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(Review a Music Video)
Ray of Light
1. "Drowned World / Substitute for Love" -
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" -
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" -
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" -
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" -
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" -
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" -
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" -
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" -
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" -
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" -
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" -
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" -
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.
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
Tracks Worth Purchasing
(via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Ray of Light"
"Candy Perfume Girl"
"Sky Fits Heaven"
Tracks to Consider Purchasing
"Nothing Really Matters"
1. "Music" -
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" -
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
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" -
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" -
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" -
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" -
7. "Don't Tell Me" -
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" -
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)" -
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" -
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.
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
Tracks Worth Purchasing
(via-Digital Music Downloads):
"Don't Tell Me"
Tracks to Consider Purchasing