Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Needs-Better-Material Girl

Having flubbed my intended blog entries for Mimi's Emancipation and Missy's Cookbook—the only other albums I have bought in 2005, because in pop-music terms, I am already an Old Dog Set In My Ways—I do not intend to drop the (disco) ball on Confessions on a Dance Floor...though, sad as I am to say it, I kind of think Madonna dropped the ball herself. It's not a bad album, but it's not a necessary one, either, and even though I have notoriously changed opinions on many albums after my initial listens, both for better and for worse, I'm not too hopeful about warming to this one all that much.

But first, some background. In fact, mostly background.

Madonna makes three kinds of albums: the Dead Mama albums (where she both shows and overcomes her wanna-be-loved insecurities by giving 110%, as an entertainer and/or an artist), her Stick It To Daddy albums (where she dishes out the sexual and/or political provocations and dares people to call her bluff), and her Paper Mill albums (where she attempts to mass-produce some cash money, so that Lourdes can get Cirque du Soleil at home for her Sweet 16, beyotch!). I would break down the discography this way, with the boldfaced titles being the ones I really love.

Oh, and in case my allegiance is in question, I was Madonna for Halloween in fourth grade, amidst the Reagan Era, on a Marine Corps base... so you know the 9-year-old in the jean skirt was not happening all the time. But I brought it, because I love this woman.

The Apotheosis: All Three in One
  • Like a Prayer (1989): In which Madonna shows unprecedented depth and range, with Dead Mama ventriloquism ("Promise To Try," "Dear Jessie"), Stick It To Daddy As Much As Possible ("Til Death Do Us Part," "Oh Father"), and ballistic missiles of Paper Mill commercial appeal ("Like a Prayer," "Express Yourself," "Cherish")

    Dead Mama
  • Madonna (1983): Wall-to-wall dance pop with heavily repeated hooks and phrases and unremarkable singing, but Madonna's palpable attitude and total exuberance in songs like "Lucky Star," "Holiday," and "Everybody" sound more spirited than this stuff tends to sound

  • Bedtime Stories (1994): Intimate and rangy, it's the first Madonna album where all of the songs work better in the fabric of the album than apart from it, even though most of them are well-crafted accomplishments

  • Evita (1996): Mama, I can really sing!

  • Music (2000): Everything that was fun and saucy about Madonna adopted to her post-Ray of Light soundscape and her marriage. She definitely wants to keep riding the wave of Comeback Love, but she also wants to party...and "I Deserve It" is one of the most believable self-revelation cuts on any of her albums

    Stick It To Daddy
  • Like a Virgin (1984): From the brazen hussying of "Material Girl" to the startling candor (for Top 40) of "Like a Virgin" to the sexy but slatternly cover art, it's a bold gesture

  • Erotica (1992): The last Madonna album I bought on cassette, which is why the curious split between the stunning Side A and the humiliating Side B was all the more impossible to miss. Still, with this many gems, I'm not complaining

  • American Life (2003): Weirdly anti-commercial, like Erotica. The lame title cut is a cold shower on the way in. But this is an interesting and surprising album, full of bounce and anger and other moods, all of them persuasive and I think it's my favorite since Bedtime Stories. (The cover art and implied politics belong to the old provocateur Madonna, i.e., Stick It To Daddy)

    Paper Mills
  • True Blue (1986): "Papa Don't Preach" is Stick It To Daddy all the way, and "Live to Tell" has strong Dead Mama tendencies, but Madonna knows she's rolling bank, even though she hasn't finished writing a full portfolio of songs... why else would "Jimmy, Jimmy" be on here?

  • You Can Dance (1987): Paper Mill all the way, with boring remixes and a disposable new song called "Spotlight"

  • Who's That Girl? (1987): Paper Mill with embarrassing sidebar acts, though I like all three of her songs

  • I'm Breathless (1990): Hard to read. Dead Mama insofar as only Serious Artist would tackle Sondheim, etc. Stick It To Daddy insofar as "Hanky Panky" and fling with obvious father-figure Beatty. But Paper Mill insofar as movie tie-in, and insofar as "Vogue," a wholly unrelated add-on which exposes underlying insecurity of whole project (which correlates back to Dead Mama).

  • The Immaculate Collection (1990): Definition of Paper Mill, though "Justify My Love" is a sweat-scented emblem of Stick It To Daddy

  • The Holiday Collection (1990): A little-known corollary, with "Holiday" and three hits inexplicactly left off of IC ("True Blue," "Who's That Girl?" and "Causing a Commotion"). I.e., Paper Mill on the DL, which is like Vanilla Fudge

  • Something To Remember (1996): A totally snooze-inducing ballad collection, laying groundwork for Evita

  • Ray of Light (1997): Madonna's weirdest studio album, and by many degrees my least favorite. A giant, narcissistic iceberg, notwithstanding "Ray of Light" single. All the KabbalahHinduGeisha stuff curdles instantly, and she's singing like someone's told her that her strength is torch ballads. Which: it isn't. Indeed, Madonna, you're frozen/ when your heart's not open, though it was all brilliantly calculated, and nabbing her a Grammy and a big smash. Whatev's.

  • Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1999): Paper Mill album, capitalizing on Ray of Light comeback

  • Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005): Earns its keep as background, or as thumping club music, but there's precious little here that requires any of Madonna's particular persona—plus, she panders to her fanbase with a love letter to New York when the yotch lives in London amidst Burberry tweed, and any song that pledges to "tell us about fame" can only be a useless retread...kind of like using a song title that you've used before ("Forbidden Love"), neither time with much payback. Only "Get Together" and "Push" snap me to attention, and I like them, but this just doesn't feel like a very sincere or rewarding effort. I've listened to the album three times, and each time, by the end, I'm only half-listening. I think she sings at one point about how we can all love her or leave her, but she's not going away, and while I, as a lifelong Madonna disciple, am thrilled that she's not going away, it seems pretty preposterous to imagine anyone loving or leaving Madonna on the basis of this wet noodle.

    P.S. I friggin' LOVE The Cookbook ("This year y'all will all lose sleep, while I break 'em off some, break 'em off some..." hootie-hoo!), and Mimi is sweet reward to those of us who never left Mariah's side, even though, make no mistake, this dame is still dizzy, and she has badly worn out her voice. It's not all that pretty anymore, but her stuff is catchy, and I'm hooked. Especially by "Say Something," "We Belong Together," "Circles," "Mine Again," "Stay the Night," and the best album-closer she's ever had, "Fly Like a Bird."

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    Blogger girish said...

    I'm such a rabid Timbo-head that I viewed The Cookbook with extreme suspicion.
    But I have to say: the new one is excellent. What a nice surprise.

    10:51 PM, November 23, 2005  
    Blogger Dr. S said...

    happy day after thanksgiving, nick, darling. see you in a month!

    9:22 AM, November 25, 2005  
    Blogger Dr. S said...

    oh no! I had hoped "Yes" would be good, and I imagine that you were, as well...

    10:30 PM, November 28, 2005  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Enjoyed your album analogies, though I have to admit, I find Confessions to be not only the best album of the year, but also the second best Madge album EVER (behind Prayer, obviously!).


    4:35 PM, November 30, 2005  

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