Monday, September 9, 2013

It Certainly Sounds Like Music, But It's Not Enough To Recommend This Madonna Album

The Good: Some decent, well-mixed pop songs, Moments of voice
The Bad: Derivative of other works, Some very lame lyrics, Not useful c.d. liner
The Basics: In a razor decision, Madonna's Music provides such a dual-personalitied musical presentation that it's impossible to recommend.

Having recently panned Madonna's Confessions On A Dance Floor (reviewed here!), I felt like I ought to give the reigning Queen of Pop another chance to impress me, as if I had somehow misjudged her last endeavor. To that end, I found her album Music, recalling the title track single, the hit song "Don't Tell Me" and vaguely remembering hearing "What It Feels Like For A Girl." Music had been praised and I suppose as a pop album, it deserves some. Music is a very strong pop album. Reviewing it in the larger context of music in general, as someone who listens to, appreciates and reviews music from classical to pop, rap to folk, it ended up as a razor decision for me. So, it's ultimately an average album, but very indicative of where pop-rock music (and Madonna) was in 2000 when it was released.

Music is a ten-track album clocking in at 44:33 and seems designed around selling the title track. Music (the single) is the first track and the liner notes for the c.d. are all pictures of Madonna in a cowgirl get-up with lines from that song around her. Pictures of Madonna with rhinestone encrusted jeans so low they are almost falling off her reminds one of just how silly the trend was.

Music is an infectious tune with heavy bassline and synth tracks designed to get the listener to dance. It is a song about the effect good music can have on a listener and it does what it sets out to do; it ingrains itself in the mind of the listener such that even years later, the lines and melody are perfectly recognizable. If you've seen the video, odds are you would remember that as well (watching Madonna stuff a stripper's g-string with bills does seem to resonate). My point with this is that Music (the single) is the epitome of pop music in its somewhat vacuous "style over substance" presentation, but Madonna does that very well.

Unfortunately for Music (the album), the emphasis on the first track and it's purpose is diluted almost immediately by "Impressive Instant." The second track uses the same formula, including lyrics about dancing to music ("Let the music take me / Take me where I want to go") that make it simply seem like the ugly stepsister to Music (the single). This sets the album up poorly because Madonna makes some decent musical leaps on this outing, but the first three tracks use the same insipid formula to create pop-dance songs that soon wear thin on the listener. The album, therefore, opens with the feeling that Madonna had a single idea and just kept milking it for all it was worth . . . and then some.

Then, the listener is hit with "I Deserve It," a slow ballad that uses some of the same production elements (like synthing over Madonna's voice at times) to sing about loss. She sings wonderfully about being imperfect and struggling to find love, with lines like, "Many miles many roads I have traveled / Fallen down on the way / Many hearts many years have unraveled / Leading up to today" ("I Deserve It"). So, while she is still using a drum machine and some quiet production elements including her own voice melding as the background vocals, it sounds fresher and newer than the prior tracks. This track also used synthesizers and an acoustic guitar, creating a softer sound.

That is continued two tracks later with the album's superlative song, "Nobody's Perfect," a slow, sad track begging to be reconsidered by a lost lover. "Nobody's Perfect" is an intriguing song in that it uses pop-rock production elements, including obscuring Madonna's voice a number of times by altering her voice and has some of the most predictable rhymes in the history of pop music (she has sad/bad, true/you, etc.) and a refrain that just keeps repeating, yet she makes it work. Honestly, I ought to hate this song for the rhymes in the lyrics, but she constructs the song with such a simple, direct message and theme that it works. This is a melodic begging and it grabs the listener in a surprising way.

"Nobody's Perfect," "I Deserve It," and "What It Feels Like For A Girl" are a trifecta of quieter, generally better written or better conceived songs than the rest of the album. So, while "What It Feels Like For A Girl," might have some of the more predictable rhymes, like "Nobody's Perfect," it manages to be a generally quieter song than most of Madonna's tracks and makes a statement. The song explores the simple insecurities of growing up as a girl with all sorts of dual expectations and Madonna sells the concept well as a fresh pop song.

Sadly, though, much of the album is derivative of other Madonna works. Even without having a broad knowledge of Madonna, a casual listener will hear a song like "Amazing" and realize it sounds virtually identical to the radio hit "Beautiful Stranger" that supported the second "Austin Powers" movie and was a significant radio hit the year it was released. Madonna reinforces the idea from early in the album that she's milking her old (or current) material for all it is worth as opposed to truly growing and stretching consistently. Music (the album) might well be a concept album that declares "I can try something new, but when I find what I like, I'm only stretching in those two new directions!"

And I do put a bit of "blame" on Madonna here. For all the critiques of Madonna as a businesswoman (I tend to think regardless of her music, she's a brilliant businesswoman), Music is very much an expression of Madonna's artistic abilities. She co-wrote all ten tracks, as well as co-produced all ten songs. It's hard to argue that this is not Madonna's vision, art and statement. As a result, it's easy to say that Madonna's Music creates a weird combination of repetitive, infectious pop melodies the likes of which have not been heard in some time and slow, careful, introspective tracks that sound a lot more like they could have been coming from Sarah McLachlan than Madonna.

Who will like "Music?" Anyone who likes pure pop. There is a sugary quality to much of the album that reminds me of the current charting success by Gwen Stefani, The Sweet Escape (reviewed here!). Unlike that album, I felt the weird conflict in music styles and repetition of some of the pop standards that make Music (the single) so successful to be disappointing. I suspect those who have a broader range than just pop will feel the same and might want to avoid the album (or simply get it out of a local library for a spin, if they feel compelled).

I will say that Madonna seems to know how to end this album. With "Gone," the album actually resonates and naturally returns to the opening track (if you have your player on repeat). It's a nice cool-down from a sometimes too aggressive dance-pop album.

The best track is "Nobody's Perfect," but by the time "Runaway Lover" - the worst track - played, I was pretty much ready to pop the disc out.

For other Artist Of The Month reviews, please visit my reviews of:
Femme Fatale - Britney Spears
Any Day Now - Joan Baez
Hits And Rarities - Sheryl Crow


Check how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page for a comparative listing!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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