Welcome back, Glancers, to my review of Madonna’s final 80s album. I’ve been looking forwards to this one as a few of the songs I know from it are probably my favourites from Madonna, and I’ve heard that this is both her best and most experimental album. I’m hoping therefore there will be some lost gems in here for me to enjoy. It was Madonna’s first true album in three years, skipping over a soundtrack and remix album which had not been as well received as hoped. Selling over 15 million albums worldwide, this is obviously a massive success and contains some of the most popular songs of all time.
‘Like A Prayer’ opens with an experimental edge, weird guitars echo and bounce around for a few seconds before the haunting backing vocals and lead verse melody come in. I wouldn’t want to say there is anything spiritual going on here, but it is a special song, even if Madonna isn’t the greatest singer, and even if the instrumentation has dated a little. I do enjoy the Man In The Mirror style extended ending, as well as the great middle section. Nevertheless, it’s a breathtaking song and one of the finest of the decade.
‘Express Yourself’ begins in a much more fun and bouncy way than I remember. Naturally the ‘Come On, Girls’ is silly, but the chorus is ultra catchy, and the verses are very strong too. I think there are various versions of a few of the songs on this (and other) album. This is the sort of thing that may not have worked as well on her earlier albums, but she has clearly grown as a songwriter and adds that mystery ingredient which makes the song both clearly of its time, and timeless.
‘Love Song’ has some French at the start, and is apparently an experimental duet with Prince. It has a Prince influence, it is rather odd, slow, stuttering, not quite sexy, more like watching a primitive robot masturbate with a spanner. It doesn’t have any memorable hook, instead memorable because of how bizarre it is. It isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t good.
‘Till Death Do Us Part’ begins at a quick pace, sounding first like another cheesy early Madonna track, but it infuses some U2 style moments, the pace remains high, and the vocals sound both honest and emotional. The melodies in the verses are pretty damn good and I’ve never heard this one before so it’s a nice surprise to hear something I like. The spoken/near spoken parts in the middle could have been scrapped though.
‘Promise To Try’ starts with nice piano and some decent vocals and melodies. Hmm, this could be another surprise if it keeps this sort of quality. Never heard this one before. Damn, this one is pretty great, and of course it has some strings just to endear itself to me more. Quite an emotional performance, a simple song, but beautifully rendered and with raspy vocals and good lyrics. Woo hoo, two good songs in a row that I’ve never heard before! And a few of my favourites coming up next!
‘Cherish’ is a silly, light song but one with catchy lyrics and a memorable video. Naturally for someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s there’s a lot of fond nostalgia for songs like this, but it holds up okayish. It’s not a great song by any stretch, but the chorus is unashamedly joyful.
‘Dear Jessie’ may be my favourite Madonna song (that or You’ll See). Yes, I know that makes me sound like a weirdo, but this is a glorious mix of pure pop, art, experimentation. It showcases the best of her vocals, and the melodies throughout are exquisite. It has that style I love where different sounds all blend together, where tones shift, and yet it all holds perfectly. The middle section change, the strings, even the trumpet, everything pulls together wonderfully. Great string ending. Yes, her best song.
‘Oh Father’ continues the strings and merges them with some odd sounds before the big gospel pianos come in. I haven’t heard this probably since the early 90s, though I have listened to My Vitriol’s good cover since then many times. The original is better though, sounding eerie and honest, weird and coherent.
‘Keep It Together’ starts with some strange noises I didn’t quite catch, a count in, then a funky 80s riff. I’ve never heard this one before, and so far it’s okay – steady, groovy rhythm backed with some jangling guitars and keeping the more cheesy and dated 80s stuff to a minimum. Verse and chorus ok, nice harmonies but not a lot going on melody-wise. It’s maybe a minute too long on first listen, seems like average mid-album filler, but not as bad as the fillers on previous albums.
‘Spanish Eyes’ has good, atmospheric Spanish guitars – for the first 10 seconds it could almost be a metal song, then the drums and pianos and melody come in. Good start. Her vocals sound like they are not up to scratch for the chorus, although the scratchy nature adds to the emotion. It’s too much of a stretch between the deeper vocals of the verse and the higher range of the chorus, quite clear that a better singer would do a better job here. It’s very slow, but pretty good – nothing really wrong here, though I don’t know if the trumpets really work here. A little long again, hitting the five minute mark.
‘Act Of Contrition’ starts with manic guitar. Backwards stuff and clapping. Orgy sounds and spoken words. Can’t quite make out the words but sounds like a rant. Oh, an actual melody comes in, I thought this was just going to be an experimental mess ending. Jump scare. End. An interesting way to finish the album – was this meant to be a hidden song. Not quite a stuttering finish, lyrically and thematically apt, just not as strong as what has come before.
Easily Madonna’s strongest, most consistent album so far, this is the first that hasn’t had a bad track, though a couple of songs would fall into the average category. It’s definitely a more mature and experienced album from a songwriting perspective, with a much more intelligent approach. The hit singles are each very strong, and a few of the songs that I wasn’t familiar with I will be happy to listen to again until I know them by heart. Madonna followed this up quickly with her second soundtrack album to the film Dick Tracy. I’m in two minds as to whether I should cover this album – I don’t like jazz or swing, I don’t like the movie (though haven’t seen since I was a kid) and it’s maybe not an ‘official’ Madonna album. Then again, Who’s That Girl only saw her perform on four of the songs, while with I’m Breathless I believe she performs on all of them? If that’s the case then I’ll give it a shot. Hopefully the creative streak she was going through in 1989 carries over to it. If I don’t post about it, then I’ll be moving on to 1992’s Erotica – another one I’ll be looking forward to as it again was touted as being adventurous, experimental, and contains another of my favourite Madonna songs.
Let me know in the comments section what you think of Like A Prayer – has this album stood the test of time? Were you around when it was first released, or is it something you have only discovered recently? What’s your favourite track from the album? Let us know below!
To catch up on my feeble musings on Madonna’s previous albums check here: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/nightman-listens-to-madonna-madonna-1983/
and here: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/nightman-listens-to-madonna-like-a-virgin/
and here: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/nightman-listens-to-madonna-true-blue/