MADONNA Hard Candy (Hatav Hashmini) For her latest persona adopted for her new album Hard Candy, Madonna appears to have modeled herself after a professional woman wrestler with a leather fetish - sort of a curvy Fabulous Moolah. Fortunately, her physical manifestation is only a sideshow to the music; but unfortunately, the music on Hard Candy isn't much more than what the title implies - bubbly ear candy featuring more sexual innuendos than the Material Girl knows what to do with. Equipped with all the latest studio tricks courtesy of hot stuff producers/collaborators like The Neptunes, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake, Madonna is nothing if not a master creator of dance music; and "4 Minutes," the collaboration with Timberlake, is one of the few songs that catches on fire and can stand proudly alongside her most accomplished dance tracks. Far inferior, however, is the monotonous duet with Kanye West, "Beat Goes On." The musically lightweight opener "Candy Shop" is probably meant to be provocative with lines like "I'll be your one-stop candy shop, lollipop, have some more" and "Come on into my store because my sugar is sweet," but out of the mouth of Madonna, it almost sounds chaste. She's far more relaxed and appealing when the music steers itself away from the cold, aggressive sound and lyrics of "Dance 2Night" and "Give it 2 Me" and focuses on pop confections like "Heartbeat" and "Incredible." They may sound like the work of a teen pop star, but they are total guilty pleasures ala "Like A Virgin." When Madonna tries to sound as tough as she looks, like on "She's Not Me," the results are less satisfying. On the dance floor, Hard Candy may very well sound perfect, and if Madonna's rumored show in Tel Aviv this autumn comes to fruition, her performance will more than make up for any musical lapses in the material. But on record, Hard Candy sounds like a sticky, brittle mess. DUFFY Rockferry (Helicon) Head and shoulders above the other debuts of 2008, Rockferry by Duffy sounds like an instant pop classic. If you took Dusty Springfield, Lulu, Dionne Warwick and The Righteous Brothers and had them sing songs by Burt Bacharach, and gave production chores to Phil Spector, the results couldn't be any less impressive than Rockferry. Possessing a voice that comes along only once in a decade, full of strength, vulnerability and soul, the 27-year-old native of Wales - born Amy Ann Duffy - is surrounded by lush, string-laden, classic Motown and Stax riffs updated for the 2000s, courtesy of collaborator Bernard Butler, late of Suede and the unsung The Tears. They cowrote four of the album's 10 songs, including the monumental title track and the slinky pop of "Serious," which recalls a focused Macy Gray. Tracks like "Mercy" reveal that Duffy isn't only an epic ballad singer, but can rock out in a manner that Ray Charles would approve of. Not just a throwback to pop's golden era, Rockferry sounds emphatically contemporary with crisp production, even while it exudes old-fashioned warmth and comfort. It's as if Duffy was saying to her young contemporaries - and to predecessors like Madonna - you don't need to sing about sex to sound sexy.