Review: Jack Foley
SHE'S been described as past it, over the hill and, worse, accused
of jumping on other people's bandwagons; while her album, American
Life, has been written off, by some, as one of the biggest
disappointments of her career.
The Madonna backlash appears to have gone into overdrive, of
late, fuelled, no doubt, by a limp Bond theme and a curious title
track which, while catchy, contains that dreadful rap!
But dismiss American Life at your peril! For while the
title track and Die Another Day are probably the weakest
tracks on the album, there is plenty more to admire. It seems
that the most prolific female artist of our generation has lost
none of her power to dazzle, particularly when taking her eye
off the mainstream for a while.
Disatisfied, disillusioned and downright reflective, it appears
Madonna has lost faith in the Pop Idol-fixated music buying public,
for now, and uses the album as a warning knell to the fame-hungry
generation, with lyrics such as 'do I have to change my name?
Am I gonna be a star?', before rapping about all the things
that are meant to make her life more complete.
This is Madonna poking fun at Madonna, as much as giving modern
consumerism a tongue-lashing. Yet with tracks such as Hollywood
and Mother and Father, she almost seems to be pandering
to the easy, Ibiza-tinged soundscapes that afford artists such
success nowadays, while also clinging to yet more ill conceived
Perhaps that is the only way she sees of getting her message
across, particularly as French producer, Mirwais Ahmadzai, is
always on hand to back it up with another aggressive, even robotic,
electronic beat or loop.
Yet, as is so often the case with music nowadays, less is so
much more, and it is during the quieter moments that American
Life comes into its own and maintains Madge's position as
the 'Queen of Pop'.
As Mirwais lays off, a little, so the excitement of hearing a
Madonna track re-emerges, rather like listening to the second
half of her last album, Music.
Of particular note is the religious ballad, Nothing Fails,
which begins with some terrific guitar rifts and drum loops, before
evolving into a gospel-style, Like A Prayer throwback chorus,
which demands repeat listening. Released from the constraints
of the vocoder, momentarily, Madonna's voice soars, and it comes
as no surprise to find the presence of Frou Frou's Guy Sigsworth
on writing duties (he last collaborated with Madge on the equally
heartfelt, What It Feels Like For A Girl and shines in
Frou Frou form, with Imogen Heap).
Nothing Fails is a quietly affecting declaration of love,
harking back to the red-faced innocence of that first romance
or kiss.... It is the album's stand-out track.
Likewise, X-Static Process, which sounds like a lullaby,
albeit a bitter one, that is saturated with self doubt and uncertainty
throughout, or final track, Easy Ride, which brings proceedings
to a somewhat downbeat close.
Intervention, meanwhile, begins with a guitar rift ripped
straight from a Red Hot Chili Peppers' album, before plunging
into a disco-driven, but folksy chorus, that's impossible to dislike.
I'm So Stupid, another angry lament about lost ideals
and dreams, is one of the better examples of the faster tracks,
and one which does stretch Madonna's vocal chords to great effect,
while the equally feisty Love Profusion features a nice
layering of the dance beats and acoustic guitar that were such
a feature of Music.
Having built a reputation on reinventing herself, Madonna, here,
seems content to take a pause - as well as the odd step backwards
- to deliver an album of mixed value.
True, it fails to scale the heights of Ray of Light or
Erotica, but American Life remains a terrific listen
and one which forces you to have an opinion, either way.
As such, it remains as essential an album as any of Madonna's
previous efforts - and if you're still unsure whether we like
it, then my advice is simple. Buy it!
1. American Life
3. I'm So Stupid
4. Love Profusion
5. Nobody Knows Me
6. Nothing Fails
8. X-Static Process
9. Mother and Father
10. Die Another Day
11. Easy Ride