Monday, October 14, 2013

Stories Unlikely To Satisfy Are Madonna's Bedtime Stories

The Good: One or two lines/songs
The Bad: Vastly overproduced, Some predictable lines, Songs run together some
The Basics: In a dismal album comprised of pure pop auditory sludge, Madonna succeeds in putting the listener repeatedly to sleep.

As I gear up for a bit of a rush of Madonna's music - I have two more albums by her on my desk to listen to - I am forced to contemplate the idea that despite the fact that I've heard songs on the radio by Madonna that I've enjoyed, I've yet to dig one of her albums. She came close to impressing me with Music and fell tragically short of even a reasonable performance with Confessions On A Dance Floor. So, when I picked up Bedtime Stories, Madonna's reinvention from 1994, I knew two of the tracks and all I recalled was that it seemed like a particularly uninspired period in Madonna's career.

Bedtime Stories is an eleven track album clocking in at a little over fifty-one and a half minutes and it's the album that brought the world Madonna's hits "Secret" and "Take A Bow." Only one track on the album is not co-written by Madonna and every track is co-produced by the artist. Madonna does not play any instruments on Bedtime Stories.

In truth, there aren't a lot of opportunities for instruments on this album. The engineers and programmers are listed above the few instrumentalists on this work. There is a lone guitarist, two bass players, a drummer and keyboard player, and a synthesizer and drum machine programmer. There are five instrumentalists and five engineers. This is a highly produced album. To wit, seven of the eleven tracks contain samples. This is a rather assembled album.

Sadly the album sounds assembled, like it was constructed in Dr. Frankenstein's musical laboratory. Part of the problem is Madonna's voice. Madonna has some vocal talent . . . somewhere. It's not on this album. The closest the listener gets to her natural voice is on "Take A Bow," which has minimal production on her vocals. But her hit "Secret" is lush with reverb, a humming that harmonizes with her vocals to give the impression of being an undertone to her voice, and a sound that, quite simply, does not sound like her natural voice.

"Secret" is not alone for the vocal problems. That hit is followed by "I'd Rather Be Your Lover," a pure pop song that contains such bloated background vocals by Madonna one wonders why she bothered to have Me'Shell NdegeOcello appear on bass. I mean, what's the point of having a guest bassist on a track where you're doubling your vocals, including a dippy rap sample, and singing some of the most insipid lyrics of any pop song in history? Sure, they're labelmates, but . . . . oh. That might be it.

Regardless, "I'd Rather Be Your Lover" is pure pop candy with terrible lyrics. With four people taking writing credits for the song, one might think that they could come up with something better than lines like "I could be your sister / I could be your mother / We could be friends / I'd even be your brother / But I - I'd rather be your lover . . ." ("I'd Rather Be Your Lover"). Were that not bad enough, that song is followed by a dance number that repeats the lines "Sing la de da de" ("Don't Stop") - I kid you not.

Pop music has any number of redeeming artists who work solely within the pop medium. It has artists who create songs that take the singsong mold of pop, even the most sugary tracks, and manage to make it good. For the life of me, I'm not coming up with any right now. Madonna's various compilation albums have a tendency to capture the history of pop music for the years encapsulated on those albums, but Bedtime Stories seems so predictable and pop that it's unchallenging.

In short, there's nothing to come back to here. This album is one concept; light dance-pop that is light on lyrical meaning, overproduced and does not capitalize on any discernible talent of the artist whose album this supposedly is. Madonna feels assembled and packaged on Bedtime Stories. This is an album of "Madonna the Product," not "Madonna the Artist." That's my story and I'm sticking to it, because I want to believe there is something that makes the masses continue to come back to this artist. I know I've liked songs of hers and I suspect there is an album out there of hers that can wow me. Bedtime Stories is not it.

Instead, the irony of this album is that the one track that was not written by Madonna stands out as one of the better tracks. Murky like much of the rest of the album with its overbearing synthesizers, Madonna sings a track co-written by Bjork called "Bedtime Stories." Madonna's impression of Bjork is pretty decent, putting the usually annoying and ethereal sound of Bjork into a lower vocal range, making the lyrics comprehensible.

The song, ostensibly about falling into an altered state or falling asleep may well be the only pop song about the simple act of drifting off that isn't about drug use. Madonna's voice comes through surprisingly well on lines that were not written by her when she sings "And inside / We're all still wet / Longing and yearning / How can I explain how I feel" ("Bedtime Stories")? Sadly, far too much of the song is the repetition of the line "Let's get unconscious" for "Bedtime Stories" to pull itself up into even remotely listenable range.

This entire album, relying on synthesizers and samples, is one experiment in hypnotic pop and it succeeds when viewed through that lens. The problem is, it's not interesting. Moreover, after ten hypnotic songs that essentially blend one into another over multiple listens, the listener is smacked with the obvious ballad "Take A Bow." I've no real complaint with that track, other than that it's lyrics seem predictable to me. And the vocals are overproduced. I could stand to hear an acoustic version of this track.

Beyond that, much of the album is auditory sludge. The thing is, unlike other outings, like Confessions On A Dance Floor, this seems to be the purpose of the album. This is supposed to be a sleepy, murky album that puts the listener in a trance. In that regard, it succeeds. The problem is, it's a novelty that wears off rapidly. Who wants to be unconscious listening to music all the time?

Not I!

The best track may well be "Take A Bow," if for no other reason than it sounds different from the other tracks on the album. The low point is the unmemorable "Forbidden Love."

For other works by Madonna, please check out my reviews of:
Confessions On A Dance Floor
“Nothing Really Matters” (single)


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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