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Madonna On the Record: Nobody’s Perfect

Madonna has remained a constant presense at the highest echelon’s of the pop firmament for decades: a wild ride from catholic School Princess gone bad to riding crop Mistress of the dancefloor. I have always simultaneously admiredher and been a little turned off by her. She is like a Swiss Watchmaker: obsessed with the intricacies of time but uninvolved with the nature of time: by the time Madonna was settled in to her career proper, say around 92, she was distant to the point of distillation.
At the center of Madonna there has always been a metronome where a heart should be and, while at the time I thought she was antithical to the claims of feminism, I now believe she was a post-feminist sign post for a future we have now reached. Everything gave into the beat with Madonna -every image change, every outrage, every song edged her back to the dancefloor.
Madonna (1983)
From Danceteria to your dance floor, Madonna’s first album still sounds fresh even if the synths sound a little cheesy. This was what she was doing: she was laying down natural pop singles like “Lucky Star” and “Holiday” with a heavy beat right ON TOP. Madonna owes her boyfriend “Jellybean” Benitez a debt of gratitude here because though he only gets credit for one song here is influence is so overwhelming it’s as though he reinvented dance for her. And the reinvention, really by Madonna, because it was her decision to make (she used three producers ON HER FIRST ALBUM) was to make a mainstream pop move. She didn’t just want you to dance but she wanted you to sing as well, she came across like three types of pop stars. Grade: “A+”
Like A Virgin (1984)
Two things here. First and foremost, for those of us who took disco seriously what we took seriously was Chic: the greatest dance band of all time (yowzer, yowzer, yowzer) and while it is better produced it sounds a lot more dated. The other thing was the moment Madonna appeared on MTV singing the title song her life as she knew it was over. In a bridal gown Madonna is laying on a wedding cake before staring into the camera with a sizzling come hither which was, rather than being provocative, aggressive and self centered at the same time. A minute or so later she gets down off the cake and lifts up her veil and though cheorography is weak by the end she is rolling on the floor flashing her white panties and white garter belts. It was a calculated, electrifying, sexually dynamized career making performance. Grade: “A”
True Blue (1985)
A touch more pop than dance here the title track in particular is a sweetly coy come on (and a hit) but it was “Papa Don’t Preach” which lit the first this time -a pro-life discourse tied to a story. The song -which is nothing much though a big hit, is the bravest thing this (true) blue state girl has ever done -in NYC you can hitch hike naked till your hearts content but keeping your baby; now you got worry. It is an act of pure integrity and purer media savvy. The rest of the album coulda used a crisper sound and I am less than enthralled by the orchestration but it is also more purely emotional than her other two albums (and oddly enough, probably less honest). When you’re a teenage seductress and calling yourself madonna you are dealing in manipulation and by her coldness in the first two albums MC was remaining true to an icey dicey pop image. Here the image closes down (she dedicated it to Sean Penn so who knows who is manipulating who but still -and even if the pop star giving you a glimpse of her inner tick tock is an inert joke) and the real MC woman in love appears to emerge. Grade: “A-“
You Can Dance (1987)
Here come the remixes Grade: B+”
Like A Prayer (1989)
Not Madonna’s best album and she seems to have lost the consistency all good pop girls need but she finally marries her dance sensibility to her AOR and therby grows up and goes down at the same time. The title track is the most perfect Catholic Schoolgirl in distress song she has written and the songs about pain from her mother’s death early. Grade: “A-“
The Immaculate Collection (1990)
More than being a disco diva or a rock superstar or an MTV Icon or anything, Madonna is a pop star and here is why: every single one of these pop songs is devastatingly brilliant and huge hit after huge hit. “Holiday,” “Borderline,” “Into the Groove” -one after another. Just stick it on your turntable and you can DJ the night away. Grade: “A+”
Erotica (1992)
“Bad girl drunk by six kissing some young strangers lips…” The best thing about writing this blog is it sends me back to stuff I haven’t heard in years and years. Oooooh, “Deeper And Deeper” is on it. Man, she CAN NOT do this stuff any more. Grade: “A”
Bedtime Stories (1994)
After the bad girl dance of “Erotica,” this one seemed to be a pop move though with Dallas Austin producing it sure wasn’t a pure pop move. It worked out real well, Not just “I’d Rather be Your Lover” and the witty express yourself don’t undress yourself “Human Nature” but the smasherino co-written with Babyface “Take A Bow” which sounds like heavy cream being poured on your heart. Grade: “A”
Ray Of Light (1998)
This is Madonna’s “Slow Train Coming” and if “STC” worked best because of Mark Knopfler’s guitar, “Ray” works best because of William Orbit’s atmospheric -like it’s being recorded in the deep sea, orchestration and productions. A straight up act of faith. Grade: “A+”
Music (2000)
A disappointment in the same way “Beatles For Sale” was a disappointment after “A Hard Day’s. Not bad and in some ways as easy going and charming as a Madonna album ever will be -but a little on the shallow side. Altogether now: “I like to singy singy singy like a bird on the wingy wingy wingy”. Grade: “A-“
GVH2 (2002)
So it’s not as consistent as “Immaculate” (her first greatest hits). It’s still really good and now gives me four versions of “Beautiful Stranger. Grade: “A”
American Life (2004)
Yes, it’s that bad though I thought she was better on the “American Life Tour” than on the “Music Tour” Grade: “C”
Confessions On The Dancefloor (2007)
Madonna fans consider this a return to “Music” heights -me, I’m less sure. It’s not bad but it’s not there, it is actually a rarity, it is an avearge madonna album. Grade: “B”
Hard Candy (2008)
There is a million miles between using Orbit just before he peaks and Timbaland just after. Grade: “B”
And that’s the story so far and here in my opinion in minature: Pick up the two greatest hits and the first two albums and “Ray Of Light” and pick and choose from her other albums. Too much filla not enough killa!!

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