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PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2012 7:13 pm 
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Thanks for doing these reviews, Laz! Which album do you think a new fan should start with?

Also, you absolutely must see Dancer in the Dark now! It's one of the best films I've seen, and I wasn't even a fan of Björk pre-viewing.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 5:51 pm 
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Vespertine (2001)

Tracks

1. "Hidden Place" - Image
Björk really conquered the world of techno (as something of a pop / punk act, previously) in the 90's and this album questions if she has anything left to break the mold with. "Hidden Place" is probably the weakest Björk opening track from the start of her solo career until 2011's Biophilia, though it's still a good track in its' own right. The album has a lot of great material but wants to get real experimental with Björk's music. This song is not the best example of that. So, its' real work is thematic. And everyone tells me the album's theme is sex, though I remain oblvious as to how (mostly because I don't analyze music that closely). If that's true, this song's metaphor is pretty obvious. (What always threw me off was the line "we'll live in a hidden place"; live??) The beat is killer and the extra choiral voices are beautiful (they return on other tracks and in my opinion are better used elsewhere than this song) but this song doesn't go all the way in my opinion. What it does best is let you know up front what the rest of the album has in store; kind of packaged like a greatest hits.

2. "Cocoon" - Image
This song is much more overtly sexual; the lyrics are very creative and romantic, for Björk's usually graphic style. It's a very unconfrontational song, sonically, after something as large (and a little bit clunky) as "Hidden Place." But more experimental and rewarding. Aka= fresh. Again, for Björk- who just always does everything she (and her producers) do(es) to the fullest it can be done. In a way, there isn't much to the song. Not many pieces in its' mix. But those pieces are all just about perfect. A lot of lyrical imagery which, thanks to Björk's delivery, makes the music all the more fabulous and compelling.

3. "It's Not Up to You" - Image
So, there's no getting around it: this album feels quite a bit bare for Björk. And repetitive. And a little tug-of-warrish between the old approach which she always felt the need to shake off and her hitting upon something new which... would prove to always be problematic and never held as much promise for the kind of return Björk would need after fans expressed disappointment. This actually happened in 2004. But there's evidence of it starting with this album because Vespertine represented an 'old reliable' for fans. Overall, it didn't break much new ground. This effects "It's Not Up to You" quite a bit because... it's just not that good. Even though, most significantly, Björk is just writing and singing the hell out of this thing. And the music isn't meeting her. In many ways, it's possible she did peak with her previous albums. The choir returns here and I think you'd get what I mean about the album being slightly repetitive here. Great little musicbox outro though. And the lyrics are interesting.

4. "Undo" - Image
This song finally sounds as dramatic as, well, "It's Not Up to You" wanted to be (I was going to say the first 3 songs but "Hidden Place" and "Cocoon" were exactly what they were trying to be). It's also the 2nd longest on the album, so it's good that it transforms and unfolds as it progresses. Around the time it hits the 3-minute mark, it starts getting really beautiful. REALLY beautiful. That kind of beautiful you recognize from Björk's first 2 albums. That choir comes back but... THIS TIME they hit the heights Björk herself used to. It's gotta be some kind of spiritual experience they're having. Either way it's so powerful, it almost makes even me cry. Anyway, another really great track even if it seemed like it wasn't going to climb the rafters.

5. "Pagan Poetry" - Image
And here, the album peaks. It'll be much more hit-or-miss after this but this is Vespertine's point of perfection. The beat is dark. Very dark. No choir, but you do get another sound you hear throughout the album: keys and bells that give the song a revolving, swirling, spinning effect. It's an amazing evocative song on an album that has a real lush, wintry feeling to it. And a song that has a LOT going on in it. Björk gives another unforgettable performance, especially toward the end. If you can, seek out the music video as well. It has considerable nudity in it but it's every bit as blindingly beautiful as the song.

6. "Frosti" - Image
Just an interlude. But a very good one.

7. "Aurora" - Image
Another song which really makes me appreciate the choir. Icy's been a very apt word to describe most of Björk's work from 1997-2002 but this song even includes the sound of boots crunching into the snow. So, call it a playing in the snow song or a beauty of nature anthem. Björk's great with everything but her vocals just add something to the music- no other vocalist could have ever made these songs as much a part of the natural balance as she makes them feel like they are. She enhances almost any environment you may be in while you're listening to her. If the song has a flaw, it's that some of it feels very forcefully reminiscent of Homogenic. Mostly that's the very small electronic scratch-bumps during the verses.

8. "An Echo, a Stain" - Image
Not a very impressive song as a whole, but the music is great for finding a good way to mix the choir into the musical environment so they don't really stand out too much. This unfortunately though affects Björk and makes her very quiet. Which is another experiment and an interesting idea. But the problem is that she has to moan and drag the tails of her notes which doesn't work as well as you might expect. The techno is perfect here, the strings are inspired, and Björk is still pretty. But there's definitely something missing, even though the song has a little clamshell-clicking sound that gives it good rhythm.

9. "Sun in My Mouth" - Image
More musicbox (this is an actual instrument and I just don't know what it is) and more slight crunching sound effects. It starts promisingly enough but this is another song that doesn't use Björk well. In fact, it might be a lot better song as an instrumental. It's short which should probably count in its' favor but it's too forgettable to be a credit to the album as a whole.

10. "Heirloom" - Image
This is a hard song to get excited about, even though it's the most interesting on this half of the album. It starts by offering a really nice climb and then the floodgates open. Since the album is about sex, I'd like to compare what I mean to a certain sexual experience that I think is quite similar- where the minimal effect is better than when you get the maximum flow. But I should probably stop there, especially since it's not hard to guess what I'm alluding to. The slimmer trickling sections of the song are better than the wider middle. But Björk is really good here. And it seems to be about something. Not that I exactly get it.

11. "Harm of Will" - Image
There's nothing I can do here but be completely honest: this song bores me. Completely and utterly. I skip it every 9.5 out of 10 times I play the album. But it's worth mentioning that this song really points to what Björk would do next with Medulla. And I think most of the songs on Medulla were better than this. Björk is definitely whipping the choir on this one, she has one especially beautiful passage. There just has to be a more interesting remix of this out there somewhere.

12. "Unison" - Image
This song would likely be perfect if it weren't for the fact that it's unbelievably hard to plug into these lyrics. The sexual part is again obvious ("let's unite tonight," "embrace you tight") but then she starts talking about being a hermit with a beard and a parrot and... well, have you seen her; can you even picture her with that kind of thing going on? (Very weird stab at role-playing. Although I guess it's possible she was just saying she always thought she'd be alone until she met this other person.) The strings are especially beautiful. Insanely! The beat and spider-crawl of the techno are a bit too tubular for me though.


In Conclusion
Vespertine is definitely a wannabe follow-up to Homogenic but it's best when it tries to be more like Selmasongs- an album that needed more experimentation. And as an album that tried to find a balance between experimenting and going more for a sound Björk and co(.) knew fans would approve of, it at least hits several strides of excellence. Which can hardly be said for her next album, Medulla. Getting a perfect mix is hard and this album deserves credit for almost getting it right. It nearly did. Points are earned mostly for cohesion, which it has in spades.


Overall Album Rating
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Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Cocoon"
"Undo"
"Pagan Poetry"
"Aurora"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Hidden Place"
"An Echo, a Stain"


PeterPanfan wrote:
Thanks for doing these reviews, Laz! Which album do you think a new fan should start with?

Also, you absolutely must see Dancer in the Dark now! It's one of the best films I've seen, and I wasn't even a fan of Björk pre-viewing.

No problem. Of course, there are several more to go over. :)

I would recommend getting Post and Homogenic about the same time. Ehhhh, just buy them both. Especially if you can buy online. If you have access to an online music playing service, you could put shuffle / intertwine them both. But, if that sounds rebellious, Post first. Then Homogenic.

Then get Debut, then everything after Homogenic in order of its' release.

As for Dancer, I'll see it this year. By hook or crook. It's just been such an illusive film. More like an urban legend than a film. I've never seen clips of it anywhere. Or trailers or scenes. New Line must think that thing is too fragile to expose the public to. Every other movie they have access to, they pimp like it's Best Picture material. Which is sad considering they've been most proud of the likes of Freddy vs. Jason and the Rush Hour films over the last decade.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:23 pm 
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Greatest Hits (2002)

Tracks

1. "All is Full of Love (Radio Mix)" (4:47) - Image
Obviously, a lot more active than the album version which adds more life. And slightly superior. Although the fluttering insect disease-pox effects are missed. Very futuristic.

2. "Hyperballad" - Image
Same as on album.

3. "Human Behavior" - Image
Same as on album.

4. "Jóga" - Image
Same as on album.

5. "Bachelorette" - Image
Same as on album. Except that for some insane reason, I've always found this song slightly more attractive when mixed in a different arrangement than that of the album.

6. "Army of Me" - Image
Same as on album.

7. "Pagan Poetry" - Image
Same as on album.

8. "Big Time Sensuality (Fluke Minimix)" - Image
I still think it's inferior to the album version but I may have underrated this remix a little. It's not bad at all. Probably its' big fault is that it's too dang long and doesn't evolve at all either.

9. "Venus As a Boy" - Image
Same as on album.

10. "Hunter" - Image
Same as on album.

11. "Hidden Place" - Image
Same as on album.

12. "Isobel" - Image
Same as on album.

13. "Possibly Maybe" - Image
Same as on album.

14. "Play Dead" - Image
Same as on album.

15. "It's In Our Hands" - Image
I already reviewed it on Page 2.


In Conclusion
Includes almost all of the essential singles except "It's Oh So Quiet," which many people have rightly claimed was her only actual hit with mass audiences. And there's no representation from Dancer in the Dark. Of course, any one disc can only hold 79 minutes and this one already crosses the 70-minute mark. Not much more they could have done other than to make it a 2-discer. It's an admirable attempt at containing Björk on 1 disc.


Overall Album Rating
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Family Tree (2002)

Tracks - Disc 6

1. "Venus As a Boy" - Image
Same as on album.

2. "Hyperballad" - Image
Same as on album.

3. "You've Been Flirting Again" - Image
Same as on album.

4. "Isobel" - Image
Same as on album.

5. "Jóga" - Image
Same as on album.

6. "Unravel" - Image
Same as on album.

7. "Bachelorette" - Image
Same as on album.

8. "All is Full of Love (Radio Mix)" - Image
Same as on Greatest Hits.

9. "Scatterheart" - Image
Same as on album.

10. "I've Seen It All" - Image
Same as on album.

11. "Pagan Poetry" - Image
Same as on album.

12. "It's Not Up to You" - Image
Same as on album.


In Conclusion
Björk selected these tracks herself and their order and choice have personal relevance to her. Which makes it a hard thing to judge. Therefore... I won't.


Overall Album Rating
Unclassifiable.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 13, 2012 11:07 pm 
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Laz, do you plan on reviewing Björk's other albums? :P I recently bought Post and haven't stopped playing it since. Debut and Homogenic are next, but I'm not sure any can beat Post! Haha.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 1:32 pm 
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Medulla (2004)

Tracks

1. "Pleasure is All Mine" - Image
So, in case you haven't heard, this would be a good time to tell you- this album has almost no electronic production. And no instrumentation. That means no machines, no guitars, no drums, no strings, no horns. No nothing... but voices and mixing the voices into beats, etc. What Björk turns to a lot are human-beatbox performers to get those killer beats. In fact, you can hear Rahzel putting in other sounds he's known for over later tracks on the album. I've included a short YouTube video (at the bottom) which tells you a little bit about him. Anyway, this song has my vote for best on the album. It starts on the exact kind of take-a-step-back note Björk was clearly going for. But as it progresses, especially around the 2-minute mark, it really takes off. It's trying to invoke the Vespertine chorus, only this time a lot more male and masculine chanting, to get it into the clouds. But when you hear Björk's in there, and she's doing the best job, and she gets to the "when in doubt- give" section... you get a little of that classic Post and Homogenic glory.

2. "Show Me Forgiveness" - Image
An acapella (entirely acapella) little 1-minute intermission-al ditty with Björk singing something personal. It doesn't deserve the low rating I've given it, but the joke is that this is one of the better songs (Björk seems to care about this one) and it should have gotten some music (of any design) to make it a real song. As is, it feels half-assed.

3. "Where Is the Line" - Image
Here's where you can really hear Rahzel. And the song's all the better for him. The choir here is equal parts male and female and... the only flaw of the song is that you can tell they're here to make you think vocals alone can be mixed into a composition as complex as the best on Björk's Debut, Post, and Homogenic. Etc. And the problem with that is that we shouldn't be able to notice where an album is trying to repeat another. Anyway, this song's real drive is in the beatbox, Björk's AMAZING verses (WOW!!!)- it's actually one of Björk's catchiest songs of all-time lyrically (in my opinion), and the "Pluto"-like cacophony rising around "be elastic" section.

4. "Vökuró" - Image
More choir, more Björk. Very stripped down. And you get an impression of winter. In fact, this feels like a tribal / Gregorian-chanted Christmas carol of some sort. Unfortunately, here's where I have to say... who really wanted this on their Björk CD? I know Björk fans have to be open-minded but by this point, the album is dragging. The choir is registering as overkill, Björk's involvement in the songs is beginning to feel irrelevant, and the songs are flaunting the fact that there are no instruments to suggest this style can't hold up an LP-length album.

5. "Öll Birtan" - Image
See track 4's summary. Only this one doesn't have a choir. Another pure acapella. A track you will never have the urge to repeat. Which is a problem on a Björk album.

6. "Who Is It" - Image
Here's one of the few tracks on the album where I find it hard to believe there are no instruments. A low rumbling starts off the track. And it would have had to've been majorly distorted to come from a person's throat. Again, I admit: this is my belief. Anyway, more Rahzel. I have admitted that I have never liked this song. However, it might have been more interesting with this kind of arrangement to have someone try rapping over it. I vote for Jay-Z, personally. I'm giving this one the same rating as the Bell Choir remix / single edit because I still can't choose between them. Whether there are bells / chimes in it or not, I think Björk sounds terrible and cloying against this arrangement. However, I can't fault the arrangement - just the choice to offer it to Björk. Who may be a musical miracle-worker but she can't make just anything work.

7. "Submarine" - Image
Absolutely one of the most HIDEOUS things my ears have ever heard. Björk is barely even in it. How to describe it? I can label it avant-garde. The kind of avant-garde best seen and not heard. And even then... I don't ever want to see this. I don't want to hear it. It... may be the worst song I've ever heard in my life. Except for the fact that Björk gets a short verse and it's beautiful. Of course, anything marginally good would sound beautiful against this pitiful collection of AWFUL... audio... things! Beyond ghastly. Beyond grotesque.

8. "Desired Constellation" - Image
No way this song's music isn't electronic. This breaks the album's promise that it would all be human vocals. Is that good or bad? Well, this song isn't great. It just is what it is. Sort of a sequel to "It's in Our Hands." Only with an extremely lowkey beat. It has more passion that Post's "Headphones" but musically, it needs more power. Passion without power is lullaby. Ya know what I mean? And for that, I say this is a better song than Vespertine's "Heirloom." And Björk's singing is great. In fact, I would say this is powerful enough to warrant the album's title (suggesting the power will be exclusively in Björk and her choir) were it not for the fact that it is too reminiscent of "Hands," "Headphones," and "Heirloom." But at least it's better than one of those 3.

9. "Oceania" - Image
Here's another track that finally provides a good argument for the idea of an album with 1 instrument. Everything, musically, here is superb. I just have to be honest and say I was crazier about the song when I bought the album. Years later, this song has dropped in favor and "Where Is the Line" has risen to become more important to me. Oh and... Björk pushes her voice a little too hard and scars the notes which stop the other singers. With a voice like hers, it makes sense that sometimes she can't fully control it and it will wear at times. This is one of those times.

10. "Sonnets / Unrealities XI" - Image
Now... this is what "Show Me Forgiveness" should have been. In fact, on Vespertine, I alluded to some of what it was trying to do being perfected on this album. This is what I was talking about. It's exactly 2-minutes long, so if it suffers from anything- it's that inability to serve as a credit to the album itself (see Post's "You've Been Flirting Again"). But it's definitely better than "Harm of Will". Björk's at top form. The choir is almost not noticeable. The vocals are lovely. It's an interlude trying to be a full-length song. 1 more minute and this could have been perfect.

11. "Ancestors" - Image
"Weird" pretty much says all you need to know upfront. This also breaks the no-instrument rule (there's a piano). The piano is perfect. The vocals are... creative. How to describe them? Think the sinister version of Where the Wild Things Are. I used to hate this song but now, I have to admit, it's pretty good. Just not what you'd expect. As performance-arty as "Submarine," but listenable. Thanks to the piano. As opposed to Björk's wintry style, this one is easily autumny. Although, with vocals like these, I'd suggest you watch those trees (and all their individual fallen leaves) for teeth. Björk is oddly beautiful here given how this song would seem to rule out beauty.

12. "Mouth's Cradle" - Image
Has this album rebounded- or what?! I think I would say, after "Where Is the Line," this is the single best example of beatbox on the album. The choir and Björk are just perfect. You will probably not be able to hear it, but Björk gets political in the lyrics and aptly puts President Bush in the same company as Osama Bin Laden.

13. "Midvikudags" - Image
Another interlude but one that is propelled by deep, layered background / under-foot rumbling, making it a very interesting little track. Unfortunately, it's also just way too short for whatever it's trying to do to actually be... done.

14. "Triumph of a Heart" - Image
As the music video for this track showed... holy shit, it takes a lot of folks to make the sound effects that pad out these mixes. In the video, an entire bar is populated with people making weird sounds and I believe all of them were featured somewhere on the album's previous tracks. AND Rahzel wasn't even there. Anyway, this one is quirky and it's just not "I Miss You" good but it's one of the better tracks on this album. Does it seriously further the album's yearn to be a stellar example of avant-garde music? Well... we know Björk is a legend and she's perfect. The lyrics follow suit in wrapping around the music's bizarreness (especially the "pushing the network of oxygen joyfully" section). I just don't think it's a complete success. Call it an impression, but it seems underwhelming. And we know Björk and her producers can make masterworks out of songs with electronic instrumentation.


In Conclusion
Björk's most experimental album, pre-Biophilia, very few of the experiments work. And all things considered, the successes here feel like they belonged to Selmasongs or Vespertine. As an album, this is very disappointing. But worth checking out for its' true successes because... it's Björk. Good or bad have never been suitable words to describe her work. So, no matter what she does- you know you're in for an experience unlike any you'll have with other artists.


Overall Album Rating
Image

Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Where Is the Line"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Pleasure is All Mine"
"Oceania"
"Ancestors"
"Mouth's Cradle"
"Triumph of a Heart"

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 4:16 am 
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Volta (2007)

Tracks

1. "Earth Intruders" - Image
Hearing this again after another replay of Medulla is quite a shock to the system. I don't want to overestimate it, but considering the best of Medulla registers more now as a slight aftershock following in the path of Vespertine's earthquake, this was easily one of Björk's most exciting tracks in a long time. Electronic percussion horn-like clattering ringing from sonic wall to wall. And Björk's lyrics shoot off like actual vocal machine-gun firing, nailing beat by beat. "Turmoil!! Out there!! Carnage!! Trampling!! What is to do, but dig! Dig bones out of earth! Mud graves!! Timber! Morbid!! Trenches!!" If it weren't for the imagery of giants crushing everything in their path, I'd say this wonderously insane track is like a Björk party. Intelligently aggressive, sonically wild, and just interesting as the introduction to this still very strange and mysterious album.

2. "Wanderlust" - Image
One thing this album can boast that Selmasongs, Medulla and perhaps even Vespertine cannot (and if not, then let's say the majority of Vespertine) is that it feels right off the bat like an extraordinarily new Björk album experience. The horns return here and are perfectly incorporated into the crunchy remains of "Aurora": snowshoe over salt rocks electro soundtrack. Again showing the genius Björk and her producers are guilty of: the horns keep this from being just a "techno" album and the electronica keeps it from being just a jazz album. Anyway, this track excells more than anything because of the incredible lyrics and Björk's killer-passionate vocals. Whatever she's singing about here, this song in particular means a lot to her.

3. "The Dull Flame of Desire" - Image
Um... what was I saying about this album being a unique experience again? OUCH! This song tears us from the high of the first 2 tracks and... drops us into what feels like Selmasong's leftovers. First of all, Björk has a guest star here. Some doofus named Antony Hegarty. Why is this a duet? I have no idea. But I get the impression that he was the guy from Medulla's godawful "Submarine." I don't know what her intention with this song was but he completely takes over and I think he's terrible. He certainly sounds terrible paired with Björk (actually, he sounds like that guy Tiny Tim - the one who did that silly novelty cover of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" - with a cold) and this music. Which isn't even strong on its' own. The horns are out of control and the drumbeat is nice but doesn't get to raise above the horns, which need to shut up. Badly.

4. "Innocence" - Image
I think when anyone hears something like "Madonna" or "Björk will be working with Timbaland", they expect the result to be more like Aaliyah's "Try Again" than "4 Minutes" or this track. I don't know how collaborations with Timbaland typically go down but I'm crazy about him as a producer from way back (in fact, the singles from his '97 album with his rapping partner Magoo are some of the best hip-hop tracks of the 90's for my money- Busta Rhymes even stole the exact same beat from his remix of "Clock Strikes" for one of his singles). And I can't help but think he saved his best stuff for Missy Elliot and Nelly Furtado. This track is quirky in a good way but just has one very obvious line of attack and no surprises. Even Björk isn't exactly making this a knockout. I even wonder if maybe her voice was manipulated to step in time with the beat. A chipmunk'd Björk? ...(why would anyone want that?)

5. "I See Who You Are" - Image
This track is too quiet. And it seems to be waiting to come to life. It's quite a bit like the start to "All Neon Like" mixed with some of Debut's sound effects throughout "Like Someone in Love." However, the music is excellent and Björk's vocals are all over the place. Which means even though she strains a bit, she also gets in several really beautiful notes.

6. "Vertebrae by Vertebrae" - Image
Extraordinary use of layered horns (which I say to indicate that some of them are put to good use while others could be replaced with synth and probaby not hurt the song's vibe), some truly amazing (restrained) drumwork, and electronic steam puffing. Strange to say the real weakspot here is... Björk's vocals. And the lyrics don't stand out. Also, to cement the album's secondary theme of reminding me of her past songs- this has "An Echo, a Stain" written all over it. (Mixed with a little "It's Oh So Quiet.")

7. "Pneumonia" - Image
It kind of bothered me during one of the previous Björk album reviews when I had to mention a certain recurring instrument was being overused (I think it was the chorus I was bitching about on Vespertine) but I think I did it because it occured to me- Björk's albums used to have more variety in their production sound. And a track like this is a perfect example of where it feels she and her production team give up after they know they've got a few "Earth Intruders" in the bag. Give the horns a rest already. I think I'd be cool with any other instrument here- you won't remember anything else about this song. You'll forget you heard it after it's over and you'll probably forget you're listening to it while it's playing.

8. "Hope" - Image
Oh wow... if there's anything this album needs right now, it's a wind-DOWN song. Yeah, after "Pneumonia," what this album actually needs is another "Earth Intruders." What it gets instead is a lifeless collection of outtakes from "I See Who You Are" with a beat clearly designed to put you to sleep. Again, the album needs a stiff shot of caffeine, not another sedative.

9. "Declare Independence" - Image
The closest thing this side of the album will see to a wake-up call but at least Björk infuses this with all the verve it can stand and then some. She sounds kinda pissed. GOOD! The mix suffers slightly from more unneeded horns but there's a lot to make up for it. For once, I can say cymbals were an asset. The beat remains minimal throughout but it's a decent stomper considering how far Björk is willing to take it.

10. "My Juvenile" - Image
A bitter, sour, twisted, and totally unappealing sequel to "Cover Me." Just lousy. Antony returns. Oh joy.


In Conclusion
What should have been Björk's comeback was instead a further decline into an abysmal mess of experimentation. Björk was unable or unwilling to make an album at this point in her career and that hasn't changed since. Apparently, Medulla marked her publically-admitted boredom with producing and feeling there was little she could do with music. So, she launched into activism, charity work, starring in some weird little art film her boyfriend made, branching out into computer multimedia, and composing songs strictly for claymation childrens' films and for the purpose of raising environmental awareness. Any genius is entitled to unravel a little but around this time, I felt as though we just lost a great artist. Not because this album was that bad (it's merely a colossal disappoinment) but because for all her good deeds, does anyone feel like she was even there?


Overall Album Rating
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Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Earth Intruders"
"Wanderlust"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Declare Independence"

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Madonna (1983) (Original Version)

Tracks

1. "Lucky Star" - Image
I've actually never cared for this song. I recognize the style (which is where it falls somewhat flat for me personally) and how far it goes. That it really commits. It almost seems the obligatory intro song to tell the 80's: Madonna will be the Queen of Sex. Good for her; but the lyrics and the theme and the twinkling sound effects are just too cheesy for me. It's like a good prom song but still comes with the baggage of being a high school dance song. (Basically? This could have been performed by Jem or Saved by the Bell's ridiculous Friends-Forever band.)

2. "Borderline" (5:22) - Image
Still on the cheesy side but this is a better example of where Madonna's soul comes in. I've actually heard claims that people first hearing her couldn't tell she was white by "Lucky Star" playing on the radio. That was a funkier song. This is a more soulful track. Obviously not a ballad but pretty damn close to it. More importantly, with Madonna's screaming-to-be-taken seriously vocals come some really good 80's pop lyrics. This allows the song to rise above the cheesy of the silly teen-dream musicbox opening.

3. "Burning Up" - Image
For my money, this is the best "Hi, I'm Madonna: I'm going to rock your pants" lusty pop track. This thing bangs like mine carts playing bumper cars (even though the clap-track backing should be cheesier). The guitar wails. The churchy synths rule. The vocals are strong and unapologetically horny; the lyrics are strong as well and nail just as hard as the face-slapping beat.

4. "I Know It" - Image
More dated than a Mr. Wizard's World science experiment, and just as bubbly, but still fun. And, at least it was ahead of its' time, very much predicting styles Debbie Gibson and Teen Witch's fictional "Shana" popstar would later adopt.

5. "Holiday" (6:11) - Image
And this is ultimately why I never cared for "Lucky Star." This song has stronger beats, better lyrics for being such a universal theme (which means it could have been silly and disposable), and all around a much more eternal, dateless piece of pop music. I don't think I need to say anymore.

6. "Think of Me" - Image
Worth mentioning that this feels very much (to me) like "Let's Hear it For the Boy" but came first. I love both songs but this is bigger, louder, and harder. 80's though it is, and dated though it may be, this is a killer dance track. Impossible not to move to. More Teen Witchy sax (love it).

7. "Physical Attraction" - Image
Just a little too slow and too long (it starts dragging around 5:30, could definitely use a little tightening up). But still pretty amazing. Great lyrics and vocal performance. A lot of soul. And the breakdown around the 3-minute mark is incredible.

8. "Everybody" (4:56) - Image
Feels a little repetitious of "Lucky Star" and "Holiday" and another theme all too basic, so I have to say I honestly don't think this is a great dancefloor-call anthem. But this excells when compared to the closers on her next couple albums.


In Conclusion
Madonna's first album might be her best of the decade. In my opinion. It's the most fundamental "dance now" album. And while some of it clearly doesn't hold up for me, a lot of the tracks not made singles prove that she gave every track her all and so did the producers. Any of these tracks could have been singles.


Overall Album Rating
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Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Borderline"
"Burning Up"
"Holiday"
"Think of Me"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Lucky Star"
"I Know It"
"Physical Attraction"
"Everybody"





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Like a Virgin (1984) (Original Release)

Tracks

1. "Material Girl" - Image
If you ask me, it takes balls to make this track the opener on her sophomore album when "Like a Virgin" is clearly the more conventional radio pop hit. Somewhat tragically, none of the other tracks on the album are as punchy or hard-hitting as this; this is in a whole other category of hit for Madonna. Also, the lyrics are gloriously bitchy and shallow. During an MTV interview for Ray of Light, Madonna herself actually said she could never see herself performing "Material Girl" again. That's hardcore (of the song). This is pop as force to literally break (shatter the) ground (beneath it).

2. "Angel" - Image
The most dated single on the album but, hearing it again it has a quality that borders on ethereal and trippy. The water-drippiness is dated and Madonna's vocals are a little too soft (they're really not that dreamlike in my opinion) but the buzz of the underlying track seems ahead of its' time to me (I can't think of anything similar for the time).

3. "Like a Virgin" - Image
I give this points for being the most identifiable song with Madonna's fashion statements and image as a sexual pop-politician. But... man, I plain old don't like this song. Overplay is a factor. Also, I find it pretty sonically gaudy, loud, and ugly. It makes me more than a little nauseous. I don't like the drums. I don't like that angry caterpillar caught in the paper shredder synth-peppering sound effect at the beginning (that the track never lets go of). I'll give it full credit though because of the fact that it is powerful enough to seriously annoy me. And because Madonna's vocals are amazing. Especially during the infamous "woah-a-hoe-a-hoah-hoah" breakdown.

4. "Over and Over" - Image
I like this song. It's probably more average-at-best than I'm giving it credit for but that moaning bridge at 2:47 sends chills both up and down my spine. The rest of her vocals here are spotty and strainingly throaty but the music is solid, the lyrics are good, and just the fact that Madonna herself wanted to make this - in any other artist's hands - simple song something much more dramatic than you'd expect goes a long way to impressing me. (I don't plan on reviewing You Can Dance, but I feel compelled to mention that the remix version on that compilation is extremely kinky. Which is likely why a gay porn company actually at one point used it for the opening titles sequence in their videos.)

5. "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" - Image
I'm going to say I think Madonna's vocals are strong here (almost heartbreaking at some points). It's a slightly dated track and it's not an overwhelmingly endearing sad-song. But the music is very good. Especially the drums. Okay- and the strings. Superior to the 1994 Soulpower Remix which was the version that made it to the music video and was not included on the Something to Remember compilation.

6. "Dress You Up" - Image
I stand by what I said about "Material Girl" but that wasn't meaning to imply there aren't any songs as solid. In fact, this might be the best song on the album. (Why? Because) when she goes "in my love," it's just a perfect measure of how obvious it became that Madonna was the artist who would rule the decade and how eternal her hits would become (and how well they withstood criticism from political attacks from the likes of Tipper Gore).

7. "Shoo-Bee-Doo" - Image
This is a tough one. The beat and drums are fantastic. But this is one of her cheesiest openings to a track, period. The album is clearly recalling some sentiment from the old 50's jukebox pop and soul singer girl-groups. And that's plain cheese. Madonna's vocals however are undeniably passionate and bracing. So, in the end, I'm going to judge it by replay value and say that for me, this song has never had much. But I'll admit my bias against old-timey influences in 80's pop, I also never liked Cher's "Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)" or Phil Collins' "You Can't Hurry Love" - etc.

8. "Pretender" - Image
Again, Madonna's give-it-her-all ability saves this very lame track. But, I think it's otherwise irredeemably lame.

9. "Stay" - Image
More forgettable than "Pretender" but in a way, it's almost stronger. The lack of that track's truly nauseating bell sound is a plus. Overall, Madonna is trapped in a mold of popular artists in the 80's designing albums to be single-machines rather than conceptually consistent artistic efforts. I'm not sure this track feels that it has all the effort of its' predecessor. Oh yeah, and... more Madonna and chorus scatting. (There are no words for it, it's nails on a chalkboard to me.)


In Conclusion
Clearly, it's not as good as Madonna's first album but there are areas where it's as forward, classic, and powerful. Of course, there are also more than a few moments which come dangerously close to being embarrassing. Just my opinion. If this is indeed a wedding-song album, it's hampered by the fact that weddings are pretty damn embarrassingly cheesy by nature.


Overall Album Rating
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Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Material Girl"
"Dress You Up"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Like a Virgin"
"Over and Over"
"Love Don't Live Here Anymore"





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True Blue (1986)

Tracks

1. "Papa Don't Preach" - Image
And here's a good example of why I think the wedding-album theme of Like a Virgin was kinda weak: it was missing a song like this. I know the theme of (teen?) pregnancy doesn't exactly paint the picture of lovers' bliss but the music here is unquestionably lush and flowery in a classic wedding sense. But, even though this is also a victim of excessive cultural overplay, it holds up like it's still brand new. It's that good. The music is hard-hitting, the sentiment is not the slightest bit melo in its' dramaticness, and Madonna sings this like it's really happening to her. It's so potently emotional that it's heartbreaking for being so positive and morally responsible. The music is more than just lush. It is flowery but it's a flower with really strong thorns, not because it's bittersweet but because it's so sturdy. Even though it's an 80s' pop track bordering on a ballad and that trend was dominated by very machine-like electronic programming. Which is why it's important for the performing artist to take it into a more human place. Madonna might have had her bitchy side and played songs as weapons but she had a talent and intelligence that went beyond her sometimes straining vocals or tarty reputation. This song is a capitol example of it.

2. "Open Your Heart" - Image
This song on the other hand benefits from the machine-like electronic pounding that makes 80's Madonna sound like a vocal giant (and in my personal opinion, which nobody seems to agree with, Janet Jackson sound fragile and inflexibly robotic by comparison). Again, she's singing this like it's real and happening. Which, along with the pounding and beautifully heady stretched synth, gives this song so much power that I've always considered it one of Madonna's top 5 greatest 80's hits. I think in my 33 Greatest Singles video (in the Madonna Artist Discussion Thread), I slid it down. Because it's technically very melodramatic unless you're in her exact same position with your lover. Otherwise, you have to make something out of it which it may not be to plug into it. It's half a hopeful "treat yourself right" pop anthem and half an oblivion-teetering, hopeless "you're empty and alone you'll never make it" story. Which is exactly why I think it's so fucking good. How many other #1 popstars would make a single-ready song which has a strong current of: without drastic action, there will be no love- only loneliness for the rest of your life?

3. "White Heat" - Image
I haven't seen Dick Tracy but since I think Madonna keeps a torch burning for an influence after she's already started incoporating it into her music, I'm going to say based on what I've actually heard: this song is better than anything gangster-themed could be on I'm Breathless (we'll see when I actually get around to it). Aggressive and assertive lyrical imagery and vocal attitude (and I think the "I don't want to live out your fantasy" portion is one of the best emotional performances she's ever given in a song). This should have been a single and the fact that it wasn't might just make this Madonna's most underrated song.

4. "Live to Tell" - Image
I'm going to subtract a minute point for the fact that I think this became a signature Madonna ballad (therefore, the standard by which all pop ballads immediately were set to match- though for my money, Belinda Carlisle had a couple that came at least this close to perfection) because there was nothing like it at the time. Meanwhile, the fluttering tiki-shade tapping sound effect before the verses is a weakpoint in the mix. My opinion. However, where this excells is in the masterful lyrics which have a significant power to them. It's a song that rings very true. About secrets, what I can only assume is an adversarial relationship, anticipation of death, and emotional awareness. The song starts in a mode I would describe as almost schmaltzy but it progresses to become downright breathtaking (the "will I ever have the chance again?"s help a lot).

5. "Where's the Party" - Image
Much too similar to "White Heat" and not the best kind of dance track among Madonna's other 80's album fillers. But it's straight-forward, beaty, well-produced, and superior to the album's closers.

6. "True Blue" - Image
Another good example of the way to do what Like a Virgin's filler tracks tried to. It would make a great wedding song and as its' music video(s) proved- it's very apt at capturing the classic 50's malt-shop jukebox romance vibe. I like it a lot and I think Madonna's vocals are perfect. It's perfectly suited to both her soft lilt and her dramatic throatiness.

7. "La Isla Bonita" - Image
The people who claimed Like a Prayer was Madonna's maturity turning-point should be flogged. Mainly for being arrogant enough to insist this album wasn't mature. Dramatically, this song is more than exotically flavored. It's exotically minded and breath-takingly passionate. Lush to the point of burning imagery into your eyes and seducing the actual flesh of your ears. I'm fairly certain this song alone could charm a snake (take that any / as many ways as you choose). Adds eclecticism to Madonna's sexual-assault arsenal.

8. "Jimmy Jimmy" - Image
Nothing else to say: it's okay. But it's clearly "Over and Over" glued to "Where's the Party."

9. "Love Makes the World Go Round" - Image
Also easy to sum up: the music is just fine. But the lyrics are terrible. Is it heart-felt? I don't care. It's so tainted by the whole World Aid/USA for Africa trend going on at that time. Trendy. Meaning: dated. Almost painfully so. Madonna could have done better than this.


In Conclusion
Apart from a disappointing finish, True Blue is one hell of an album. Much better than I remember it. The edge of superiority still goes to Madonna's first album but this is a very mature album, musically. Artistically and otherwise.


Overall Album Rating
Image

Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Papa Don't Preach"
"Open Your Heart"
"White Heat"
"Live to Tell"
"True Blue"
"La Isla Bonita"





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Who's That Girl (1987)

Tracks

1. "Who's That Girl" - Image
Too much of a follow-up to, in the same vein as, "La Isla Bonita." But still a catchy and likable song on its' own.

2. "Causing a Commotion" - Image
Now, this song... this is very noteworthy for feeling like it could have been on True Blue and yet being better than any of its' filler tracks (other than "White Heat"). Compared to the best, "Where's the Party," this is important variety. Better still, it has my favorite lyrical/vocal moment in a Madonna song: "I hope you find what you're looking for." Another spine-chiller along the lines of "Over and Over."

3. "The Look of Love" - Image
Too glacial and emotionally barren. Also, the music is so loud- you can barely hear Madonna's vocals, let alone lyrics. But it's very moody.

8. "Can't Stop" - Image
"Where's the par-ty (where's the par-teeeeeee)"...


In Conclusion
New Madonna offerings are not best suited for placement on soundtracks. I'm not botherng with the other artists who contributed music for Who's That Girl. I'll just say instead that it likely would have been better to put these 4 songs on You Can Dance and treat that as an EP.


Overall Album Rating
Image

Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Causing a Commotion"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Who's That Girl"





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Like a Prayer (1989)

Tracks

1. "Like a Prayer" - Image
Instead of claiming this is a track worthy of comparison to "Papa Don't Preach," I think I'm going to say instead that this is in a different league. Musically, this is one of Madonna's best songs. Vocally and lyrically, this is all theme and no complexity. Not that that's a problem. It's "Holiday" for Madonna's spirituality. (Though in my opinion, this is also not musically daring territory for Madonna; Pepsi was only too happy to ink a deal for oodles of cash on an artist making a pro-religious statement. And, were it not for the cross-burning / racially groundbreaking music video, Madonna would have become a darling to the kinds of people she was meant to piss off.)

2. "Express Yourself" - Image
Obviously, this album version is not the version that became the hit. This one's a lot jazzier. It has energy but came in after a decade of better horn-driven rockers: The Eurythmics' "Would I Lie to You," Phil Collins' "Sussudio," Aretha Franklin's "Freeway of Love." Retains the same vocally dynamic power of the single version but it's just not the best version.

3. "Love Song" - Image
Extremely ahead of its' time. I've never heard anything like it. However, I wouldn't call it catchy. Nor very powerful. It's decent. Prince is here too. Can't think of anything else to say.

4. "Till Death Do Us Part" - Image
I would officially like to retract my statement about "White Heat" being Madonna's most underrated song. This counts as a very restrained performance but this is an unbelievably lyrically powerful song. And this time, I can honestly give it credit for trying to rock a beat at first that doesn't fit the mood of a relationship in flames. It almost feels like a cartoon soundtrack but this song is detailing what I gather is substantial abuse. Painful and poignant lyrics. A devastating and compelling piece of pop music.

5. "Promise to Try" - Image
I'm not going to lie: I just don't like this song. Madonna doesn't have the vocal range to even attempt a song like this. I don't feel the emotion. I'm not sure it's a total washout because I think Tori Amos could make this work.

6. "Cherish" - Image
Another song I'm not willing to call complex. But it taps directly and fully into the desired emotion, endearment, and musically is a gem. Perfect, balanced blend of horns and tamourine. Excellent drums.

7. "Dear Jessie" - Image
Now, this is the kind of flowery (pastel is another word that springs to mind) that could be silly or annoying. But, it's just lush enough to work somehow. The piano is especially beautiful. It's on the border, though, of being a Disney song from hell.

8. "Oh Father" - Image
Frustratingly, I'm told this song's inspiration has never been pinpointed by journalists or divulged by Madonna herself. Even though I was the victim of a tremendous amount of abuse and neglect as a child, I'm actually inclined to interpret this as a portrait of abuse upon the song's character by a religious figure. Mostly because Madonna continued to have a relationship with her father, so the line "I got away from you, I never thought I would" doesn't exactly make sense when we assume it's about her father. Also, the theme of taking power away from an abuser and giving it to the abused seems to point toward something institutionalized, like dogma is. Anyway, nobody I've run into knows what this is about but the outcome is perfection. Everything that went into the production of this song works.

9. "Keep It Together" - Image
Boring. (My opinion.) But the chorus (just those 3 words) is good.

10. "Spanish Eyes" - Image
Madonna's vocals are iffy and scratchy. But I think they work. The music is beautiful (although some of the piano, at the start especially, is unnecessary and some of the tropical flourish is overkill). The lyrics are very emotional. I'm guessing this album is as respected as it is because Madonna lived through a lot of these situations. There's some reference to war and I'll say it works better here than what was suggested in "Love Makes the World Go Round." The line "what kind of life is this if God exists?" is one of her most intelligent.

11. "Act of Contrition" - Image
An interesting outro. A beat made out of reversing sections of "Like a Prayer" the song. Clever. I LOVE the "I have a reservation / what do you mean it's not in the computer?" part!!! Madonna would go on to include sound effects and very small bits into the very end of a song but this was a legitimate joke and a very funny one.


In Conclusion
A very potent concept album. But in my opinion several of the parts aren't standouts, considering this does have the best reputation and is widely considered the best of Madonna's albums.


Overall Album Rating
Image

Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Like a Prayer"
"Till Death Do Us Part"
"Cherish"
"Oh Father"
"Spanish Eyes"

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<b>Twilight: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack</b> (2008)

1. Muse - Supermassive Black Hole (3/5)
Muse has always been hit or miss with me. While I like this song in all its sci-fi glory, it really is an odd addition to the soundtrack. No doubt that its inclusion is solely due to the author (Stephenie Meyer) stating she was a Muse fan.

2. Paramore - Decode (3/5)
This is one of the two original songs Paramore contributed to the Twilight soundtrack. This is definitely the better one. It's the track that captures the movie's overall moody atmosphere the best. A little too teenager though.

3. The Black Ghosts - Full Moon (2/5)
Boring and dull. No wonder I've never heard of this band.

4 Linkin Park - Leave Out All the Rest (5/5)
Linkin Park isn't exactly a right choice for Twilight, but this is the best song they could have picked.

5. MuteMath - Spotlight (Twilight Mix) (2/5)
I have to be in the mood to listen to this track. It's pretty generic rock/alternative.

6. Perry Farrell - Going All the Way (Into the Twilight) (1/5)
I hate it. It's just a plain ugly song. It's some form of rock/dance hybrid that's like nails on a chalkboard. This would only be a hit at a Twilight prom. 

7. Collective Soul - Tremble for My Beloved (1/5)
Another snoozer.

8. Paramore - I Caught Myself (1/5)
Noisy.

9. Blue Foundation - Eyes on Fire (2/5)
I only like the first 30 seconds of this song until the hideous vocals come in.

10. Robert Pattinson - Never Think (1/5)
Too mumbly. I wouldn't have imagined that Robert P's singing would be like this. It's very Twilight which isn't necessarily a good thing.

11. Iron & Wine - Flightless Bird, American Mouth (3/5)
This song is relaxing but drags a bit. Could be about 30 seconds shorter. It's your basic slow love-themed song.

12. Carter Burwell - Bella's Lullaby (4/5)
I really enjoyed this piece. It's a quick 2 minute sample of the score. It's soothing "thinking music".

<b>Conclusion</b>:
The Twilight Soundtrack is exactly like the movie, hastily thrown together. The album is filled with alterna-techno trash. I'm pretty sure there are fan-made playlists that will give you the experience you got while reading.

Overall Rating (2/5)

Standout Tracks:
Supermassive Black Hole
Decode
Leave Out All the Rest
Flightless Bird, American Mouth
Bella's Lullaby (only if you like score music)

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I'm Breathless (1990)

Tracks

1. "He's a Man" - Image
I don't think I'm being mean or even inaccurate if I say this is the Madonna album the world forgot. Pretty much upon its' initial release. If this track is any indication, I'm not surprised. Madonna is trying her heart out but she can't make them all winners. Furthermore, I actually have an attachment to later track, "Something to Remember," and this sounds too much like a carbon copy but a little faster and with a little more urgency and sass. There's absolutely nothing special here.

2. "Sooner or Later" - Image
A lot more fun than "He's a Man." A lot slower too. It's a more successful example of the genre of music Madonna's trying to tap into with this album. Her vocals are not effective as much as forced but the piano and horns are fantastic. In their laidback mode.

3. "Hanky Panky" - Image
Well... give the woman points, she knows how to shock with class and a natural finesse. No other popstar at the time would've dared to try a song like this, let alone had the conviction to pull it off. A light-hearted, quite funny S&M anthem about spanking. Yes, spanking. Vocal quality isn't even an issue, could you see yourself passionately singing this song in public? (YouTube it.) It's not exactly catchy but it's not bad. It's definitely more of a novelty tune rather than a legitimate dance track. The lyrics are very clever, which is a virtue of most of the album.

4. "I'm Going Bananas" - Image
After "Hanky Panky," imagine Madonna singing a song with this title and tell me what kookiness you think you might be in for. Now: double it. Fuck it, you have to hear this - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpVhzQDrbVo

5. "Cry Baby" - Image
Okay, now I have to blow the whistle. Too many silly songs in a row. Yep, this one's another joke. Madonna in full "Santa Baby" mode singing of absurd situations where her boyfriend bursts into tears over bugs being squashed, etc. Gimme Ke$ha's "Grow a Pear" instead. The horns are okay but, songs like this always make me wonder why the girls got involved with the guy in the first place.

6. "Something to Remember" - Image
One of Madonna's most musically beautiful ballads. Magnificently atmospheric, even haunting. Really fills a room; dreamlike. Touching vocals. Great drums.

7. "Back in Business" - Image
Seems a tiny bit reminiscent of "Don't Worry, Be Happy," but it also strikes me as coming ahead of styles K7 and Paula Abdul adopted years later. Even some trip hop. Oh, and that whole swing revival movement (I can just hear "Zoot Suit Riot" being paried with this right now). A really good song. Would be one of the best on the album except that it hits a patch that sounds like it's copying "Hanky Panky."

8. "More" - Image
I think it might be around this point where I really miss the 80's beat of her previous pop music. The right music was able to do something constructive with Madonna's vocals but, here, both her and the music are kind of boring me. The song does have a few high points though, around the half-way mark. The faster Madonna sings, the more words she has to juggle.

9. "What Can You Lose" - Image
Short duet. So, a short summary is fitting: the music is perfect. The singing... judging less on technical merit / merit of talent, I just don't like Mandy Patinkin's singing voice. Madonna gets completely lost here- they sing together and he stifles her.

10. "Now I'm Following You (Part I)" - Image
Another, even shorter duet. Really, nothing special here either. Nothing that different from "Cry Baby."

11. "Now I'm Following You (Part II)" - Image
Finally! A little beat. Sort of a remix of... the whole album, only mixed into the end of the first "Following"- starting as a record scratch sound effect. Of course, things get a little Pee Wee's Playhouse 1-minute in. But it is, in fact, more interesting than the last 2 tracks. And, also, sounds a lot like her duet with Nick Scotti from the next year's Nothing but Trouble soundtrack, "Get Over."

12. "Vogue" - Image
Doesn't help the album out a bit, it feels very much like a bonus track; the only arguable connection it has to the movie is the classic Hollywood superstar shout-outs while Dick Tracy is a period piece. Though, of course, it's one of the greatest dance songs in the history of music. Inarguably.


In Conclusion
Very much an experiment for Madonna. A lot of silly humor, quirkiness, sprawling sass, elegant sexiness. Unfortunately, that doesn't always make the music fun. After 7 "big band" jazz / blues / ragtimey numbers, you begin to yearn for the channel changer. There's strong material here but not even careful balance.


Overall Album Rating
Image

Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"I'm Going Bananas"
"Something to Remember"
"Vogue"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Sooner or Later"
"Back in Business"





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Erotica (1992) (13-track version)

Tracks

1. "Erotica" - Image
For some reason, now is when I feel duty-bound to mention that last album. This track feels like a thematic and artistic amalgamation of I'm Breathless's playful jazz and Immaculate Collection's ultra-sexed up, dark club afrodisiacs. Before "Gang Bang," which is a real callback to the awesome anger Madonna showed on this album (in various forms), this was the darkest track Madonna ever laid hands on. There's definitely no playing around here- she is whipping the culture for being embarrassed by desire and pleasure (of course, on the next album's "Human Nature," she whipped everyone for being embarrassed by this album- but, NO, the world did not forget Erotica, it's merely that gay men have to keep its' torch burning and we do). Meanwhile, there's no kidplay over the themes of subverting male domination or anyone refusing to let down their sexual guard either. Musically, this is a downright dirty, sweaty little bass-blaster. Set on re-inventing the definition of romance (or simply uncovering the hidden meanings) and love. And the power it has, dark and angry though it may be, can't be denied. It helps that the song, vocally, finds and masters nearly every different mode of personality-driven eroticism. Madonna even becomes a whole other character: dominatrix Dita. Soft and firm, harsh and submissive, on top of the beat, then going with the flow and almost getting lost in it. There's just a lot of truth in this song, up front and down low. Probably the greatest - and most convincing - song about sex ever made. And, damn, Madonna's found her vocal niche: whispering (she gets a new one every decade; on Music, it's doing an unsung narration at the beginning and end of every second track).

2. "Fever" - Image
The jazz really comes out here: silly horny horns. This was rectified in the remix used for the single and for the music video. A much better mix, so I have to fault the track for this. Also bad for this mix is... well, everything that makes it unique from the remix. What this really would have been good for is a filler track on Breathless. I always skip this track when the album is in the player but it's really not bad enough to do that album a disservice (also, it would have given listeners some notice that "Vogue" was coming). But now it exists mainly as a curiosity. (The remix is not hard to get ahold of with so many MP3 downloading sites out there - I implore you to get it, illegally if need be: just this once - I suggest mp3skull.) (Hey, it's Madonna+Co's fault for not putting it on GHV2 or Celebration.) It really seems this song exists in this form (musically, the weakest on the entire album) - as Track #2, no less - to soften up the album after "Erotica." Not that Madonna's lusty vocals make that an easy task. She's in great form, again. (Oh, and: the weakest on this version of the album. I've never known how to regard that remake of "Waiting," the rap interlude track: "Did You Do It?" included on the Explicit version. It's awful, the rappers on the track - it sounds like more than one guy - have no real skill and the lyrics aren't interesting. Whoever removed it for this re-issue was a smartie, now all they had to do was replace this track with the remix.)

3. "Bye Bye Baby" - Image
And this isn't a love album either. Another stripper-pole-lite track, on the quirky side. And I can't say with this one that there's any risk of the Breathless lethargy syndrome being repeated. Madonna's anger returns, in an equally interesting manner. This song is about a lover who gets off on making their partner cry. So, in a way, it's an empowerment anthem about getting the fuck out of there. And hopefully hurting the other person somehow before/in doing so. I guess this is where I suggest that this track is what hard dance music should look to for inspiration on incorporating substance in their beats. But, it works just as well if you don't think while it plays. There's some tinkling in the mix that makes it dated but, other than that, this is a perfect mix as a track. It also just has a really clever tone throughout. Sharp-tongued, longing, and a little irreverent. Madonna seems to be channeling another character in her kinda talk-rapping in the second half of the song. (This is one of the reasons why I never got the joke everyone else was making at the expense of "American Life"- that wasn't Madonna's first attempt at rapping. And, she's pretty smart when she does it. Not only are her lyrics meaningful but she does it in a fresh way.)

4. "Deeper and Deeper" - Image
The first true wild, reckless-abandon dance track on the album. It used to be one of my favorite Madonna songs - period - for a long time. Madonna goes gooey, though, for the first time on the album and I haven't decided that the album is better - or worse - for it. As a style mish-mash (classic disco, flamenco, hardcore "Vogue"esque early-90's dance), it's successful. But it also has a slight ballad quality to it. That's how emotional Madonna's performance is. She tries to blast this whole thing off, to make it an epic celebratory generational dance party. But with the lyrics (family love? um... o...kay...), it's more like she's just getting out some issues (good? bad?) with her parents. I can't fault the hard, excellent dance beat. But, I've never liked the lyrics. I don't even remember a bunch of 90's songs about parents anyway (even though I'm sure they were having a fit over grunge and alternative music, so it would have been relevant). Leave the parents where they belong, Madonna: at home. I'm sure they can find their own way out and, if they choose to dance, I'm also quite sure they don't want to think of their kids while they do it.

5. "Where Life Begins" - Image
So, this song is about oral sex. I think it's already been hip-ly criticized for being a cheesy metaphor but, yeah, these lyrics are purely tasteless. Ironic, considering how often Madonna references food and eating throughout. Nothing a lot to say: it's 6-minutes long and, except for the music- which is perfect, utterly embarrassing. Especially since Madonna's now moved on from a song about her parents (not that we have to take it as only that) to a song about where babies come from. Sexy imagery? No... no. (Now, mix the two: food and babies! I'm a twisted little cruller, ain't I?) If some girl really thinks this would make a good how-to for her boyfriend, this is her song. (Although, she's certainly right: everybody is talkin' 'bout dining out and eating in. People are hungry; we all love to eat. And food is more universally interesting than babies.)

6. "Bad Girl" - Image
And this is where we learn the problem of an album packed with songs (all but 2) over 5-minutes long. I guess I was wrong before- this song is lethargic. The sad, confessional tone of the vocals and lyrics does not mix well with the laidback, sprinkle-y piano ballad backdrop. Madonna reflects upon the sad scenes of her day and the song has almost no life to it. Even though it has a dance beat. Maybe that's the problem (though it feels like insurance to keep the listener from falling asleep). Not everything can be made to work by adding a dance beat to it. Or maybe Madonna's weak vocals hurt this (it's possible another singer could make this work). At least it has a point to it. She details bad behavior, subtly labels it as irresponsible (no, really- she makes most of her songs into her own stories and posits that this is her own relationship), and makes a case for it leading to an empty feeling in a person's life. Of course, now there's the alternative way to live. Which isn't mentioned. That's okay. Though, yeah, the song would get by on that more effortlessly with a better singer.

7. "Waiting" - Image
Here is where it's made blunt that the album works when it's more confrontational and multi-dimensional in tone. Not just sad, like "Bad Girl." This song even goes a step further and tosses out the dated stuff that dragged the album down earlier. This jazz / dance hybrid is so good that it is the standard; you can't mix the two without consulting / looking back to this track. It's also a better overall personal statement than "Bye Bye Baby"; more emotional and revealing (less so for the other person in the relationship discussed here). Both Madonna's singing and talk-rapping are used to spectacular effect. This is where she really strikes a perfect balance between assertive and vulnerable. So much so that she manages to be a little sad and not have to be ashamed of it. I couldn't say enough about how great the music is if I tried. WOW seems appropriate.

8. "Thief of Hearts" - Image
Holy... SHIT! I'm trying to replicate my original reaction to first hearing this song but, honestly: this is how I still react to hearing it (and I've heard it maybe 30 times). Cat-fight anthem? If it is, it's again- THE Cat-fight Anthem by which all others are now judged. Madonna's claws come out full-force here and they are sharp. Complimented by a grinding, ultra-nasty psycho-dance track decorated with smashing glass sound effects and Nine Inch Nails-ian gear-shifting (no, I mean heavy mechanical gears shifting in a way that sounds like scratching and it's like a note on the kind of anger you can see in a really pissed person's eyes and maybe their teeth if they show them). That's Madonna, for you. She's almost saying she's a wall, rather than Freida Krueger. She won't shred you into pieces, she'll flatten you. But also, I'll say the machine effect suggests a kind of technologically-updated spider web- a person gets themselves caught in a machine (like a fool who drops their necklace into an escalater). The lyrics are equally angry. And, I mean violent. And really, really pissed off, flushed with some serious aggression on Madonna's part. These aren't hollow curses and insults (and they themselves run the gamut)- she means business (several references to breaking bones). As well as being angry, this song and its' performance are TOUGH. Again: that's Madonna. One of the ballsiest pop stars who ever scored a hit song. Not afraid to be unpopular for a second in the name of tapping into something completely. I even feel a little sorry for "Suzy," whoever she is (the focus of Madonna's rage). Things got so bad in the story that there are police sirens in the mix.

9. "Words" - Image
Again, lyrics are a real strength here. This is a deeper take on the kind of bad romance of "Bye Bye Baby," obviously more focused on the language used in the abuse and neglect process. She mostly takes on his ego and this is where it's impressive how deftly the writing applies labels to "his" role in the relationship. The music is good, straightforward dance laid over the sound effect of a squeaky mattress going up and down (and / or its' rusty springs). The mix has a slight heady effect to it and, for whatever reason, this makes me think of rain a lot more than the next track. If sex always (in anyone's mind) leads to symbols of procreation, you could say this is a garden song. (I could see a music video forming in my mind right now- involving Madonna as a fancy-dressed, tea-sipping socialite, hat and all, with an attitude. Only, I'm seeing more pale off whites, pinks, and yellows than anything earthy.) Good spoken-word rap at the end (keep "isolation" in mind when you listen to this song a 2nd time).

10. "Rain" - Image
In terms of power and polish, this is what "Bad Girl" wanted to be. Also, this is what I meant before about the right music being able to make Madonna's voice into something that matches her musical reputation in pop. No hack Glee twirp could do better than this without taking it entirely away from the nuances of her warm but substantial attitude. The music mix also has a full visionary background setting of a mountain with a built-in moment of glorious emotional uprising (the same one you might remember from the music video where the board of lights all begin to switch on row by row). As well as more spoken-word magic. She's a far more poetic artist (in terms of performance) than she gets credit for. One of her best ballads, ever. Captures something in her voice that is uniquely hers and no one else's.

11. "Why's It So Hard" - Image
So... this is still Madonna we're talking about. And, girl has an affinity for socially conscious tracks. But when it comes to constructing them, they couldn't be more obvious and un-unique. ("Brothers, sisters" - that's the silly part - "why can't we learn to accept that we're different?" I think a lot of artists could answer that for you. And have that answer be pretty interesting.) (Another silly part: "Bring your love, sing your love, wear your love, share your love." I think Cher could get away with a line like that, though it wouldn't be me defending her.) However... the music is so hard and good (and not as flat-out dated as it could be) that the naive and childish lyrics aren't that big a problem. I merely mention them as someone who's always been particularly cynical of ultra-simplistic messages of unity in pop. Musically, though- yeah, this has as much drive as (let's say) Gaga's "Born This Way" (that song has better lyrics). Of course, En Vogue's "Free Your Mind" is better than both and still the standard. And George Michael's "Freedom '90" isn't too shabby either.

12. "In This Life" - Image
Remake of "Bad Girl" with lyrics about people dying from AIDS and the punishment element of social injustice. Good intentions noted. Sadly, I don't find it that interesting apart from that. The lyrics are far too simple to make a real statement. My opinion. A lot of people do find it interesting though and Madonna has used a lot of this album to get her personal stories out for the world to hear. I think she made her mark without me having to nod along with the rest. Caring doesn't mean you'll love this song. Although, the "what for?" and the "I hope it's in this life" at the end do have a lot of meaning in them; I did notice that.

13. "Secret Garden" - Image
I refuse to analyze this one. Maybe it's about having a baby. Maybe it's about vaginal pleasure. Hell- maybe it's about masturbation. I have no idea. I don't care. This music is so damn good, I might say this is the best song she ever did. In all 28 years of her career in pop. I'm biased since it's my 2nd favorite song. But, it's perfect. Whatever she's trying to say, she did it. This piano. This beat. These horns. All 100% perfect. All I can do now is pontificate upon the effect of listening to the music. I'll keep it brief. It lights up the dark. And, if you know anything about me at all, you know exactly what I mean by that. And that I won't leave it up to you to guess: I mean literally. Like Fantasia. Black matter is painted with electric streaks of pink and green and blue and red and purple and yellow and orange. The clear night becomes a hallucigenically cloudy day, rust and mold and dusty cobbed material melt into thin streams of ice water. Pretentious enough for you? This is one of those things you can't discuss. You can only hear it. And imagine for yourself.


In Conclusion
A sex and rage album with class. She takes the idea of eroticism and expands upon it with fascinating perspective. Emotions are challenging and complex. The concepts are formless, yet immediate. Unfortunately, it's not perfect. But who cares? This is one of her most important and best albums. Get it.


Overall Album Rating
Image

Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Erotica"
"Waiting"
"Thief of Hearts"
"Rain"
"Secret Garden"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Bye Bye Baby"
"Deeper and Deeper"
"Words"

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2012 4:00 pm 
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^I knew I couldn't be the only one that likes "I'm Going Bananas" lol

I really enjoy your reviews Lazario.

I'd really like to see what you make of Bedtime Stories & Ray of Light (:

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Christopher_TCUIH wrote:
^I knew I couldn't be the only one that likes "I'm Going Bananas" lol

I really enjoy your reviews Lazario.

Thanks and :D


Christopher_TCUIH wrote:
I'd really like to see what you make of Bedtime Stories & Ray of Light (:

Coming soon.

Very.

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Bedtime Stories (1994)

Tracks

1. "Survival" - Image
It's been a long time since I've listened to this album in its' entirety, but the contrast between this material and Erotica is very pronounced and drastic from the first beat. It's sweeter and much warmer. Of course, it had all that post-"Fever" time to adjust to Madonna's huge success with ballads: "Rain," "This Used to Be My Playground," "I'll Remember." In fact, this wouldn't be an album that showed any success with dance (poor, sexy "Human Nature" again) and this is easy to see since her next disc was a best-of ballads compilation (Something to Remember) which spawned 4 singles of its' own, all ballads. This track starts the album's trend of trying to capitalize on the RnB boom of '93-'95 (Toni Braxton, Janet- of course, Brandy, En Vogue). I can't say she can touch any of their best with this song but I do get the impression that there is still something very one-of-a-kind about Madonna's take on it. For one thing, when she talks about being an angel or a saint- she brings a lot more history to the lyrics than those artists could (well, except Janet). And, for being easily the oldest artist who worked in this genre, she comes off as naturally the most maternal. So, she glides through it. Like she was born to do it. There's not even the slighest hint of vocal awkwardness anywhere.

2. "Secret" - Image
This is a hard one to talk about. Because historians will only focus on how little this album sold. VH1, in particular, in preparation for Ray of Light did a very nice documentary on Madonna and when it came time to talk about this album, it received the shortest amount of discussion. But I remember this time, in the 90's. This song and this album were very popular with my mother, my best friend, her sister, her mother. We all knew it. If RnB didn't cause a sensation with mainstream audiences in the 90's... what did? So, I don't know if VH1 were lacking insight or what but- ask anyone, they remember this era of Madonna's music. In fact, they would likely also say Madonna was still the biggest pop star in music at that time. No small thanks due to this song especially. It's unquestionably one of her signature choruses, burned into the culture's collective memory. The song is truly immaculate. Dramatic, passionate, romantic. If Madonna was trying to cool down after the last album, she took right to perfecting her previous gift for unforgettable love songs. Because this is about as good as it gets. If love is its' primary focus and I'm not missing something.

3. "I'd Rather Be Your Lover" - Image
I always review albums as I re-listen to them. So, the song is playing right as I'm typing these words. For the first time since I decide to review it. Anyway, it's still been awhile since I've heard the album but I'm ready to call it now: this is the weakest track on the album. But, though it's not very strong- it's not even close to being bad. That's just about all I have to say about this one. There's a rapper guest star. Me'Shell NdegéOcello (who you'd remember from a couple John Mellencamp hits, but also had a hit of her own- "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)"). Capable of more but underused. The song's also a little too long. The chorus repeats incessantly (and unnecessarily).

4. "Don't Stop" - Image
Give Madonna props for predicting George Michael would kinda rip off the style of this album 2 years later with "Fastlove." Of course, if he was also ripping Erotica (or the remix of "Fever") off at this time with stuff like "Too Funky" and "Killer / Papa Was a Rolling Stone," he was far ahead of "Don't Stop." Can you even mix RnB and disco together?? Anyway, the lyrics are terrible and overall, this is just background music. I thought I'd have more to say on this one but, undoubtedly, the strongest material is after this.

5. "Inside of Me" - Image
Now, this is where the album gets interesting. Where Madonna begins to disembody from the Madonna we used to know, float far away from the grounded harshness of Erotica and any of her typical ballad-work. Ethereal is only the first word that comes to mind. Trip hop was an influence on later tracks of the album and Something to Remember's "I Want You," but this is getting very close to that. And, yet, it's even far beyond. I've never heard another song like this before or since. Someone has gone on record saying it's about Madonna's mother. Now, imagine someone's love for a mother or family member they were very close to put into song-form but come to life. This is another of Madonna's best songs. Ever. It really feels like it's a piece of her. The real Madonna. And what she's singing about feels like it's actually alive in this song. A living memory. Apart from that, it's indescribable. With all this in mind, this really is a much more attractive Madonna singing about life and love than the one on "Where Life Begins."

6. "Human Nature" - Image
Madonna has gotten political a few times in her music and, there is no question in my mind that, this is her greatest success. There isn't a single word here out of place, lacking deadly accuracy, or delivered without Madonna and her producer(s) knowing full-well that no one in music history was a more appropriate choice to talk about this subject. In this manner. This is an amazing moment of pop culture. A skillful, ultra-intelligent "fuck you" to the people who tried to browbeat her through highly sexist criticism. And Madonna would have made this song anyway if she hadn't released Erotica or Sex. If someone or something else had been the target. When she sees a wrong in the world, it makes its' way into her music somehow. But it's all the more amazing because, in these 5-minutes, she had her finger (and tongue) directly on the exact pulse of America and people were listening. Waiting for a response. Maybe not this response but it's so perfectly stated. Every word hits home. Right into the heart. It's like watching a person's replies during a live debate, only filtered artistically through song.

7. "Forbidden Love" - Image
Another one of Madonna's new and improved love songs. It's repetitious like "Rather" and "Don't Stop" but, right off the bat, you can tell it's got something potent. If it has a flaw, it's too short and underexplored. But that's because you really want more instead of wanting what fills the 4-minutes to be better than it is. The song is a tease but you can feel Madonna's lust turn to a witful longing ("rejection is the greatest afrodisiac") and a deep, poignant passion. It's maturity beyond maturity. Now, it's almost philosophy. And, musically, it's incredibly sexy. I'd say more about how it sounds but how many other ways are there to say "perfect"? I've done that a few too many times already.

8. "Love Tried to Welcome Me" - Image
Madonna would never do a song like this today because I doubt she would relate to the position the sentiments are coming from. She's one of those people whose reality is in-the-moment and usually the moments of a short-term past. But nonetheless, these lyrics are some of the most beautifully sad and, like most of the songs on this album, on the nose descriptions of profound loneliness I've ever heard before in pop. The music is pretty bare and simple but it's impossible to deny, if you can relate to these lyrics, that this song knows what it's talking about. Especially the section: "instead of spring, it's always winter, and my heart has always been a lonely hunter."

9. "Sanctuary" - Image
Another lyrically gifted song about desire and longing, another win for this extraordinary album. The beat doesn't always feel interesting but the song transitions brilliantly into desert-like poetry-reading breaks. Like in "Rain," Madonna's poetic side is invaluable. But all these lyrics elevate the emotion of the song into something heavenly without feeling heavy. It's a light song but every line has an overwhelming gravity to it while the music is atmospheric and airy. It's easy to see an entire picture in your head while this plays. And it's a love song too, so her expressions of endearment are touching in spite of the song having the same disembodied effect of "Inside of Me." It should be ghostly (and so, also, creepy) but Madonna's warmth keeps that from happening.

10. "Bedtime Story" - Image
Two Madonna firsts. Her first brush with both techno and trip-hop. Björk wrote the lyrics and Nellee Hooper (who produced a great deal of her solo album, Debut) produced it, so neither are surprising. I haven't found a way to describe trip-hop yet. This is another entire world away from the genres which used to be able to hold her in a definition. The music video understood the mood of the song was deep in water and a feeling or surreality. The lyrics are existential but aren't vital to the music or Madonna singing them. Unlike most of the album up to this point, Madonna singing these lyrics was important. Not this song. However, it's so exquisitely produced that Madonna's singing a track in a genre she's never utilized before is like a neat bonus.

11. "Take a Bow" - Image
...Don't make me talk about this one. It's "Take a Bow." We all know it's perfect already. What else is there to say? I don't think "This Used to Be My Playground" is all that great. That's got to add something to discussion of this superior ballad (right?). Babyface is here. Remember him? I thought not. (I don't either.) I think he was on LaFace Records (I just like saying "LaFace"). But maybe he wasn't. Great song. Everyone agrees.


In Conclusion
Stylistically, conceptually, politically, and artistically, this is one of Madonna's most diverse albums. It's also probably her best as it finds an immense depth without needing a gimmick and contains most of her best emotional performances as a singer (up to this point).


Overall Album Rating
Image

Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Secret"
"Inside of Me"
"Human Nature"
"Forbidden Love"
"Sanctuary"
"Bedtime Story"
"Take a Bow"

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:05 am 
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Great review! I've never seen you recommend that many songs. I definitely think this is one of M's best, better than RoL.

ps I had a feeling you'd rate Bedtime Story high lol my favorite song from the album and her best video

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Christopher_TCUIH wrote:
Great review! I've never seen you recommend that many songs. I definitely think this is one of M's best, better than RoL.

ps I had a feeling you'd rate Bedtime Story high lol my favorite song from the album and her best video

Thanks again.

Hmmm...best video? That gives me an idea.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2012 11:39 pm 
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You're very welcome!

An idea? Do tell

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Christopher_TCUIH wrote:
An idea? Do tell

New thread.
(Review a Music Video)





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Ray of Light (1998)

Tracks

1. "Drowned World / Substitute for Love" - Image
I have to be very careful not to call this album overrated (mainly because I don't know everything) but I think what I've always felt was off-balance about this album was that- yes, it's incredibly musically complex and rich. And this leads certain people to read the lyrics, which are very internal and personally, spiritually analytic, to claim that this then is Madonna's best album because they believe the lyrics make the great music mean that much more. Problem (which, don't get me wrong, I think is only minor for most of the album) is that... they're also sappy. And this track in particular is very minimalist with the music. The bass doesn't even blast that loudly during most of it. Which leaves you the intended abundant room to focus on Madonna's changing ways: the newer, 'more mature' lyrics. I guess they are pretty mature. But... where music and lyrics meet for me is tone. And, if there's one thing this track is really hurt by, it's - I think - that the tone doesn't feel more learned or dramatically substantial for all Madonna's heart-filled 'I'm not the same anymore' confessions. Plus, the old Madonna was still pretty great (leave it to her to think her fame, success, and many, many artistic achievements made her into a monster who was not doing so much good). Plus... ug, sorry to always bring it back here, but: her singing. How does the music make use of it? Turns her into a wishy-washy, over-breath'd cloud in the music's otherwise lovely blue sky of sophisticated techno. Was that intended as well?

2. "Swim" - Image
Same story, different music. Great music. Pitiful lyrics. Heavy-handed is a good way to describe them. I used to think "Man in the Mirror" was silly as a kid but Michael Jackson did this so much better 11 years prior. I could go into details about what lines made me squirm the most but, an "ick" or two seems more appropriate. Madonna is thankfully covered up by a nicer sounding, surprisingly subdued techno song than "Substitute" but give me BT & Tori Amos's "Blue Skies" duet any day. That actually had some significant emotion to it (apart from the fact that Tori Amos can bring down the house with her voice). Also, a compliment: the theme of water began by the first track is at least continued here. This could have been a good day-at-the-beach soundtrack but I'd have to press skip through the first two tracks.

3. "Ray of Light" - Image
Am I crazy for thinking this should have been the 1st song on the album? I'm sure some of her producers would have argued that this would put some listeners to sleep, had the bounciest material in the first half been bumped up to the front. But if the critics were so confident that this is her best work- why not shake things up a bit and place the earlier material at more random points in the middle and second half? Leading listeners to have to be challenged by the album, not to sit through it as a comfortable this-leads-to-that print out / cut out experience of spiritually relevant pop music? At least then the album wouldn't have been so obvious. Which I think is a problem. If you're trying to create a thoughtful yet intriguing album, should it be this predictable? It is, as an album. Of course, there's no faulting this title track. It's everything the album hasn't been up to this point: intelligently sincere, brassy, alive, vocally interesting. It's good dance music and a very good spiritual statement. Kind of like: get up and dance to find your place in the world. A world Madonna finds more open and more beautiful than she ever had before. Sticking to the dancefloor is how I think people could take her new persona more seriously. Instead, most of her singles were the sappier material. Which I think is what lead to the public just making jokes about her religious awakening and... frankly, she gave it up years later anyway and made stylistic rip-off albums with some extraordinarily crude lyrics. This is your new Madonna, peeps. Oh well... at least she made a few more great songs. This is one of them.

4. "Candy Perfume Girl" - Image
Now... this is what I was talking about when I said that Madonna's supposed "new" depth should lead to her producing something that might tonally feel burdened by knowledge. I'm going to put myself in this particular track summary and say this track feels like it's criticizing shallow qualities of pop singers/artists. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe this is something a world away from that. But a lot of songs are taken out of context because of the heaviness (or lightness) of the music's sound. This one is grinding techno full of lyrics that feel anything but sweet or bubbly. Hell, this could even be a piece of poetry creating a kind of mental purgatory for pop artists who should (and might) feel with their manufactured image that they're now trapped in a suffocating limbo of vapidity and hollowness. Or it could be Madonna being both critical and defensive of her old image. Whatever the previous interpretations of the meaning of this song, I have no doubt that it's really about pop music performers somehow. And I don't think the depth here is from a new Madonna. This is the old one, and [Insert Deity Here] love her for that.

5. "Skin" - Image
Another good example of Madonna using "Ray of Light" balance with her lyrics to inject meaning without making it feel sappy. The music helps this a lot. For most of the album, William Orbit and company have been trying to mix their techno into Madonna's pop. Which hasn't given her any edge. Until now. But he's not mixing anything: he's giving her everything. This is the closest the album has gotten yet to being full-on techno. The lyrics are also very catchy. And Madonna goes a little babydoll without having it be a big mistake. Though, I don't think it's entirely successful. In truth, this might be a more effective and evocative song without any vocals. As it stands, it's an attempt to bring back "Bedtime Stories" by having the listener go "woah- this isn't like the music she usually sings to." Only, that music was less compromised by having anyone sing on it. Anyone singing over this is likely to take away some of its' power.

6. "Nothing Really Matters" - Image
This also might have been a better candidate for earlier placement in the track listing. But, enough of that, this is a good song. I can't slam the lyrics even if they are a little "Reach Out of the Darkness" hippie-ish. Madonna has a point, this is the best use of blatant 'I see the light'isms so far, and, yeah- she really means it. (Well, she used to mean it. Her trying to sing this directly before or after "I Don't Give A" on her latest tour would be a little awkward for the audience.) For pop, it's sophisticated and nice. For dance pop... it might be more than a little 'I'm listening to this to feel like I'm deep, not because I'm deep already'. I mean, unless I want to remind myself what Madonna sounded like in the late 90's, I'd rather listen to the Spice Girls than a song like this. Almost every time. Just because a song is trying to have more meaning doesn't mean it will be more gratifying to listen to.

7. "Sky Fits Heaven" - Image
Madonna trying to use her limited vocal range to bulldoze some emotional power into this song? I'm not sure that doesn't work but one does have to question it. Whether she's found vocal strength she didn't have before or not, this is the first 100% perfect example of techno to come up on the album. Perfect in this case especially because it's created specifically to make room for Madonna (unlike "Skin"). And the lyrics are really touching as well as calculatedly mature. In fact, this does feel a bit like "Blue Skies." You could even say you feel like you're flying during the chorus. It's a dark, beautiful song that whips you with a refreshing coolness, the kind of coolness that reminds you that you're awake.

8. "Shanti/Ashtangi" - Image
Madonna's yoga anthem? Bonfire gypsy song? World wellness chant? Whatever it's meant to be, I'm not sure Madonna should be singing it. Not that I think I'm the right guy to review it. But I do usually skip it when the album's in the player.

9. "Frozen" - Image
I think the main reason this song became such a big hit is because it doesn't sound or feel anything like techno. This is probably the most pure pop song on the entire album. In fact, being such a clear ballad and so string-heavy, it could even be taken as a proper extension out of Evita that instantly reminds you that's the last album she did. Anyway, it's beautiful, dripping with soul, deep enough to evoke a blue-tinted grand canyon of ghostly passion, and probably her single best ballad to date. It feels every bit as alive and real as "Inside of Me" and this time she actually did tap into some vocal emotion that feels entirely new. She manages to truly float on this song. That's an achievement.

10. "The Power of Goodbye" - Image
The sappiest song on the entire album. I absolutely loathe it. I never liked it. Musically, it's trying to mold "Frozen" and "Swim" together into something better than the latter and as good as the former. It failed. Epically. It had something at the start. But fixing it would require more work than I think anyone was willing to do. Ditch the guitar, re-write the lyrics, get a different singer, re-floor the groove. Basically, remove everything that makes this pop. I don't think most of the other songs trying to be techno-flavored pop were a total mistake but this one is, unquestionably, in my eyes. Every element of it feels sappy and lacking richness. Technically, it's not awful but I still dislike it incredibly. One song had to take the hit for post-Spice Girls, late 90's bland-pop. And this one is like the leader and the groupies of blandess both in one. But, give Madonna credit, most of this song's flaws aren't hers.

11. "To Have and Not to Hold" - Image
This one is interesting. I think Madonna is beautiful here. Subtle, soulful. Her singing is even poignant. But the music is too quiet (maybe it's this quiet so we can really hear Madonna), repetitious, minimalist to the point of not being music at all, and a bad mix of additional sounds. The basic sifter-shaker sound is nice for awhile but it seems like sounds from previous songs are being recycled here. Giving it a feel far less unique from "Power of Goodbye" and "Nothing Really Matters" (to name only a couple) than it should have. And more guitar... does this need it? It's 5 and a half minutes and after it's over, you feel like you heard nothing.

12. "Little Star" - Image
Yeah, it's about her daughter. So, now it's like we have to view this as a New-Mother Album. Anyone else feel a little... if I'm not a mother (or father, I suppose), this won't mean as much to me? Or, what if I don't like kids? The music is certainly great, though. The producers probably saw that the album was starting to drag at this point. That it needed more bass and more funkiness. It gets both. And, it even manages to be one of the best songs on the album. But not because of Madonna. It's actually one of the better examples of the producers toning down techno, making it pop, and making it good pop as well. It's almost Moby-esque, actually. And not just because of the "star" connection. It gives you a full atmospheric range through strings and groove of musical nature and colorful electronic light. It has actual peaks and valleys of emotion without getting heavy. It's most like "Sanctuary" from Bedtime Stories yet extremely unique. This is all good for a song with so many overt, childish keywords: "dream," "star," "treasure," "heart," "angels," "shining," "butterfly," "love," "bright," "goodness." It's like this is a lullaby written for Lourdes by the Care Bears.

13. "Mer Girl" - Image
Calling all Björks. Calling all Björks. But here's another occasion where you have to note Madonna as cultural prophet because, though this starts as a clear rip-off of "Possibly Maybe," the rest of the song is actually exactly what Björk would do 6 years later on "Desired Constellation." The two are literally separated at birth. And, in this case, shockingly... Madonna's twin is better. Chillingly so. It's hard to describe this after trying to illustrate where all the patterns on the album start, peak, and end. Because, I don't think this song is like anything else Madonna's ever done. It's an immediate emotional gut-punch, knife-twist, and tear-jerk. It's completely musically subdued and not a loud song by any stretch. But it's pure, untouched, raw emotion. I'm not sure what kind. The lyrics aren't even poetic- they're some kind of reality. But not real at the same time. You could read the lyrics and think they seem pretentious but hearing them is an entirely other experience. And again, against quiet musical accompaniment. I can't tell where it comes from but this song's power is unparalleled (even by, let's say, Alanis Morissette's acapella at the end of Jagged Little Pill). Maybe for the first time on the album, Madonna is trying to use abstract words to describe her feeling of spirituality rather than cliches like "love is all we need." Or she's remembering that she's a real person underneath religion. Either way, the song's title gives the song an additional - supernatural - depth.


In Conclusion
The last truly inspiring and seriously challenging (for the right reasons) album Madonna would be able to claim ownership of. I won't lie just because the last 2 songs really impress me more now than they ever did before, this album is still extremely wobbly. Much moreso than Erotica or Bedtime Stories, despite the reputations of all 3. Madonna never just walks onto an album with a life perspective and lets it out of her heart to take complete control of the music, but she tried to here. Which usually doesn't work for the best. But she's a woman of tremendous intelligence, depth, and experience in many different genres of music and varieties of song. Even though the album ran the risk of being consumed by her then trendy religious side, she and her producers used a clear head to balance it out with other messages. What would a Madonna album be if it were all sweetness and light anyway?


Overall Album Rating
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Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Ray of Light"
"Candy Perfume Girl"
"Sky Fits Heaven"
"Frozen"
"Mer Girl"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Skin"
"Nothing Really Matters"
"Little Star"





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Music (2000)

Tracks

1. "Music" - Image
Last year I made a thread titled, "What Happened to Pop?" And I tried to expand it by asking what got us to the mid-to-late 90's bubblegum pop (disco? the 80's?)... but what I really wanted to talk about was: how did we get to Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, Rihanna, and Katy Perry? Was it stripper-anthem, comeback Britney? Or, Fergie? Gwen? Kylie Minogue? J-Lo? Or, as I've so frequently suggested... "Milk Shake" (Kelis)? No... It couldn't be. Something had to come before all that. Before The Neptunes and Linda Perry became superstar producers. Before "What You Waiting For," before "Milk Shake," before "Toxic," before "Play," before "Get This Party Started," before "Hella Good." Who set the world of aught "pop" on fire, forever changing the very definition of the genre and revolutionizing the sound of an entire millennium??? Madonna, of course, and a cute little Swiss weirdo named Mirwais. And how did they do it? With something Madonna calls "acid rock." Something us gay guys ate up with a spoon. Something with kick... and punch. Something that rips through the sound field like a video game with 'roid rage, slips your speakers a special variety of sparkling roofie and then packs an entire night of lovemaking into 3 minutes and 45 seconds. And after it's done, it wants to cuddle. But there's no mistaking the intention of Madonna + Company- this isn't crack for a nation about to undergo a decade-long political and social lobotomy. Listening to it now is much more akin to therapy. Listening to it then might have been a different story but this is all about body work, not blowing brain fuses. Yet, what it did to music itself... that is mind-blowing. Lady Gaga then walked in and easily took it over. Which I hope to sort of illustrate how over the next 3 album reviews- Madonna always has a crisis of needing to make music that feels more substantial than just dancefloor pounders (enter her folky side, which I'll get to later). But there's no question who did it first and... I think, did it better. "Music" still reigns supreme. Though it sure influenced a lot of enjoyable copycats (it's inarguable in my opinion that Goldfrapp took the cue for their 2003 Black Cherry re-invention from Madonna, and probably this album).

Not too shabby for an artist who "stopped being relevant in the 90's" (claim made by Goliath, not me).

2. "Impressive Instant" - Image
Okay... now that that's over, time to talk about the album. Which is another area of discussion apart from "Music" altogether. And, especially, the matter of how Madonna's previous spiritual awakening affected her image. Apparently, she feels that that put her in a box. And she was probably right. Could she ever go "Deeper and Deeper" again, just have a nasty, reckless night of partying with the girls? I'm of course talking about the music video. Relevant to this 3-albums-later era of Madonna because a lot of people were "Gimme More" taken aback by the "Music" video with Madonna as tacky fur-coated pimp in limo off to the strip club. Did it do anything to/for me? I was, as I hope most people were too, more focused on the fact that Madonna had to go to a club "for" gents to watch girls dance. If anything feels like, let's say, Katy Perry marketing at the start of a decade that would be defined by Madonna godfathering her praise for assanine crap like "Ur So Gay," it's probably Madonna flirting with the idea of being into chicks for the sake of a disposable 4-minute promo. (Let's just leave the pimp glorification to Snoop Dogg.)

Now, what did Madonna leave as a historical document in the wake of that ridiculousness? Playful club-ready techno with questionably goofy lyrics. After "Music," "Impressive Instant" is not really groundbreaking material. Not for an artist who let meaning guide more than half of her last critically lauded album. This album, thus far, is more noteworthy for saying 'screw pop'. This is way more techno than Ray of Light. But... is it all that good? Here's where the questionable part comes in. "Impressive" is goofy. And too light for the direction "Music" was suggesting the album might be going in. Which is why I made a big deal out of how great I in fact think "Milk Shake," "What You Waiting For," "Hella Good," "Toxic" and "Play" are- for a few examples. Goldfrapp, another. As an album, this was a stepping stone for Goldfrapp to become what this version of Madonna could have been. At max potency. Black Cherry and Supernature are what Music should have been as an album. When you compare "Music" to "Train," Madonna crushes. But, if you compare "Strict Machine" or "Twist" to the rest of this album... the full-force club-techno "pop" edge goes to Goldfrapp.

And it's so hard for me to put into words exactly what Madonna is doing wrong. Especially after "Music" mastered the Goldfrapp standard first. But, I have to try. Let's paint "Impressive Instant" as a galactic, cosmic portrait since Madonna brings it up herself. If this song is a rocket traveling through the universal blackness, a lot of what is being filtered into the mix are like bugs slapping the track in the face and getting stuck in its sonic teeth. The song has a great big bass bumper; this is good. The beat is like a proper rhythmic elevator, keeping the track in one sense up to par with the hard-headed pleasure of "Music"s production. But this elevator also has windows. And you're getting a lot of white specks ruining the clear view. I brought up Moby for a second in the Ray of Light review and, here he comes again: previous to the Goldfrapp standard, there was the Moby standard. Which I'd better explain quickly, since his "Porcelain" is kind of a relic of the Enigma, Deep Forest early 90's heyday of easy-listening techno (think Enya with a beat). He broke away from that with "Inside," which makes the difference between night and day compared to tackiness like "Sweet Lullaby."

Moby sort of followed in Madonna's footsteps after Ray of Light, using techno he started singing over to try and make himself a popstar. And "Inside" has a serious leg up on "Skin," which might have come first but didn't have the foresight to just kill the vocals and let the music's glory rain down, unanchored. Moby, with or without the samples, created techno music that mastered a deep mood and atmosphere without wall ornaments. What is Madonna's bubbly techno in comparison? Or, what does it feel like? It makes me yearn for the harder stuff. The moodier stuff. But, still, it's not the bubbly tone of "Impressive Instant" that's the problem. It's the little quirks in the mix, the noises I can't describe. The electronic tinkering with Madonna's vocals (which will be an annoyance throughout the album). Maybe even the silly lyrics. Do you feel like this music guides your heart? Or accurately captures a world gone out of control? I don't. However... some credit is still owed for this progression/digression of "Music" being something unique in itself. It certainly doesn't feel like anything on Ray of Light. It's not even bad, it's just too far away from "Music."

3. "Runaway Lover" - Image
Now, here's what I mean by the problem not being the bubbly tone. This song is a good example of how Madonna and Mirwais might have made that work (I say "might" because Wiki and my computer's CD player inform me the producer of this track was Ray of Light's leading guru William Orbit). It has a gummy, bouncy beat and some funny up-then-down mood shifting but it's cohesive. Every sound in the mix serves the track well. "Impressive Instant" had a great glass bottle scraping against a hard stone floor sound effect that I neglected to mention but, no real picturesque quality to it other than that. It could have taken place in the club from the "Ray of Light" music video or a spaceship as the window opens and you go flying out of it, hopefully taking an oxygen tank and astronaut suit with you. A train cart clanking sound plays throughout "Runaway Lover" and the beat moves very much like a steady skycar motoring through futuristic roadways. But bottom-bumping along the ride like an amusement park attraction. As for what the song is about, your guess is as good as mine. She's giving advice to someone involved with a woman who isn't her. And it's advice that seems to come at some cost to this person, if they don't follow it. The lyrics are dramatic but the music keeps it from being sappy (this is why I eventually broke and gave "Impessive" the credit for having something above the last album's lesser tracks). Give everyone on the production team of this album credit for Madonna's excellent singing here. Just excellent. Whatever the stakes of the emotion shown here, it's all aptly solid.

4. "I Deserve It" - Image
It's really, really hard to know what to make of songs that are musically and lyrically minimalist. Madonna seems to want to make a direct statement with this song and, so, it's sweet guitar and simple beat with no embellishment. It's her chance to tell a story, and as such- she doesn't want people dancing to get in the way. Fine by me. In that regard, it's an interesting diversion from the louder songs leading up to it. But, what about these lyrics? It's about "this guy" doing a lot of stuff for Madonna. Only 1 word changes with every new line. "Dreamt" becomes "danced," "danced" becomes "cried," "cried" becomes "prayed," and so on. I don't think that is very compelling. Nor the chorus. So, now the work is up to the music. Unembellished. I think the song is quite comparable to Esthero's "Country Livin' (The World I Know)" which is also about traveling and mentions roads. It's not as blatantly about an emotional journey, far as I can tell. But if you listened to it, I think you might agree with me that it's far superior. In every basic way. As for how good this song is, truly... it's just a decent idea. It probably even accomplishes what it set out, though I'm guessing Madonna expected us to be moved by the lyrics. I wasn't.

5. "Amazing" - Image
A springy, Odelay-esque companion piece / sequel to the Austin Powers soundtrack offering, "Beautiful Stranger." And... I love it. Always have. It's a great ode to hard-felt crushes, but specifically- crushes on boys. More about the crush than the features of the boy that are making her some kind of sorry for coming across him. If it were about the crush, men who crush on women might relate to it as well with a gender switch in the lyrics. But this one's about boys. And, since the power dynamic in an attraction is more prevalent when it's an attraction to a boy (great word, by the way), this song's lyrical mood of longing strikes a chord. As a dance song, it's very grounded. But with the hint of intense desire attached to the theme of, yes, a crush on a boy- it's dreamlike. Or, maybe nightmarish. That's all I can say. The rest comes with what's inside of you. When I owned this album, I had the biggest crush of my life (I was 18 at the time). Still never experienced anything like it since. I think the actual intensity level of any crush comes down to the person with the crush but I promise you, there is nothing like the feeling of having a crush on a boy. The vagueness of the details of Madonna's relationship helps this become a definitive crush song. On boys. [Insert Choice Smiley Here] Unsurprisingly, this is another William Orbit track.

6. "Nobody's Perfect" - Image
No comment.

7. "Don't Tell Me" - Image
So, in a way the fact that Music hasn't produced another "Music" has been pretty sad. Nearly the entire album after that song has been ballady techno trying to open up a sonic valley of thought, feeling, and being. In a way, it's been more successful at musical experimentation than any of her 90's albums. I alluded to outer space before with "Impressive Instant" and sky transport with "Runaway Lover" when... maybe I should have been focusing below that. It's wholly possible that the future is really at ground level instead of above. Music's cowgirl album cover and interior barn strawloft artwork suggest this is an earthier meditation on existentialism. The lyrics have a hearty meaning about what appears to be evidence of soulful aspects in life, with accompanying farm / outdoor imagery ("rain," "sun," "crow," "calf," "wind," "open mouth of a grave"). Potentially rich or heavy-handed; haven't decided which. The music is engaging. Intentionally western-themed, in as much as Madonna + Co can get it to evoke the country. This is a real scarecrow's dancefloor ditty. The strings are a lush callback to "Frozen." Really classy decision. The lyrics are the only area of the song where I have to pull back a little from giving full excellence points. It almost sounds like a kind of country sermon which Madonna is trying to insert a little funk into. But I think we've had enough religion on the dancefloor to last a couple albums now. Otherwise, the song's crop is well-grown.

8. "What It Feels Like for a Girl" - Image
Even at #8 out of 10, this has been a very interesting album to arrive upon a winding-down point. But this one really feels like it's getting ready for bed in its' autumn sunset. Even though there's a lot that goes on in the night, the effect of this track's groove is a pronounced, reverberating upper-body yawn and starry, horizonal nature-bed blanket roll with Madonna fluffing the pillows. It's a big, hazy do-not-disturb note with only the lyrics to tell you that you need to keep your eyes open. Maybe it's producers' Guy Sigsworth and "Spike" Stent's attempt at making you feel warm and cozy as Madonna makes her very emotional plea for men to put themselves in a woman's place and see life through her eyes. The lyrics are incredibly real and heart-breaking in their reduced capacity (especially "when you're trying hard to be your best, could you be a little less?" and "strong inside but you don't know it, good little girls they never show it"). Though Madonna could never convincingly hold anything back, so she has her producers do it for her. She's never been believable in her occasional babydoll moments. But, somehow, she almost gets away with playing cowgirl-songstress, earth-mother, and preacher wrapped into one. This time, she has a very important point to make. Too bad this will never be the ultimate anthem of understanding between the sexes, it's merely a good intention with well-chosen words. It never had any hope of being an as-is single, so it was remixed bombastically (and I mean that in the sense of an actual bomb) and given a banned-from-Mtv, Prodigy rip-off ("Smack My Bitch Up") music video as promotion. I think just making it danceable would have sufficed. Change its' atmospheric gears from sleeping-under-the-stars lullaby to outdoor summer-fair, sparkler teaser and firework blaster. The gap this opportunity left open only gave delusional tarts like Katy Perry the go-ahead to leap in front of the camera and pose for summer season radio cred, saying nothing about anything real.

9. "Paradise (Not for Me)" - Image
I guess I was wrong that this album was about to go to sleep. Here's another example of where Madonna and Mirwais are taking the acid tearing effects of the techno and trying to use it to emotional ends. This is an extremely vulnerable and internally surgical song. Madonna might be airing out her woes with the emptiness of celebrity life (I'm refering to the one underneath the image), which would explain how a line like "into your eyes, my face remains" fits into the context of "your paradise is not for me." Meaning- her life isn't what you expect. And not that she is rejecting paradise but that the ideal of fame and fortune is not created by those who step into it but by those who imagine it. It's kind of the "Candy Perfume Girl" of this album, only a little more sad in tone. I'm pretty much convinced at this point that it's about being a celebrity. Musically, it feels like a damn smart commentary on different cliches of techno as reflection of paradise. Being peformed by an 80's pop superstar makes it all the more perfect. You can't really fall into this like a river of soft clouds or ride it like a breeze that takes you away. Its' gates are closed for a reason. Mostly because Madonna is about to crack. She's been in top-shape all album long, so far, and now it's time to give her a break and whip out the vocoder. Unless you demand that this song deliver electronica as stunning as The Orb, she is the only flaw here. The techno ranges from googly tropical riddling to lava-lamp cooing to static dumbwaiter crawling to the actual beat. Which is very bored with itself.

10. "Gone" - Image
As a closer on the album, "Gone" is a revelation. Overflowing with personal meaning. A witting cap over whatever the previous songs have let out of Madonna. Not magical. Not likely to get anyone's eyes wet. Not that it has to be. It falls a little into the "I Deserve It" trap. Lyrically too simple, musically too bare. What music is here stands firmly and has a presence, so there's not much chance of repeating of "To Have and Not to Hold." Of course, in the trade-off, that song was a lot more lyrically complex and vocally beautiful. Put these two together somehow and you'd have one strong horse. Short song, short ride.


In Conclusion
Selling out might not be her thing but her changes and reinventions are always abrupt and often startling. When you get even the slightest impression that Madonna is not completely happy, the music in turn becomes some of the most interesting ever available at a single point in history. It's like whatever sense of nature exists within the industry begins to respond. She doesn't have to be merely angry or sad for this to happen. She's one of the only artists whose heart and soul actually impact the culture at large. Of course, this album's visible international / universal legacy still mostly hinges on one song and the cowgirl fashion trend she implemented between the "Music" and "Don't Tell Me" music videos (especially the latter). Like always, Madonna really tries and spills out everything inside her among this collection of almost bizarre songs. But this time, after 3 slam bang artistic successes, the music supporting her isn't uniformly strong enough to fill the plate of a Madonna album. Of course, it's not her first nilla album. But it is a high-profile project relying on what was then an unnurtured trend. And she chose to trust the trend to be strong enough and really jumped out the plane with Mirwais wrapped around her like a parachute. Only, being full of holes (perhaps because producers have to compromise somewhat when working with a serious artist), her descent is not as smooth or graceful as it could have been. Which is why William Orbit is such an appreciated collaborator to return for a small stay in the production. Imperfect though it may be, the album really is interesting and deserves careful consideration. I gave it my best. I'm sure I won't be the only one.


Overall Album Rating
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Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Music"
"Don't Tell Me"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Runaway Lover"
"Amazing"

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Last edited by Lazario on Sat Jul 28, 2012 9:57 am, edited 1 time in total.

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American Life (2003)

Tracks

1. "American Life" - Image
Madonna's done politics before. Although, never this... badly. However, and however odd a choice for this to be lead single off the album, the political relevance of this song was made perfectly clear in the AMAZING director's cut music video. The music video which took everything I sensed was inside "Candy Perfume Girl," dressed it up in camouflage war gear, and blew its' psychotic mushroom cloud at the fashion awards. Tanks, grenades, and dying children in your face. Under the guise of it looking like Madonna was trying to rock yet another new fashion trend. Not our Madonna. But this was the music video. One of the greatest pieces of art of the last decade. What did the public do in response? Well, they didn't see the uncut version of the video unless they watched it online. But in response to the song, they sat back - ever-widening asses in reclined position - and laughed at Madonna for "trying" to rap. But this isn't a rap song. It might have been a good piece of war'hop if, for example, there hadn't already been so many war themes in 90's rap (I won't even bring up Master P's No Limit Soldiers... for the time being, at least). It is somewhat compelling for being an ugly piece of quasi-pop. Mirwais is back, given reins over nearly the entire album this time, and has toned down his sound from Music. Or, refitted it to a more radio-unfriendly hip-hop from hell while Madonna strums away on the guitar. Not good. Neither is ready to commit, because the former especially has potential. And, now we arrive at lyrical content. Madonna could do this. She could make a song about us, our land, our apathy to the suffering of others and inability to act to defend ourselves... from ourselves; she didn't have to do yet another celebrity-tired anthem. Basically- she confronts nothing, indicates no passion, and suggests no change. Is she confronting herself and the hollowness of her lifestyle? I'm not sure. I know one thing, and the public weren't wrong on this: nobody wants to hear Madonna talk about trainers, butlers, stylists, or yoga and pilates in her music. It's a sizeable mess. But... the beat's not exactly terrible. Just not what it wanted to be. Okay, I'm getting tired of settling on that term; what I mean is- this beat would work for another artist and in another context (or none at all). Perhaps even well.

2. "Hollywood" - Image
Another attempt to address the nothing's-right-here state of America by going after that capital of glamorization, posing, and exploitation: Hollywood. And, since it's a real pop song this time, it's easier to summarize. It's another "Candy Perfume Girl" clone with meaningless, painfully bad lyrics. But the music's okay. Madonna can surely do something more potent with such a meaty subject than a song about psychic visions after smelling the air of Hollywood while driving top-down in her car, sun shining. It's about naivety? If that's true, the song itself couldn't be more naive. A line like "how could it hurt you when it looks so good" should have some impact. It's the most interesting piece of the song and completely unsupported by any real confrontation with Hollywood, just like "American Life." So, it's more about driving in your car and wanting to change the world's channel when you look around and know what you see is wrong. Nobody needs a memory flashback to remind them or psychic vision to tell them Hollywood's messed up. So, maybe making this a "sunny" pop song with wormy, techno undertones of "distortion" was a bad way to go with this.

3. "I'm So Stupid" - Image
Well: hello, hello! Hi, Madonna. The Madonna *I* know. Hi, substance and depth. We missed you. For the first time on the album, Madonna actually confronts something. And, for my money, this is everything "American Life" and "Hollywood" wanted to say but couldn't. Or wouldn't. And because it's Madonna, when she says she was wrong having invested in the phony package deal sold to her through the mass processed ideal of the American dream, it means something. Actually, this is like a little bit of that "Human Nature" sharpness returned. Because, again, who's a better expert on what pop, TV, marketing (etc) is than Madonna? Better still, she's not afraid to condemn everyone for the behavior that got us all to that point. In context, it's easily the best song on the album. It has the most courage and takes on the biggest target. Lyrically, it covers all bases as well. In its' capacity as 'what do I have now?' realization wake-up call. It looks to the inside first yet also bashes "the pretty people" for being figure-heads / puppets making greed and empty promises look attractive.

4. "Love Profusion" - Image
More guitar... yippee. Bland guitar. Bland beat. Bland lyrics. Bland song. Worst of all, I can't dock it any points because it tries harder than "Hollywood." A lot harder. But, is it any better? No. Not at all. In fact, "American Life" is superior. And that's sad. I should probably apologize for not even trying to examine this song for meaning but... this music is just bland.

5. "Nobody Knows Me" - Image
Not as lyrically ambitious as "I'm So Stupid," but thus far the only other legitimately good song on the album. This time, the beat is incredible. The music is excellent. There's even a chance several people listening to this will get up and move around while it plays. Hopefully, enough of the general public got to hear it. Why "Hollywood" and "Love Profusion" were chosen as singles over this and "I'm So Stupid," I will never know. I do feel a tiny disconnect over a lyric like "I sleep much better at night." Madonna has some right to gloat, she is smart enough to recognize a "social disease" when she sees one. But this song does border a little on 'I've learned how to be happy' even though America at that time was being lowered wholesale into the boiling pits of hell. However, it does begin and end more as a message about self-empowerment. Not just as statement of 'we don't have to take this' but also as self-esteem affirmant. After all, the Bushes didn't just send Americans to war overseas- they also threw more logs on the fire of at-home American social issues, making us turn more on each other over things like not being white, straight, and male. But, also, the song is very mindful of Madonna's own life in a way "Hollywood" was not- trashing tv and magazines.

6. "Nothing Fails" - Image
Okay, this time I really am seeing the underlying meaning of this sappy, guitary hip-pop (a kind of recurring motif of the album, along with the guitar) ballad. I know it has a heart and maybe even a brain. But... it is pretty bland. It's one of those songs I expect Madonna herself is particularly proud of. It feels like the kind of song that only the artist who penned it could love. I mean, truly appreciate. No... I really do mean love. It's more than a little "Like a Prayer"ish. It suffers entirely from not being unique. Strike that- it's a lifeless rehash of her previous work. Neither the guitar, beat, nor vocals grab me in the slightest, emotionally. Or in any other manner. But I know she's trying. Though what it feels like is a reminder that good things in life exist underneath the album's context of screwed up things in the then-current culture. Did we need one? (Since I mentioned hip-pop, this might be a good time to say that anything on Hooverphonic's The Magnificent Tree album might give you a better dose of cool spirituality than this song.)

7. "Intervention" - Image
Well... Madonna has fully transformed into a dancefloor hippie. But, give her credit, it's livelier than it should be and one of the more emotionally stirring songs on the album. The guitar won't put you to sleep. I might even call it a strength in the mix. The beat is very dull but Madonna's passion for this song in particular overrides that. This would make a better rock song than a pop song. As-is, it's a nice surprise on the album.

8. "X-Static Process" - Image
You've got to be kidding me.

9. "Mother and Father" - Image
There's one great nugget of quality in this song. The "I got to give it up" section. This used to be one of my favorite songs on the album (and one of only 3 songs I liked). It's probably also the only truly challenging, dark, and difficult to grasp song on the album. Because, it's basically a rap song about wanting something but having nothing except old demons. Madonna airs more parental dirty laundry and at some point while telling the story of her mother's death, she casually sings that she's lost faith in Jesus Christ. Yeah... awkwaaaaaard. Is there anything wrong with what she's trying to do in this song? No. This, of course, doesn't mean singing like Courtney Love on helium or rapping mostly as though she were still a child is actually a good way of getting anything across. Let alone the heavy stuff she's trying to. Meanwhile, the beat is excellent. It's just a really hard song to get through. For the wrong reasons.

10. "Die Another Day" - Image
No doubt Madonna had something fascinating in mind when she name-dropped Freud. But does she avoid cliches with this song at all? ...More like lean to the side as they fly through the air like pies being tossed at her in succession by a batting cage baseball launcher. They don't all miss her but the spectacle of seeing her rhythmically duck and dodge is amusing. Given how trendy all her workout routines and fitness crazes were with the media rage at the time, I'm guessing this song is about "quitting" and how she was still a force to be reckoned with in pop. I think she was but, overall, this album has been burdened with social conscience-itis. The kind of thing that made "How's It So Hard" such a relic of its' time. The fact that her good social issue songs usually come 1 or 2 to an album. Even though they're in service to trying to make her look hot, the lyrics here are still pretty smart though. You could easily re-interpret the song to mean any one of the things scribed in each new "I'm gonna" line. The music's pretty above-average for its' time. Though no "Music" by any stretch, it's one of Mirwais's most endearingly, naturally danceable, compositions. But... what the hell is with the "Papa Don't Preach" strings? Strings, I get. They're lovely. But, these are just about lifted directly from PDP.

11. "Easy Ride" - Image
Only a slight touch better than the ultra-blandness of "Hollywood," "Love Profusion," and "Nothing Fails." The beat is excellent. The lyrics are more meaningful. So, it's not that bland. But it is certainly not unique or energetic. And it takes energy to make a song about soul-searching. The song's soul searches and only the music really finds anything. The lyrics would work better as a poem and the song would work better with no vocalist. Although, if that happened, it might then become background music.


In Conclusion
The flaws of this album are many and varied. Sometimes the music just bites. Sometimes the lyrics can't communicate any of the rage or intelligence that is likely being suggested by Madonna and the people behind her who know what she's talking about. Not that the lousy themes of a song like "Hollywood" are hard to figure out. The album is only really worth a look to see how great a mere couple of songs are. The rest is bland, functional dance-pop. But, and this is the album's great tragedy, dance-pop trying to artistically ascend to cross-genre hybrids with small samplings of folk and hip-hop. A failure that tries, and deserves the requisite points for the effort, but a failure nonetheless.


Overall Album Rating
Image

Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Nobody Knows Me"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"I'm So Stupid"
"Die Another Day"





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Confessions on a Dancefloor (2005)

Tracks

1. "Hung Up" - Image
So, before I knew this song used an ABBA sample, I thought it was pretty damn clever. But, I've also never heard that ABBA song on its' own. Surprisingly. The fact that it's one of Madonna's biggest singles since "Ray of Light," and maybe even bigger than "Music," makes this an important issue. Some critics have paid this barely any mind. But for me, I couldn't ignore for a second that Rihanna's "Don't Stop the Music" is 50% Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." It still drives me crazy, because it's half perfect and half entirely creatively bankrupt. And there's Will Smith's "Will 2K" being 50% of "Rock the Casbah." Granted, that one probably annoyed more people since Michael Jackson has been a cultural pariah for almost 20 years and in Madonna's case, ABBA are just a pinch close to being obscure under the mainstream microscope if you disregard "Dancing Queen" and Mamma Mia (yes, the movie). So, with my being too lazy to look up "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" on YouTube for comparison, I'll just say the song's monster bass and catchiness (which Madonna mostly owes to ABBA- naughty girl) are its' best attributes. It is a great dance song and this is clearly a dance album. So, this is all that should matter. However... lyrics. They often matter to me. And here, they are much too simple. As well as entirely meaningless. Am I wrong?

2. "Get Together" - Image
Pretty damn close to being the best new-millennium Madonna song after "Music." I don't even care if this copied, for example, Stardust's "Music Sounds Better with You." I only ever half-loved that song to begin with. The track's exotic haze is like a net. Musical humidity. You can feel it all over your skin. Only, of course, it's more pleasurable than that analogy. With one caveat. Madonna's voice being raised high enough to match the music's pitch level. There are likely about a dozen or more reasons why Madonna the singer has to be criticized so much harsher on all her work starting with this or American Life. My guess, other than the fact that I agree, is that this stems mostly from her music never being as heavy as this before. Yet, every album from this point on has been trying to bang your brains out. Of course, this album has the best excuse. It is the soundtrack / storybook to (let's say) an evening at the club. But when you raise Madonna, you realize - unless she's singing about something as serious as sexism or war - that she's got anything but a golden, angelic voice. Then, you pair her at max volume with music like this, it at least makes you think that she's running out of breath before she can get any words out. Still, the music's dazzling.

3. "Sorry" - Image
DAMN! Finally, Madonna gives a better vocal performance and... now I don't like the music. No, really. I've never liked this song. Madonna's rattling off "sorry"s of different languages is tacky. The chorus and most of the rest of the lyrics are repetitive. And, over the course of the full 5-minute version (mercifully, I usually listen to the 3-minute single version cutdown), the repetition becomes distorted and starts swirling around your head like the bugs in the foggy woods when Rabbit gets lost in Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too. However... I don't think it's really bad, perse. I just personally skip it whenever possible. Because I can't stand it. Thank god for CD burners and mix tapes.

4. "Future Lovers" - Image
My favorite song on the album. Oh, and I just found out Mirwais produced it. He shows up for 2 songs here and this was one of them. I'll need a few weeks, maybe months, to get over the shock. Basically, he pulls a William Orbit as seen on Music, comes in out of nowhere and steals the show. After American Life failed to argue that he was barely more than a one-hit-wonder, I'm now required to say this: sneaky little devil!! If you've heard it, you know Madonna is poured over the musical intro as disembodied voicebox (as in, over your workplace loudspeaker / PA system) and gives a speech that might have been better placed right at track #1 about forgetting world problems in favor of either love or dancing. This time, I have no clue what she's singing about. Not even a theory. All I know is this is heady and trippy. The kind of dance music I like. Something heavier than your then-typical Britney and Christina fare. Also, love Madonna for always pushing the idea of the sonic envelope. Ray of Light had a few damn fine pure-techno compositions but it could never have imagined an album as big as the sound has been so far on Confessions. Same with Music. (But, again, I hope I made this point well enough in both my Ray and Music reviews: it's possible that Madonna herself held them both back somehow.)

5. "I Love New York" (Continuous Album Version) - Image
You might be wondering what that label above means. It means there are two different versions of the album. One version has all the songs blended together in one huge continuous song. The other version has the glued pieces sticking the songs together removed and the beginnings and endings separated. Which you see on most albums. The continuous version of "I Love New York" is a different-sounding mix throughout. The entire mix is different. Anyway, enough of that. Nobody cares. How is this song? I don't like it. As a love letter to NYC, I can't help but say it's pretty dumb. Madonna's attitude is insulting, her rhymes are childish and more than a little special-student (if you get my meaning), the music kinda sucks uniformly, and she reduces the potency of a Bush criticism by criticizing golf (too easy a target, besides- who cares about golf?) and insulting Texas. I've never been to either NYC or Texas but I'm pretty sure Texas is a beautiful state with a lot to love about it (just short of the dipshits who make it a red state). This is not the kind of dance music I like (seriously, this is just noise) and it's really not the kind of Madonna I like. This feels less like a song of pride and more of a song with a grudge. And if it's an anti-Bush type grudge, it needs a lyrical re-write. Post haste.

6. "Let It Will Be" - Image
In the interest of not having to start suggesting the album is sinking into the bog of mediocrity, I'm going to try to review this and 2 other songs I truly dislike on the album moment-by-moment rather than typing out whatever observations come to me as the song repeats about 4 times. 0 seconds: ugly-ass strings. 10 seconds: Madonna's vocals are not very good. 24 seconds: terrible chorus. 44 seconds: the beat comes in. It's pretty decent. Very 80's. Kinda Eurythmicsy. 58 seconds: new verse, chorus with beat. Not much has improved. 86 seconds: Madonna stops singing, song improves. 105 seconds: Madonna continues singing and things go back down into the sewer. Observation Break: I think the reason Madonna's vocals have been pretty much weaker here than they've been since the 80's is that she's been adjusting her attitude with the change in music style. Overall, this style of music doesn't suit the better side of the attitude I think most people fell in love with. The best of this album so far and to come is a step up to where she was destined to go, not an improvement on any of her old styles. The flaws within each are complex and come down to random things. But, Madonna is letting herself go here. Not trying very hard to sing beautifully. Then, you get this music which starts like awful disco leftovers and that's not even a style Madonna should attempt. Back to the song: needs lyrical re-write. BADLY. And, musically, someone here is kinda copying "Sorry."

7. "Forbidden Love" - Image
Not better than Bedtime Stories' song of the same name. But, if you can believe it's possible, this unrelated song is even gloomier and more sad. Which of course is just the zap needed to exorcise the bad vibes all over "I Love New York" and "Let It Will Be." Again, meaning be damned- this can be form-fit to any example of a relationship that is either castigated by society (for various reasons) or thrilling because it feels dangerous. Okay, clearly I haven't thought this through very well. But, the music is that good. It could be about sex in public and still evoke a level of depth that having sex in public never seemed to have previously. And love is usually forbidden. Think about it. Love in just about any form is the greatest cultural taboo and will be until the end of time if you believe the greater percentage of the human population share the same core religious values. Erotica was almost missing a song like this. It would have been were it not for this single flaw: the "there was a boy and there was a girl" lyric. Way to gender-lock your message, Mdna.

8. "Jump" - Image
Another gloriously cool piece of ultra-futuristic techno-pop. A damn great song, possibly life-inspiring since even the lyrics are excellent. What else needs to be said?

9. "How High" - Image
0 seconds: holy cow, this rules... I wonder what I used to dislike so much about this song (been about 5 years since I've heard it). 31 seconds: Madonna with one of those voiceboxes that career smokers and people with throat cancer have. I'm pretty sure these guys can do without it. 48 seconds: I'm not going to complain about this verse. Madonna's still doing that babydoll thing with her voice. But, if she wants to sing a line like "I did it" like she's some kind of freak funk Prince's-Grandma creature, I think she can get away with it. I occasionally like scary-Madonna. Though I think she's been hiding since "Act of Contrition." Also, clearly the song has a point. And, again, the kind of point that "Hollywood" might have benefitted from yet neglected. The chorus is even more catchy than I remember. Did Madonna used to have to work this hard to get things to rhyme? It seems to me that she used to just have damn good lyrics. This song has some hokey verses that are mostly that way because she's overextending herself getting them to rhyme. Anyway, give the song credit: if this is another stab at new-millennium disco, it's a damn sight better than "Let It Will Be." And if there are strings anywhere, they're very subtle. Just the way they should be, if you're an artist who's already done them like "Frozen" and "Don't Tell Me" did them.

10. "Isaac" - Image
Will anyone in the world think I'm crazy if I say this is what "Shanti/Ashtangi" should have been? This is a very light and speedy, hit-and-run spiritual track for Madonna. And, that's why overall I think I like it the best. Just behind "Ray of Light," of course. Madonna has one brief verse, a briefer chorus, and some pretty humming and... she's out. The rest of the 6-minute track is some fine, thin and zippy techno. With click and chime every now and then. Not much to hold onto but outstanding for album filler (this is why Madonna is an artist).

11. "Push" - Image
Here's another reason I took "I Love New York" to task- this is the Madonna she wanted to be for this album. Inspirational, motivational, and positive. And "Push" is another example of where sappy becomes glorious. The immense size of the music helps but tone is the final nail of quality. It doesn't immediately feel like a song of encouragement. It sounds like it could go either way. Distorting high-pitched string samples and a disorienting groove that rocks back and forth like a drunken ship. But the lyrics are smart and level-headed. And... remember when I said Madonna can juggle pretty well when she has more words in her mouth? Look no further.

12. "Like It or Not" - Image
7 seconds: this is going to drive me nuts. I've heard this somewhere before. I'm thinking but it's not coming to me. Anyway, unoriginal says it all. Uninspired says it just as nicely. 23 seconds: they must have recorded this song last. Madonna is spent. 39 seconds: shitty lyrics. Just. Plain. Shitty. Awful rhymes. Awful use of "Fever" callbacking, where she actually managed to put Pocahontas and John Smith into hilarious context. Cleopatra has never been more worthy of infinite sympathy. 140 seconds: okay, give the song 1 brownie point for the ghost-y sound effect. That's neat. I'm sorry Madonna has to say something like "love me or leave me." I love you, Madonna. Really. I just hate this song.


In Conclusion
Boy, this is a tough one. It received some of Madonna's best reviews since Ray of Light. That's a huge achievement. And, it's one she earned. Because, yes, this album has some of the strongest songs Madonna has released since Light. Unfortunately, unlike Music, which spawned fewer hits, Confessions on a Dancefloor has zero perfect songs. Furthermore, it didn't influence anyone in pop, dance, techno- etc. A first for Madonna. A first in her entire career. It's basically an album delivered too late. But an album that deserves to be recognized for how high it placed the bar for the Britney's and Christina's who just never had a chance to be able to touch her. Well... that is, until Britney went nuts like a fox and learned that a wholesome image or the lightly slutting up of said image is not how you make great dance music.


Overall Album Rating
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Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Hung Up"
"Get Together"
"Future Lovers"
"Jump"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Forbidden Love"
"Push"

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Hard Candy (2008)

Tracks

1. "Candy Shop" - Image
I've heard songs so bad that I literally want to pour boiling hot water into my ears, forever burning out what enabled me to hear them. So I have to say, in all fairness, this song isn't that bad. What it is - this time, a little less ironically than in the case of "Where Life Begins" - is tasteless. Anyone who really loves Madonna knows this is not what she is. Gwen Stefani might be able to pull this off (if "Yummy" is any indication). But for Madonna, this seems like a very disrespectful mockery of her usual hearty, thoughtful pop. This is a clown track. Imagine Madonna wearing red nose, rainbow wig, and baggy polka dot slacks. See what I mean?

2. "4 Minutes" - Image
Now... this, on the other hand, is that bad. Putzy beat, farty horns, cruddy lyrics. In fact, I can't even imagine what artist could have made this work. Britney would have laughed it out of the room (and I don't even picture her as a snooty person, though on this occasion she'd be justified), as would Timbaland's entire stable. Why of all the artists in the world would Madonna - the most revolutionary, cutting edge artist in pop history - want this / think it good enough to rest her entire (latest) comeback on as a lead single? Was she intending to rescue any other artist from having to get stuck with it, as an act of charity? Because, that's the only thing that makes sense. Otherwise, one would have to think that she lost her entire sense of taste. Although... there was her "American Pie" cover, wasn't there? (This is still worse.)

3. "Give It 2 Me" - Image
These lyrics aren't bad but there's still something missing. I love the beat but that key-against-empty-bottle tinkling has to go. The drumming that dots the section right before the chorus is friggin' awesome. And, unlike most people, I actually don't hate the "get stupid" breakdown. It's actually the closest the album has come so far to being Madonna taking hip-hop into techno. This is why she's still relevant as an artist (when Common thought "how do I make hip-hop more techno," he came up with: Stereolab duet... not quite, sir). Finally, Madonna's high-pitched vocals... No. She moves in and out between high and natural. The latter is great. If only Confessions on a Dancefloor had gotten more of this. Every time Madonna tries to go that high, I have a mental image in my head of her after recording is over. Letting out her gut, ala- Bessie in that French & Saunders Christmas movie parody, and rolling her eyes (hey, it's either this or a less comfortable analogy- her going cross-eyed, putting a beany hat on backward, and losing track of her tongue between takes). Seems to me she wouldn't even be trying to over-sweeten her voice if it weren't for the 90's Britney bubblegum era making her a superstar. (Why did we let that become so popular again?)

4. "Heartbeat" - Image
You know what? For the first 24 seconds, this was building itself up to be one hell of a song. Then, that "Candy Shop" beat set-in and... automatic deflation. Good damn chorus, though. Maybe I should have bitten my tongue before going on a diatribe against her high-singing. If it weren't for that, this would be as bad as "4 Minutes." One of the real problems with Madonna's albums since Ray of Light has been this canny copy+paste beats that 2 or more tracks on a given album will have in common. Yeah, "Candy Shop" was better.

5. "Miles Away" - Image
The lyrics are beautiful. Madonna is only lacking a little vocal richness and the ability to really dip during moments of the chorus to make it perfect. Otherwise, the chorus doesn't give a damn about rhyming- so, it doesn't feel like she's trying to stuff anything into a compartment which won't fit. The beat is a little wooden for the rest of the music, which is tonally icy and fits the mood of the unhappy love Madonna's singing about. And that's what makes this the best song on the album. Basically, it's the lyrically superior sequel to Confession's "Forbidden Love."

6. "She's Not Me" - Image
This one's interesting. And fun. Thus far on the album, Madonna's seriously been trying to rock hip-hop. This track on the other hand, is disco-funk. Blatantly. Unapologetically. "Fuck you if you don't like it." And that's our Madonna. Is it a great song? ...Almost. What it's become is one of the most important songs in the inner-Madonna-sanctum since Erotica. She loves to perform this song. And every time, she's always talking about a different person. Sometimes, it is a "sexy" girl trying to steal her man. Sometimes, it's herself. Sometimes, it's another popstar. I wish I could tell you she was talking about Britney all along but I've seen her live and once... it was Lady Gaga in the crossfire (I chose that word because the audience really loves to shoot back as well- just go to any YouTube video of the song).

7. "Incredible" - Image
Most fans generally roll their eyes at this one but... I like it. Just under the 4-minute mark, it starts turning a bit crappy but, before that, I think everything works. Very well. Especially the lyrics. The beat could be seen as lame but the lyrics turn it into a bouncy early-summer track. It's certainly a lot more tasteful than Katy Perry's "California Gurls." And at 6 minutes, it has room to play. I think it's one of the most effective dance tracks on the album.

8. "Beat Goes On" - Image
I actually remember Madonna's tour anthem track "Get Stupid" better than this song and... turns out that copied the lyrics from this. I never used to like this song but I was wrong. This is excellent. Even Kanye's great. (Wait... why's he here again?) The lyrics are great. The beat is excellent. And, it breaks my rule about tone. Well, sorta. What I mean is that it's very tonally complex. Whatever the song is about, exactly, the track has about 6 different modes of tone to support every mood of the lyrics. That's the way it should be done. I wasn't allowed to say before that a song like "Forbidden Love" or "Push" tapped into more than one variety of tone.

9. "Dance 2night" - Image
Where in the world do you have to go to find people who will tell you: "Cowbells and horse-clops are really cool. No, seriously!"? Wherever that is, cross that spot off your map. It's full of weirdos. This beat is literally the best on the album... except for that freaking horse-clop! Again, I have to wonder why Madonna would choose to do something like that to an otherwise excellent song. Only one explanation seems plausible. Note to Madonna: disco wasn't that awesome. In fact, it was usually pretty damn tacky. The last 40 seconds of the song, sans horse-clops, is another perfect example of hip-hop meets techno. This time, I think I'll forgive Timberlake for guesting. Even though he and Madonna are just odd partners. My brain still rejects the image.

10. "Spanish Lesson" - Image
Great raucous beat. Killer music. Not good lyrics. Awful vocals. Giving it only 2.5 isn't fair but it wasn't anymore fair for Madonna to torture this one into mediocrity. Christina could have made this work. Ke$ha, as well. 5 stars for the beat. 2.5 for the mix.

11. "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" - Image
Fascinating lyrics. I'd love to hear Madonna explain this one. It seems to begin as another spiritual track but then "I play into your fantasy" and all the physically descriptive lines appear to be turning it into some kind of relationship gone bad. Maybe built over flirtation gone wrong or sex without feelings. Although, it seems equally likely that it could be an abusive or manipulative friendship. Madonna talks to this person as though they were linked through shared experiences. Sex was a natural progression just because of who Madonna is. This could be a song about a woman, easily, or any kind of friend. As for the music... it's just okay.

12. "Voices" - Image
Shut up, Timberlake. Otherwise, this is an effectively heady dance track. Really good beat (though Britney easily surpassed it with "Why Should I Be Sad"). Madonna's vocals are weak. That's not always a surprise. Lyrically... it should be a little crazier. If Madonna wanted to make this a great seductive, middle-Eastern flavored track, she could have gone deeper into the mind warp. The theme is underexplored, with only "is that dog walking you" to make me smirk. The last 45 seconds are godawful!! Cheap, lousy, tacky.


In Conclusion
In a certain regard, Hard Candy is only a step above mediocrity. But, after a closer look and upon proper reflection... it's a lot more substantial than I gave it credit for. Madonna knows her music and these songs are very smart about what they want to be. Even when they're terrible- they are perfectly terrible. I absolutely blasted it here on UD back in spring of 2008 but I was wrong. Sometimes, it takes a few years to see that clearly. There are a lot of low points here but the choice for Madonna to choose hip-hop as the album's driver wasn't as much of a disaster as it could have been. As a collection of songs, I'm required to say it's album #3 in a row for Madonna with no truly amazing songs on it - by virtue of her former standards - nor anything that even understands the then-current state of popular music. It's far from great but if it has to be "meh" at best, Madonna still does that pretty well.


Overall Album Rating
Image

Tracks Worth Purchasing (via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Miles Away"
"Beat Goes On"

Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Give It 2 Me"
"She's Not Me"
"Incredible"

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 28, 2012 8:28 pm 
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Wow that was a lot of (good) reading but that's what I get for not checking UD sooner lol

RoL: I think it's hard not to call that album overrated because I've heard so much about being her crowning jewel but its sort of boring. The song Ray of Light is amazing & I think they album could have used more toe-tappers like it. I REALLY like To Have and Not to Hold for some reason.

Music: I don't listen to that album a lot which is funny because it dropped when I was 8 and when I was starting to develop my musical tastes. The song "Music" was one of my favorites then & my mom even offered to buy me the cd. It's not bad though.

AL: The voice tweaks are uh...something else but I listen to that album a lot more than Music.

CoaDF: Another album I hear so many good things about but I feel like 70% is filler. Forbidden Love, Hung Up, Jump are great but for a dance album it's pretty slow.

HC: This is the album that even fans say is plain bad. Like Music its one of the albums I listen to the least. I actually don't loathe 4 Minutes but it's not her best. In fact I prefer Celebration's 3 Minute version.

Great reads! It's nice to read a real opinion and not someone just saying Madonna is irrelevant.
Do you plan to review MDNA by any chance? I loathed it in March but now I actually like it a lot. The lyrics are still bad but it's not as awful as I thought.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 28, 2012 10:30 pm 
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Really enjoyed the reviews, Laz. Are you planning on giving MDNA one?

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