 10 p.m. There may be tickets left, I don't know. Call 212-683-2442 and beg. ...
Meanwhile, Al Green is coming to town! He'll be at B.B. King's on 42nd St. tonight (sold out) and tomorrow night (maybe a few standing room). So far appearing at B.B. King's has made Aretha, Dionne and many others turn it on, so this should be good. And by the way, James Brown is there on New Year's Eve, so you know where I'll be. ...