Coughing up a crummy Bond theme and rapping about Pilates is no way to win the hearts and minds of pop critics, but the contempt that greeted Madonna’s “Die Another Day” single in 2002 and her American Life album last year still came off as overheated: hearing the gripes, you’d think that somewhere there lurked a Bond theme that wasn’t crummy or that there’d been a point in Madonna’s career when she wasn’t full of shit. Madonna’s chief skill has always been an understanding that her flights of fancy demand the solid surroundings of dance beats and pop hooks; her best, most consistent record is 1998’s Ray of Light, where her spiritualist goop in fact flows the thickest. Now as always she’s only as good as the backup she hires, and French house producer Mirwais Ahmadzai has undertaken a half-successful project to return Madonna to first principles, simplifying her music back into the foursquare synth pop she launched her career with and trusting acoustic guitar strumming to count as color. None of this, of course, will matter during these four concerts at the United Center. The set list on this tour so far has drawn songs fairly evenly from across her career, and the stage show serves up the best spectacle she can afford. And she can afford quite a bit. $45-$300. Sunday and Monday, July 11 and 12, and Wednesday and Thursday, July 14 and 15, 8 PM, United Center, 1901 W. Madison; 312-455-4500 or 312-559-1212.