Nightman Listens To – Madonna – American Life!

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Greeting, Glancers! We head back to my middle year of University – 2003. It seemed like every album was an attack on funny wee George Bush and with such a torrid time we should really have had a new wave of powerful, excellent rock music. We never got that – just an endless success of rubbish ‘The’ bands, and the dying grunts of nu-metal and pop-punk. Bush always seemed to me to be a permanently bewildered moron with the face of teddy bear who just lost his bowl of porridge, but the people get who they vote for.

Wikipedia tells me this was a concept album, so without reading any further I assume that Madonna also got in on the act, especially with a name like that. I’m certain I’ve heard the title track, though I can’t for the life of me think of what it’s like now – and I’ve probably heard a few of the others. I know all too well the evil of Die Another Day – otherwise known as the worst thing ever – so I’m just going to skip on by it if that’s okay with you. Much of this will be new to me, so hold my hand as I dive in.

American Life: No, I don’t think ever heard this. Very electronic, not Ray Of Light style, but much more barren. It’s not bad, so far. Plaintive lyrics. Some obvious auto-tune on the vocals in places, but elsewhere they’re good. I quite like the melodies, and as a whole it’s a pleasing song, but – aw what the hell is this. She goes off on one near the end, has a rap section which sounds exactly as you’d expect from a white person who’s never rapped before. I can only guess that she’s being satirical here with her lyrics during the rap, but it becomes doubly ironic because you know she indulges in half of the stuff she’s being critical of and poking fun at. It’s like, oh I don’t know, like if a hair metal band tried to make fun of a cheesy pop song, I’d be shouting YOU ARE THE EXACT SAME.

Hollywood: So, she’s continuing that satirical tone here, this time poking fun at people wanting to be famous? I get she’s mainly targeting those without talent or those who think it is the single most important thing that anyone can achieve, but yeah… it still doesn’t work when you were one of the exact people. I’m not saying Madonna’s not talented, hell I’ve shown I love enough of her songs to prove otherwise, but there’s absolutely no ignoring the fact that she exploited herself for fame just as much as anyone else and was ruthless in her pursuit of it, possibly preventing people more deserving than her of getting there. Lets give her the benefit of the doubt though and say she’s mocking her younger self and rejecting all of the stuff she used to love, in the hope that today’s youngsters will do the same. The song is okay, a bit weak, a bit repetitive… it’s moderately catchy fluff and absolutely doesn’t need to pass the three minute mark.

I’m So Stupid: A more promising start, with broken up guitars and stuttering mystical vocals. This has a bit more love and imagination chucked at it – all those quirks with stretching notes and messing with time are different from what other mainstream artists were trying now or are attempting now. Is it more interesting, than good? I like it anyway, doesn’t go down the simple dance music route.

Love Profusion: It’s another video where Madonna walks towards the camera. This time it was directed by Luc Besson. This song is pretty cool, no messing around with the melody and the production doesn’t try to upset the rhythm or become master. Everything compliments everything else. It isn’t much more than verse and chorus melody slapped together, but it doesn’t need to be as both main parts are strong and everything else bolsters matters.

Nobody Knows Me: Phat funky beatz. I’d rather we had normal vocals, but there you go. I was hoping for an explosive verse after that intro, but it’s too tame. It’s very singular – one level. The melody and rhythm simply repeats over and over, lyrics are okay, but the repetition is annoying. The background beats and music is ever-changing, but if the main melody stays the same then the impact of everything else is lost. I usually don’t mind when a melody is repeated, as long as everything else builds upwards towards some sort of climax, but this doesn’t really go anywhere and feels like an excuse to experiment aimlessly. As an experiment, it’s not bad. As a song, it’s not great.

Nothing Fails: More stuttering guitars. This is much more to my preferences. When the melody is strong and honest, it doesn’t really matter what else you craft around it. Well, it does, but the core is still good. Depending on what else you add it can become a masterpieces, or merely an okay song. This is pretty good and I’m happy to see that even when she makes an experimental album or something with such heavy production that she still falls back on something sweet and simple. This is another example of the surrounding studio trickery complimenting the main stuff rather than taking over. The refrain section is a nice surprise, with the backing vocals and strings coming in like a choir and reminding of Like A Prayer. 

Intervention: Another guitar intro, followed by another interesting melody, so another potential favourite. Yes, this is quite lovely. Melodies have that touch of tragedy, the surrounding instrumentation isn’t overwhelming, rarely moving from sparse and instead relying on backing vocals and harmonies to fill up the space. That’s two very good songs I wasn’t aware of in a row – cool.

X-Static Process: With a name like that, I can only assume the worst. But no, it opens in a similar vein to the last three – guitars, soft vocals. One minute in and it hasn’t changed at all. Finally a backing vocal comes in and the two pieces interact or argue like a confused mind. The backing track hasn’t really changed at all. There’s a little bit of new stuff just after halfway. It’s another good one, ladies and gents. I don’t like it as much as the last two, because this one really doesn’t want to add any frills, but still another positive surprise.

Mother And Father: Back to a more electronic intro. Strange vocals. Like the fifth song to mention Jesus. Melody is repetitive, but this time it’s annoying. Thankfully this one changes things up by not having just the one melody – the others are better than the main ‘there was a time’ one. A strange song with some highs and some lows – I’d drop the rap parts and the deeper vocal pieces, but credit again for trying something different even if it doesn’t work for me. Even with the dodgy parts, I can see me listening to this again due to the good parts.

Die Another Day: Nope

Easy Ride: Ooh, a lovely intro with all the heart-tugging strings I love. The verse has potential, it’s not something which grabs me immediately but I think it could grow on me. More strings – always helps. We’re finishing with another good one. It’s another brave move for such a famous artist – another sign that she does whatever the fuck she wants, and when she pulls it off the results can often be fantastic. Like I say, this is probably going to a grower for me – I can sense its potential rather than it hitting me with obvious and immediate quality.

An average to less than average start followed up by some gems. There are quite a lot of songs here that I hadn’t heard before which will now be on my playlist, and that’s why I’m here – to grow that personal memory bank of songs to love over and over and leave discussion of artistic merit until I’m more familiar with them. I’m not sure what I expected from the album, but I didn’t have high hopes. Those fears were mostly pushed firmly back under the bed and I’m left with an album which doesn’t have any huge missteps (aside from Die Another Day obviously) and a collection of songs which never drop below average. The weaker ones have merits and while the stronger ones don’t yet reach the heights of my personal favourites, perhaps they will after more listens. I know this should give me confidence going into her next album, but I’m always cautious about these things, always waiting for things to go badly wrong. Hang around for my next Madonna post, and find out with me. For now, leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Easy Ride. X-Static Process. Intervention. Love Profusion. Nothing Fails.

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Music!

Greetings, Glancers! It’s Madonna time again and an album released back in 2000, a simpler, less stressful time some would say. Not me though – I was in the middle of my A-Level preparations, I was 17, drinkin’ and a druggin’ and a womenin’. As you’ll have read in my previous post, Ray Of Light had been a massive hit with me and some of my friends, but in the few years between these albums we had started to see Madonna in a less favourable light. She had a lot of stuff going on which made her a prime candidate for ridicule, not that she’d care, and her release of American Pie was met with general laughter. To many of us it seemed she had lost it. I don’t know how much, if any, this contributed to me not paying much attention to the album but Music is not one I know much about, outside of some vague memories of the singles.

The album seems like it could be short and brisk – only ten songs and the only one I can clearly recall is the title track, and that’s a song I wasn’t a fan of. William Orbit did an awesome job on Ray Of Light so presumably the same will be said for this, although I think this album has a more general dance music flavour with less focus on atmosphere and rock. There’s no point guessing, lets just get into it.

‘Music’ was the first single from the album, and I didn’t like it from the first moment I heard it – much too much focus on quirks and production than, you know, actual music. The video likely influenced me too, what with its apparent love of celeb culture and lifestyle. Lyrically of course the song is supposed to be about the power of music to bring people together and overcome… something, but when the music is mostly dire the message falls flat. I appreciate the creativity and the production, but the style is not for me, the vocals are too whiny, and the melodies grating.

‘Impressive Instant’ is… well, my instant impression is that I’ll never want to listen to this again. It seems to be like another irritating dance song, entirely manufactured in the studio with nothing tangible. The vocals are annoying, the music is repetitive, the lyrics are garbage… unless you’re into dance music there’s nothing good here.

Runaway Lover‘ is a more traditional dance track. As a general rule I’m not a fan of dance music in most of its guises, but there are exceptions. This, I don’t mind. It could be any style of song, they just happened to make it dance – take away the beats and replace them with guitars or generic pop stuff and you’ll have a decent rock or pop track. Some of the noises and drums stuff annoys me, but it moves swiftly with a tidy energy and some decent melodies.

I Deserve It’ seems familiar somehow. I’m almost certain I’ve never head it, but I’ve shared many a set of earphones with many a person, so possibly… This one rambles along never quite reaching any sort of point or peak, though based on the lyrics that in itself is possibly the point. There are moments of potential where I thought it was going to build into something more, but then it didn’t.

Amazing‘ starts with manufactured bird-like noises and bell type sounds. Before long a beat that’s unusually similar to Beautiful Stranger takes the song further along. The song has more of a rock vibe like some of the songs from Ray of Light, though in a completely different style.

Nobody’s Perfect’ begins with something that sounds like ‘I am wet when I am with you’ which seems a little inappropriate even for Madonna. This is annoying because I do like the melodies here, but they are largely ruined by the auto-tuning nonsense. The drum sounds feel too weak in places, but I do like all the robotic laser stuff going on. This would be great if it had a traditional vocal throughout, but even with the nonsense I can’t help but like it and I think it could become one of my favourites over time.

Don’t Tell Me‘ is one I’d forgotten about. I like the disjointed nature and I remember this one had fairly heavy rotation when I was in the University Student’s Union bar anytime Kerrang wasn’t being shown. It’s a decent single but clearly I’d forgotten it for a reason, gets annoying before long.

What It Feels Like For A Girl’ begins with experimental sounds, some annoying English accented speaking, lyrics about androgyny etc. I have a feeling I have heard this before. The good qualities here are buried under the production – the melodies and the backing sounds don’t go together at all, making the whole affair feel like two completed different songs which got mashed together accidentally.

Paradise (Not For Me)’ is a song that mostly goes nowhere until the second minute where a very John Carpenter piece emerges followed by a much stronger vocal (though still downgraded by auto-tune). It’s clearly an attempt at an epic and it doesn’t quite get there, though I appreciate the effort. I love the strings which join the mess near the third minute, but the opening two minutes are too uneventful – a better melody lifting towards that middle section would have improved things drastically. The final couple of minutes repeat variously the good and bad without offering a final distinct section – aimed for the stars and scraped the clouds or something.

Gone‘ begins as an unusually streamlined and simple song – only voice and acoustic guitar. I love the melodies, the vocals and lyrics are plaintive, and the chorus is great. Given what has come before I keep waiting for the big production to come blasting out of the speakers. It does come, kind of, but it’s not as intrusive or all encompassing as elsewhere on the album. This is good stuff, and a great ending – another song I wasn’t aware of that I already look forward to hearing again.

For me this was an ambitious yet disjointed album. As a sequel to Ray Of Light it tries a host of new ideas but it doesn’t have the impact, musically or emotionally, which that album had. Where one felt urgent and inventive, this one feels at times like a joke or more accurately that the people involved were just having fun without caring about the quality of the end product, while at other times it feels as if they are throwing as much sound and technique into the mix in the hope that some of it will come good. The best moments are those where the simple tune is allowed to speak for itself – some of the songs are bogged down by production to the point where the melody is drowned, while in others the production fails to disguise the dull core. There are still some great moments here, and a few songs that I’ll add to my regular rotation, but as a sequel to a great, it falls below expectation.

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Evita

Greetings, Glancers! It’s time to check out Madonna’s third and most successful soundtrack album Evita. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber penned all of the work here and Madonna sings most of the songs, though she does get help by Banderas, Pryce, and old Crocodile Shoes himself Jimmy Nail. As you would imagine, it sold a crapload. I’m going to be going through the double disc edition, but I’m not a sadist – I’m only listening to the ones Madonna performs on. I expect these songs will be peppered with instrumental sections and that they will lose much without the visuals. Lets get this out of the way.

Oh What A Circus‘ opens just as I imagined – lots of lovely Latin guitars. Banderas starts the singing, telling of Eva’s life. There’s a familiar melody. No Madonna yet. This is nice though, no complaints. Backing vocals. Sudden rock outburst. That was pretty funny. Decent vocals from Antonio. Now a slower section. Is this Madonna? Now instrumental. Now Madonna, doing a bit from ‘Don’t Cry For Me’.

Eva and Magaldi/Eva Beware Of The City’ begins with some weird funk. Dark tones, all very theatrical as you would expect and lots of voices, changes in pace and style. Listening without the visuals means it sounds a little messy – a confusing mishmash of genres with people chanting and singing and talking, but I think it would all make sense on screen or stage. With all that said, it’s not too bad. I do have no idea what’s going on, but the music is fine.

Buenos Aires‘ starts with a train toot and some clapping. I think. Lots of percussion now. Madonna’s vocals seem a little stronger on the album – more powerful. This one is only okay – a little jazzy, a little funky, some nice strings in the middle, but no obvious hooks. It then turns into a James Bond instrumental for the final section.

Another Suitcase In Another Hall’ starts like a traditional hit rather than a product of a musical. It’s very sweet with lyrics of uncertainty and exploration and yearning. This one does have hooks and apparently was a single, but I don’t remember it. I’d listen to this one again, very nice.

Goodnight And Thank You’ has a big brass celebration opening. This segues into a softer section before the Banderas verse. Madonna joins in for a more traditional duet. Then they sing about soap. And doing up trousers. It just about passes the listening without visuals test.

Charity Concert/The Art Of The Possible‘ has clapping, and South American rhythms. Then it ends. Then it starts again. Another duet. Well, it’s mostly Antonio. Then it ends again.

I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You‘ is another duet with lyrics overlapping closely. The music is mostly in the background, leaving breathy vocals. Madonna then takes over and it becomes a decent ballad – not as strong as that hallway song, but still good.

Hello And Goodbye‘ is light and fluffy in its opening moments, a little like elevator music. Then it’s a little sultry, then tender, then more tender as it calls back a previous song.

Peron’s Latest Flame‘ has a brass, war era sitcom intro. It sounds like the rich don’t like Evita’s antics. Now the rich are singing. I’m not hearing Madonna yet. Drum collapse. Future sounds. Now Madonna. More chanting. More future sounds. This is very ‘musical’.

A New Argentina’ has a mysterious in tone beginning but finds its feet when Madonna sings – the melodies by this point are familiar – it’s the ‘I’ll Be Good For You’ tune again. It breaks away eventually for a heavier sound with choir and guitars. Madonna belts out the vocals well in several places. This one goes on for ages. It’s mostly good, but it does stretch the patience when listening without the benefit of seeing what’s going on.

Don’t Cry For Me Argentina‘ is the one we all know. We’ve already heard motifs in the songs up to this point, but now it’s going all the way. If I’m honest I don’t remember too much about the song about from Madonna singing the title and a few more words. Big string intro, soft, mournful vocals. The verses stretch out, teasing the listener and getting the lyrics across. It’s one of Madonna’s better vocals. The chorus is fine, more understated than what I remembered and it balances well with the verses rather than outstripping it.

On The Balcony Of The Castle Rosada (Part 2)’ begins with some excited whispering. We get crowd noise and choir singing which builds in pace and urgency. We then get a spoken section, an inspired speech. We finish with a brief choir blast and short Madonna line.

High Flying, Adored’ is a gentle ballad starting out with Antonio’s smooth vocals. It’s another good performance from him. Madonna comes in briefly at the end to mirror what Banderas has just sung.

Rainbow High‘ starts suddenly, Madonna’s quick vocals giving over to further choir voices – these two flit back and forth throughout. It’s another good performance by Madonna, giving it her all even as the timing and style transform.

Rainbow Tour‘ features more male vocals. This one is a little more cheesy, feeling very ‘Dr Zeus/Dr Zeus’. There’s a little bit of Madonna in the middle before returning to the blokes.

The Actress Hasn’t Learned The Lines You’d Like To Hear‘ starts with trumpets and annoying chorus vocals – like Greek Play Chorus, you know? Madonna comes in with some meandering vocals and lyrics. Familiar melodies come at last – there’s really only a handful of recurring motifs here, a few more wouldn’t have gone amiss for such a huge score. There’s some horror movie sounds for a while to change it up.

Pardito Feminista‘ features more crowd noise and speeches. Some singing too, quite a bit for a song shorter than two minutes long actually.

Waltz For Eva And Che‘ is just as it sounds. Antonio first. Madonna next. Melodies are largely sacrificed for the sake of lyrics and plot. Big waltz in the middle with splashing percussion.

Your Little Body’s Slowly Breaking Down‘ opens with a morbid and sad piano line and vocal deliver. Madonna joins in to give a more positive spin for this short track.

You Must Love Me’ is another short track. Man, all those ‘were do go from here’ lines are just reminding me of Buffy. This is a decent ballad, plaintive, and understated with just piano and violin along with Madonna’s voice.

Eva’s Final Broadcast’ seems like a downer. We know what is happening, so obviously it’s not a barrel of laughs. Madonna’s voice gives way to some sort of chanting, then she comes in again to add new words to the same old melodies. Then the big chorus comes back with a slight change. This one is theatrical, with wavering vocals, soundbites, and all the rest of it. We close with a few mournful minutes of choir voices.

Lament‘ closes the album, at least from my perspective. Madonna and guitar. Another good one. We get a jump scare surge of strings and full orchestra blasts before calming down and Antonio takes over.

Jeebus, that was long. But it was better than I was expecting. It doesn’t feel like a Madonna album, though her imprint is there. It feels like a musical, but there are songs which seem to live and breathe on their own. All the silly trappings of the stage are there, though they are not as annoying as I thought they would be and while there is an awkwardness in listening to the soundtrack without following the screen, plenty of the songs are good enough to warrant listening. There is quite a lot of repetition, and some songs are too long for purely listening to, but on the whole it’s a decent album and I could easily cut it down to a more respectable length and listen through it again.

Let us know in the comments what you think of the Evita soundtrack. Next time we see Madonna we’ll be going through Ray Of Light – an album I liked a lot when it was first released but haven’t heard since (actually, I stupidly posted Ray Of Light before posting this, so next time it will be Music)!

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Ray Of Light!

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Greetings, Glancers! I’ll get this out of the way at the outset – I love Ray Of Light. I listened to it quite a lot when it was first released and even though I have slagged Madonna after and before it was released, it still holds up as a great record. Or I think it does – I haven’t listened to it in years. It’s the first Madonna album I can remember being released; I was 15 at the time and hadn’t paid much attention to anything Madonna related beforehand other than her singles and videos. Now that I was a teenager I was actually earning and spending my own money on things and of course was more knowledgeable about music. Until roughly this age most of the albums I owned were either metal, hard rock, or Michael Jackson. I remember a lot of people in school talked about Ray Of Light – people who were exclusively into shitty dance music, rock kids, chart kids, etc. Madonna essentially kept herself relevant by tapping into a variety of sounds and styles and by above all releasing a bunch of great songs. Moving on…

Drowned World/Substitute For Love‘  is a fairly creepy sounding name and the song starts in a fairly creepy way – wind sounds, laser electronic sounds, some bloke speaking, until Madonna’s plaintive vocal flows in. When the beat comes in it all makes sense – the beat and overall sound is chilled, we get plenty of additional beats and backwards sounds. I can’t say it sounds dated now, there’s something old about it though. It did feel revolutionary at the time but I loved most and still do is how dynamic it is – instruments drop in and out, the song dissolves into momentary tangents, and at the core is a brilliant Madonna performance.

Swim‘ opens with some guitar. That’s another point which I always remember about the album – people see it as this big dance record, but it’s filled with guitar too and one of my friends who was just learning guitar at the moment always listened to this album specifically for the guitar parts. This is a pretty good album track, a funky mixture of riffs and warbling dance parts. Again the production is terrific, music building and withdrawing, and there’s always something new and dynamic happening to distract from an otherwise simple structure. 

Ray Of Light‘ is the biggie, and it was a hit for years. This one does sound very 90s now and yet still has a modern flavour. I think that’s because today’s commercial pop and dance is so technically bland. This has energy, it flickers and bounces on many levels while today’s chart stuff feels flat and hollow – no depth to the structure or production. The music video is pure Trainspotting jittery nonsense though – good at the time but severely dated now.

Candy Perfume Girl‘ starts with electronic humming, then guitar, then wet beats, then assorted sounds and vocals. It’s very much your standard album track and has the same drum sounds and backing noise that appeared in hundreds of songs around the time. There’s still plenty to discover here, but it’s easily the weak link so far.

Skin‘ gets us back on track. It begins suddenly, yet is slow and smooth. The way the backing noises descend into a chaotic swamp of whispers and noise, and then how the fast beat suddenly comes in – this is very much my sort of dance music. I love the central vocal melody, again there is a tonne of atmosphere and smart production, and again the song never wants retain the same sound, varying and morphing as it goes. Great for night driving. Great for anything really.

Nothing Really Matters‘ is an atmospheric ballad. I almost dread to think what a song like this would have sounded like had she recorded it in an earlier era. The New Jack or 80s pop versions of this likely would have been a disaster. Don’t get me wrong, the drum beats for most of the song are too generic and weak, but everything is perfect – love the chorus, love the little piano and string moments. Yeah, just a pity about the beats.

Sky Fits Heaven‘ continues the atmosphere, bringing a more organ based ethereal sound. Again, I somehow don’t mind the fact that this is a dance track – let is be said I love dance music when it’s done right – it just so rarely is. This combination of William Orbit and Madonna though was just one of those moments when the stars are aligned. I’m not overly fond of the middle section here, at least not until it smooths out, but the rest is great, the beats are much better, the distorted guitar noise is fantastic, and I enjoy the little melodic callbacks to Till Death Do Us Part. 

Shanti/Ashtangi‘ goes a little weird. This is definitely Madonna’s Revolver album – the most obvious example of her music becoming art and transcending, so it’s quite apt she throws in this Eastern based mess, just like The Beatles did. It’s fine but does come off as self-indulgent. I think the best part of the song is how people I knew would make up their own English translations for the lyrics. This was before all your internets and googles, kids!

Frozen‘ was always my favourite  song from the album. I love atmospheric music – something a little chilling and emotional, and this hits all of those notes. It’s still fantastic now, and the video’s great too. It’s easily one of Madonna’s best vocals, easily contains some of her best melodies. I love the strings – goes without saying – I love the little instrumental pieces which return us to the verse either any time there is a pause or from the chorus. Mysterious, haunting, and unquestionably beautiful.

The Power Of Good-Bye‘ is another classic. It’s definitely a 90s track with those beats, but it’s a marvel. For me this one is all about the melodies, as pop music almost always is, and here verse and chorus are exceptional. It’s actually one of the more simple songs on the album, but it’s still dressed up in electronica and strings – it doesn’t need anything additional and it doesn’t need any part taken out – perfect the way it is. An interesting titbit (so much better than tidbit) – part of the verse melody is identical to a part of the Family Ness theme tune.

To Have And Not To Hold‘ comes in cold – moody, dark, with growling beats. I feel that in a previous era she would have gone the Spanish route for this one. I do prefer the chorus to the verse and as a whole the song doesn’t get me as much as others on the album. Still good, but in the bottom half for me.

Little Star‘ is Madonna’s dedication to her new born bambino. I think. It opens as if it is going to be some super fast dance track but once the vocals start it’s all very slow and tender, even though the backing beats are moving quickly. It is mostly plain and the melodies don’t do much for me even if the sentiment is moving. I feel like this one should have been a more traditional ballad with a changed melody, but what do I know. I do know this one is too long, even if some of the string pieces near the end are lovely.

Mer Girl‘ closes the album, beginning like a phone off the hook – a tantalizing, unfinished conversation. An ending both slow and sudden. There is a lot of silence in this song but still there is a lot going on musically. Lyrically, this is basically a short story, melodically it isn’t very interesting. It’s an experimental end – fine, but I prefer albums to close with a bang.

Even though there are some songs that feel like standard album tracks and don’t do much for me, the highs on the album are such sky-scraping highs that they reach far beyond any parts you may not be so keen on. Add to that fact that those highs far outweigh the lows (and that the lows are still fine) and we have probably Madonna’s best album. It’s this and Like A Prayer that we’ll still be talking about in a hundred years. Well, I will – you’ll all be gone. This is one of the best albums of the 90s, and it’s basically the last thing Madonna did that I liked. Having said that I have heard very little, if any, of her last few albums so my next few posts will be interesting for me. I still hold out hope that someone who can make an album as brilliant as this can still make a few good songs per album, so I expect to hear a few more favourites before we reach the end of our journey.

Ray Of Light – were you around when it was released? Where do you rank it beside Madonna’s other albums? Let us know in the comments!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Drowned World/Substitute For Love. Ray Of Light. Frozen. Skin. Nothing Really Matters. Sky Fits Heaven. The Power Of Goodbye.

Nightman Listens To Madonna – Bedtime Stories!

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Greetings, Glancers! The last time we spoke of Madonna, she had released her most controversial and sexually charged album to date – Erotica. It was fine, and while I loved many of the ideas, most of the music didn’t make my nuts tingle. With Bedtime Stories, Madonna wanted to remind fans and the population at large that she wasn’t merely some orgasmic vixen but that she had other layers and furrows – like we all have. As you would expect, the album was yet another major success and proceeded to break new ground for Madonna while influencing later artists. But what do I think of it? Looking at the track list I see the album garnered four singles, though only one of them I can remember from the name; I’m sure once I hear some of the others I will remember them too. As always, listen along, weep at my thoughts, and drop your comments below!

Survivor‘. Beeps. Drum sounds. Voices. I don’t think I’ve heard this, but it’s very 90s RnB. Different sound from anything she had so far. It’s quite plain and tame actually. I don’t think the melodies would lodge in my head.

Secret‘. Guitar. Noise. Vocals. Better melodies. I was about to type that I don’t recall this, but the chorus sounds familiar, pretty sure I have heard that piece at least. I do like the different direction of sound, but neither of these two songs are emotional or melodic enough to grab me on first listen.

I’d Rather Be Your Lover‘. Portishead. Falls apart at vocals. Better in verses. Sexy without being as obvious as the last album. It doesn’t make the melodic impact again. Disaster rap. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t recognise many of the song names, possibly that’s because the album didn’t have any obvious hits that I would remember 20 years after the fact – and we tend to most readily remember songs with melodies which have an impact.

Don’t Stop‘. 90s RnB pop beats. Oh dear. Terrible lyrics. No, absolutely awful lyrics. This one is trying to be sexy, I think, but it’s juvenile and clueless. Nothing positive to say about this one I’m afraid. There’s about 100 seconds of material here, yet the song is almost five minutes long. Sort it out.

Inside Of Me‘. Sex breath. Let your mind conjure some images from that phrase. At least this one feels sexy. A strange girly voice. Better melodies. Lyrics don’t appear to be about sex, more about sadness and hope. This is the best song yet, though that isn’t saying much. Still, it’s another good Madonna song that I wasn’t aware of.

Human Nature‘. Screeching RnB. Express yourself, don’t repress yourself. Yes, but more importantly – don’t be a dick about it. Sweary lyrics. Another new voice. A reaction to the public reaction to her last album? Or related to some relationship? So, good lyrics, silly music, melodies of no consequence.

Forbidden Love‘. More slow, smooth beats. Even though I don’t like a lot of these songs, the Production is always right on the money for the period. It’s another case of bland versus followed by a marginally better chorus. She sings with a more traditional Madonna voice this time around. The first part of the chorus hints at something great, but it fizzles out. This is one of the better songs on the album so far.

Love Tried To Welcome Me‘. Hiss. Strings. Good? Guitar. Jangles. Promising. Smooth RnBeats. I feel like this would have had more impact if it had a different production or backing music. It’s already stripped back, but those beats don’t really work. This one is quite sad, quite good, and the chorus is fine. Doesn’t reach the heights. Feels like a good one for a rainy day window view.

Sanctuary‘. Words. Familiar melody. More beats. Odd pipes. Bass. Quite unusual, though quite nice. Mysterious. A lot of songs on the album don’t feel like Madonna songs, maybe because these are not straightforward, simple pop songs like we are used to. More spoken words. The melodies are a little repetitive here, but still hypnotic.

‘Bedtime Story’. Throb sounds. Sex sounds. Portishead again. More threatening tone. Back beat. Feels like a centerpiece. There’s the dated beats. It does feel sort of dreamy in a warm, sultry, heroin snuggly way. It’s all monotone though. I don’t mind this one, has the shadows, has the nice dark tone I love for night driving with the warm air grooving, or drifting off to sleep in a daze.

‘Take A Bow’. Ah, I know this one. It’s quite sweet. It feels like a tacked on song to the end of a darker album. Still it ends up being a highlight for me. It’s quite funny how different this is in tone from everything else. I like this one – I can’t see it changing anyone’s world, but there is an innocence, a Michael Jackson vibe, and easy hooks.

Looking at the cover art and with the backlash from her previous album I was expecting this to be a more mainstream, melodic, pop-based affair, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a dance album, ‘bedtime’ simply means sex, and none of the songs really work as obvious singles, outside of the final track. Credit for continuing to experiment and try different things but it’s not to my tastes. Most of the songs are too… empty? There isn’t any emotion or enough variance – experiment all you want, but you still need something to pull people in and keep them. The album was a success so clearly I’m in the minority. Since when has anyone listened to me anyway?

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Bedtime Stories. Is this one of Madonna’s best, or are you a n’fan (not a fan)? Next up it’s ah… it’s Evita. Don’t cry for me, but I really don’t know much about the music from it, aside from the pun I just made. I think I’ll listen only to the actual songs, not the other guff that is probably included too. Adios!

Nightman Listens To – Erotica – Madonna

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Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with Madonna today, back to her main studio albums and hopefully a return to form after the poor (in my mind) soundtrack album I’m Breathless. If you read my post on Like A Prayer you’ll know that I thought it was a fantastic album, brave, controlled, cultured, and most importantly packed with great music. Erotica was another well received album, and the first one where she began to focus more directly on sex from all directions. She had touched upon the subject frequently with previous albums, but with this one she takes sex and turns it into a concept album. It was at this time that she released her controversial Sex book, and presumably with this album she pushed a lot of boundaries for mainstream pop. Looking at the track list, I think I only know four of the fourteen songs, so I’ll be hoping once again for a few new gems. There’s no sense in waiting any further, lets strip off and get down to business.

Erotica‘ opens with record static, followed by quite tribal beats, heavy percussion and spoken lyrics. There’s a bit of Jungle Boogie in there, a heavily experimental sound unlike anything she had displayed before. The verse lyrics are good, lots of innuendo, but little melody – the chorus switches things by focusing on melody and dropping the lyrical intensity. I remember being not 100% fond of this one at the time, but I appreciate it more now. It does seem a little long, if only from a single perspective, but maybe the single version was cut down a bit.

Fever‘ is of course a cover. When I looked at this on the track list I couldn’t quite remember if this was a cover or one of her own which I couldn’t recall, but as soon as the song started I remembered hearing it. I’ve never been a huge fan of any version of this song, but I suppose this is as good as any, with a bit of New Jack, and a bit of club. There isn’t enough going on to warrant the five minute running time and it does feel dull and dated, even if the beat is infectious.

Bye Bye Baby‘ has similar drum beats to the previous songs, so there is a consistency. Unfortunately this sound feels dated now and reminds me of Vanilla Ice or PJ and Duncan or some such balls. Madonna does sound different, adopting a vicious Betty Boop persona and voice. Good production, lots going on, but it is dated. What excites me? The little pieces of synth which threaten to grow, but then they go away. Lyrics are okay, but melodically it’s poor and doesn’t grab the attention. Surprise end.

Deeper And Deeper‘ opens with a mix of synth and piano before dance beats come in to make us know where we stand. I was always a bit partial to this and even 9-10 year old me would have danced around the house to it like a weirdo, but again it has dated badly. A return to better hooks. An updated version of this one (there’s probably one out there) would presumably improve matters. It feels quite long, but there is some variance with the Spanish instruments joining the din. Vogue surprise.

Where Life Begins‘ starts a little differently – light on percussion, high on instrumental tinkering. This is momentary as a sultry beat soon takes over as Madonna whispers about her special area. It does manage to sound sexy and interesting, not tacky. Some of the lyrics are a bit on the nose (matron), others are funny, but I think I quite like this one. At least she’s being direct, most pop music now which deals with sex does so in a roundabout way or just dives in like cheap porn.

Bad Girl‘ has a slow beat and twinkling piano, before a heavier beat comes in over some delicate melodies and thoughtful, thought-provoking lyrics. I don’t remember ever hearing this one so it’s another surprise. Not the most memorable song but good enough on the first listen.

Waiting‘ is another song which tips past the 5 minute mark, and it’s another bass and drums laden track. I appreciate the length of the songs as this hints at ignoring the standard 3-4 pop single standard and doing whatever the hell she wants. Of course, sometimes songs need to be 3-4 minutes. This one tries to be sultry, has more spoken vocals and is low on melody aside from the chorus, so it feels like forgettable mid-album stuff. Again, there is a certain amount of variance, great production, but I’m not a huge fan of the drum and bass heavy stuff. This has good moments, not enough though.

Thief Of Hearts‘ has more Twin Peaks synths at the start before a series of faster beats take the lead. It’s another I haven’t heard, the drums are a little too weak here, there is some dated stuff, but I like the energy, the dark atmosphere which the synth brings, and the melodies. There’s another couple of R’n’B breakdown in the middle with something not quite rap emerging, leading to some comedy swearing and the final verse, chorus run which threatens to run out of steam.

Words‘ opens like a movie about an apocalyptic wasteland, the silence suddenly broken by a mass desert orgy/rave. It’s another which relies to heavily on the beat and that’s something I personally am not very interested in. Some of the sounds are annoying here, but again there are good moments – snippets of melody, a few lyrics here and there. This one is definitely overdone and almost 6 minutes long, not adding enough variance to justify that length.

Rain‘ has always been one of my favourite Madonna songs – I loved it upon release, and I’ve gone back to it several times over the years. Musically, it’s a massive departure from the rest of the album, but in terms of lyrics, tone, and atmosphere it retains the darkness, sadness, and anger. The opening begins in the same vein, with prominent beats before flowering into a luscious ballad. I’m listening now to the album version and wondering if the single was a little different. I must check on that. There are a few unnecessary instrument and sound choices which should have been dropped in favour of a more streamlined approach.

Why’s It So Hard‘ has a slight rock edge, with guitar parts deep in the mix, but again at the core is the percussion. The central beat is slow, contrasted by the speedy vocals, and the lyrics question the issues preventing unity among people. It has a few catchy moments but like quite a few of the songs on this album it lacks your standard immediate pop chorus. This one does feel stretched, again meandering past five minutes.

In This Life‘ is one which goes beyond 6 minutes, so it better be good. An uppy downy line opens things, with some drunken piano playing simplistic, repetitive notes while Madonna sings melodies which don’t seem to sync with the music. It creates a hypnotic tone and once it comes together for the chorus it feels powerful. It’s obviously a personal lyric, I must say I prefer the vocal melody to the verse piano antics. It is overlong, but the spoken word parts do well, as they do for the most part on the rest of the album, and I usually don’t like spoken parts on songs.

Did You Do It‘ begins with some mumbled spoken parts, then the same old horns and percussive beat begins. Some guy begins rapping and this one for a change actually sounds quite modern. Madonna only comes in for the chorus (which seems to be a reprise), a lot of the lyrics are funny, explicit, and it feels like this could have been a single (if they’d been able to get away with the lyrics). It’s quite interesting to include this, as so much of the album is a woman’s perspective of sex and love while this is clearly from the man’s side. What does it mean with respect to the rest of the album – mocking the male approach to sex? Showing that men and women aren’t that different in terms of sex?

Secret Garden‘ opens with piano and some sort of throbbing beat. The drums come in which sound a little Beatles and a little Massive Attack. And she’s singing about her special area again. More whispered verse vocals, more melodic chorus. The vocals are a little too low so I can’t make everything out. Jazz interlude.

This was clearly groundbreaking stuff and there are some very good songs here, but much of it feels dated and I’m not a huge fan of the same beat and percussive style which is used on almost every track. Having said that, there are nods to a wide array of genres – jazz, rock, but at it’s core this is a thinking person’s dance record – introspective yet shamelessly extrovert, personal yet universal, and isn’t frightened to lay opinions bare or question taboo, or expose itself. With more musical variance in terms of production and instrumentation, I think I would have enjoyed this more – on several occasions the melody or idea is sacrificed for the sake of mood or beat, something which works best in small doses – here is as as unsubtle and all-pervading as someone walking into your room in a gimp suit. Even with it being dated musically, the ideas are fresh and challenging and it is clear that Madonna the artist was operating on a level apart from any of her supposed peers.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Madonna’s Erotica – were you there when it was released, what is your favourite song from the album, and where do you rank the album alongside her other releases?

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – I’m Breathless

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Greeting, Glancers! I know, I know. I said I likely wouldn’t listen to this one due it being a soundtrack album in a genre I don’t like for a film I didn’t enjoy. But here we are, I am the Prince Of Lies. Madonna teamed up with Stephen Sondheim and Mandy Patinkin to work on the soundtrack album for Dick Tracey in which she also starred (alongside Warren Beatty and Al Pacino). Looking down the tracklist, there is only one song I know for sure, with one more I may remember but could be confusing with something else. No point in beating around the old bush, lets dive in!

He’s A Man‘ seems to begin with a sound clip of some sort. Madonna singing differently than she usually does over a slow, sultry  beat. Decent lyrics, some backing vocals, not much going on melodically. This ironically would have been a much better Bond song than Die Another Day was. Nothing special though.

Sooner Or Later‘ starts with a softer jazz tone and swooning beat. This I imagine is all supposed to be sexy, in the same way that Monroe was supposed to be sexy, but both do nothing for me. Some unfortunate lyrics with ‘the more you resist, the more it excites me’ sounding criminal.Nothing memorable here either.

Hanky Panky‘ has some okay piano in the introduction which never goes where I want it to. Then all hell brakes loose and we collapse into some weird 1980s 1920s cheesy mashup. This is the one I thought I may have heard, but I wasn’t sure. I think I have, but I don’t remember much about it apart from the rhyming of Hanky Panky and Spanky. I think this was something we used to shout at each other in the schoolyard. It’s sort of catchy but incredibly silly.

I’m Going Bananas‘ makes a mockery of my ‘incredibly silly’ comment. Madonna adopts some bizarre accent and squeaks and squeals incomprehensibly while Cuban horns and beats buzz around. At least it’s short.

Cry Baby‘ sees another change in vocal style, going for that Betty Boop cutesy shite. I was dreading something like this. Annoying and twee and pointless.

‘Something To Remember‘ at least sounds like a song, and possibly a serious one. It’s another slow burner, the melodies ramble a bit without anything standing out. It does have violins doing what violins should do though, but it’s a couple of minutes longer than it needs to be.

Back In Business’ sounds the same as the other slow ones, but builds up a more melodic and sultry vocal in the verses. Again it collapses into hilarity for the chorus with silly dated drums and twiddly saxomotrumps shooting off. A song of two parts then, the first fine, the other disastrous. It’s also over five minutes long for unknown reasons, and it does get worse as it goes along with trumpy solos and Madonna burping out assorted vocal ticks.

More‘ opens with plinky plonkey piano so we know we’re in jaunty territory again. So we have two basic songs on this album – jaunty ones and slow ones. Take your pick, they’re both poor. Jeepers, this one is almost five minutes long too. No, please, no more.

What Can You Lose‘ starts nicely, with Saul giving a different spin to what we’ve heard so far. Finally, a song that isn’t a pain in the soul to listen to. It’s pretty short too, probably for the best because once the duet begins in earnest it starts to fall apart.

Now I’m Following You Part 1‘ returns to the jaunty stuff. Another duet with some tap dancing sounds and other crap wafting in the background. Nothing worth recommending this one.

Now I’m Following You Part 2‘ is basically the same as Part 1, but with added dated 80s noises. It does its hardest to turn you into a serial killer in the final minute.

Vogue‘ is completely unrelated to everything that has gone before, and has no right being associated with this album. I’ve never been a huge fan of this song, but it’s light years ahead of anything else on I’m Breathless in terms of quality. It has a melody, has its own sound, and while it does sound dated there is still something fresh about it. Plus is has a classic Madonna chorus. What a bizarre album.

Well, that was terrible. Only the most hardcore Madonna fans should listen to this, or those with a fetish for shit jazz. It hasn’t made me want to watch Dick Tracy again, probably a good thing as I remember it being crap. Thankfully Madonna returns to form (I think?) with Erotica which features at least one of my favourite Madonna songs, some I have probably heard but can’t remember, and some I won’t have heard. I’ll be looking forward to hearing that one next time, but for now I’m away to band my head with a beer bottle until I’ve wiped away every memory of I’m Breathless. Good times, LOLAMIRITEWTF!

Let us know what you thought of this album – was it a misstep for Madonna or another interesting experiment?

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Like A Prayer

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/

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – True Blue

Greetings Glancers! We’re back in familiar 80s Pop territory again, with the Queen of sex herself, Madge!

After the monumental success of previous album Like A Virgin, Madonna was on top of the world. Gaining fame in the music world is easy, but maintaining that level of success is something few artists achieve. Madonna had already launched a few non-album singles and outtakes from a variety of movies, and had branched out into acting too. True Blue had the difficult job of following up an album which has since been named as one of the defining albums of that decade, but it succeeded – at least in terms of sales. True Blue was an absolute monster, becoming the biggest selling album of the decade by a female performer, and still ranks among the biggest selling releases of all time. It roughly followed the same power pop/dance oriented pop as her earlier work, but also saw her trying a few new styles. Looking at the meagre nine tracks of the album, I instantly recognise four of them, but I’m sure I’ll remember a couple of the others too. Lets see if this one holds up well today, and maybe I’ll catch something new that I’ll enjoy.

Papa Don’t Preach: Strings! I’m a big fan of strings in music, so yay to Madonna. I must not have heard this in a while as I don’t remember the song starting this way. The vocals are deeper than usual, the music is still funky, and the lyrics are interesting. Of course, it’s the chorus I remember thanks to great melodies. The vocals are quite strange, being so deep. The bridge into chorus is excellent too. The song loses a little of its steam towards the end due to a little unnecessary repetition, but all in all it’s still great, one of her best.

Open Your Heart: Big drums and 80s crystalline synth. Funky guitars and weird sounds. The verse isn’t great, but I do remember the chorus and bridge. It’s a straight forward rinse and repeat song, catchy at certain points, but not as strong as some her more recognisable hits.. still good though.

White Heat: Okay, that’s why it’s called White Heat. An odd opening, and when the music starts it gets even weirder. More 80s synth and funky beats which has high nostalgic value, for me at least. It’s a bet of a mess though, not particularly catchy or anything of note in verse or chorus. More sampling appears in the middle before a final chorus repeat leads to the end.

Live To Tell: A slower, more sombre, yet eminently atmospheric 80s opening. The music is fine, but the vocal melodies don’t go anywhere – too soft and drifting and one-note. The melodic change after the three-minute mark picks things up and it becomes much more interesting, with the lyrics meeting the music nicely. It all sounds very Roxette in these moments, and it’s a pity that the melodies of the first half aren’t as strong as those in the closing moments.

Where’s The Party: This one sounds very upbeat and silly. Yes, so far nonsensical lyrics about going out and having fun at the weekend, yawn. Musically it’s the usual 80s sounds and synthetic beats, and the melodies again aren’t very strong. I suppose the chorus may be catchy enough if you’re singing along while boozing it up, but that’s not much of a compliment. Weird sounds and words and effects come in at one point, serving to extend the song by another minute. Not great, but dumb fun for kids.

True Blue: Aah, another favourite of mine. A pastiche of some of the 60s pop which ladies were making, it’s a fun song with great melodies throughout (take note Where’s The Party). It’s almost too happy and twee and cheesy, and certainly nostalgia is playing a part in me liking it so much, but it truly is a well crafted piece of music that will glue itself to your psyche for days. The middle piece is also good, and proves that you can extend a song for an extra minute without making it feel cheap.

La Isla Bonita: A cynical attempt to cash in on another market? Well, obviously, but still a great song once again – verse and chorus melodies folks, that’s the key. Much of the annoying 80s stuff is stripped back to give this a more pure, timeless feel. The best simple songs can be stripped back to only their vocals, or a single accompanying instrument and still retain their power, and that I imagine is the case with this one.

Jimmy Jimmy: How many of the songs on this album start with a rapid-fire drum blast? All of them? I think it’s all of them. A fast paced one here that seems to be a love song or dedication to some Jimmy or other. Melodically fair at best, the chorus approaches something good but doesn’t quite get there. Decent middle section. Unlike the previous song, this is exactly the sort of track that would not sound good stripped back, relying on all the 80s crap to give it an identity.

Love Makes The World Go Round: Two seconds of funky bass before the drum blast this time. Strange timing on this one, so plus points for being different. It’s quite jarring, all those sudden pauses, but they work. This one has a Spanish rhythm too, and the chorus again is only okay, not reaching the high points. Verses are pretty average. A nice message, not quite MJ or Lennon or whoever, but at least it’s something different from singing about your humps or whatever. Okay middle section. Quite an apt album closer, fun and uptempo and fresh enough to make you want to flip your cassette over to side 1 again.

A selection of obvious big hitters, a few average, forgettable tracks, and one or two duffers. On an album with only 9 songs you can’t really afford a couple of duffers. Not that anyone cared of course given how many copies it sold. Even the worst songs aren’t terrible, but only a few are truly special. I was hoping for a few good surprises, but the songs I wasn’t familiar with weren’t particularly interesting for me. A few of those non-album tracks of this era were pretty damn good and would have made this a more robust effort. We’re getting towards the stage now where I’ll be less familiar with more and more of the songs on each album, and we’ll be moving into the 90s, a decade in which Madonna continued her wild success.

Let me know in the comments section what you think of this album? Is this Madonna’s peak? Does this contain any of your favourite songs, or do you have any special memories of True Blue?

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/

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Like A Virgin!

Greetings, glancers, and welcome back to another exciting entry in the Nightman Listens series. Today, we’ll be looking at one of the biggest albums of the 80s, and one which launched the career of one of the most influential women in music.

Hard to believe, but yeah
Hard to believe, but yeah

Madonna’s first album was a decent success and the follow-up was recorded and released a year later to great acclaim. With a number of high performing singles and a distinct sound, it is one of the archetypal 80s records, going on to encourage a bunch of imitators to follow Madonna’s musical approach, fashion sense, and provocative approach. Surrounding herself with some terrific writers, Madonna’s drive for success was spurred by the songs she was recording around this time. Looking at the track listing, I actually only recognise two of the names, though I’m sure I’ll know some of the others once I hear them – I’ve never actually sat down and listened to the whole thing. So let’s do this!

Material Girl: Aah, for someone my age there are any number of songs which instantly transport you back to the 80s. Big synthetic drum blasts and funky beats – as soon as that riff comes in, you’re already back there and when the vocals come in there’s no coming back. It’s all very cheesy, almost deliberately so, with Madonna both mocking and praising the materialistic lifestyle. The chorus is perfect, and the verses are pretty catchy too. Of course, we could do without all the squeaks and squawks, but it was the 80s. The production here is excellent, much higher quality. The song feels a little stretched, possibly for video purposes, but it never out stays its welcome.

Angel: Plinky plonky. Laughs. Hmm, I don’t recognise this one so far. Fairly catchy and sultry vocals. Vocals get more bizarre as the song goes on. Chorus is okay, not overly strong. There’s a nice synth break in the middle, another laugh which manages to not be as cheesy as you would think, so well done for that.

Like A Virgin: One of the most recognisable songs of the decade, and possibly Madonna’s signature song. Opening with honking synths it’s another which instantly grabs hold. Madonna sings in a high register, and both verse and chorus melodies are catchy. The lyrics fitted perfectly with Madonna’s image at the time, as an independent strong woman. Musically it crosses that line between pop and dance brilliantly – a song just as good to listen to in the bedroom, on the dance floor, on your Walkman.

Over And Over: Drums. Fast paced blaps. More synth. It’s another I don’t recognize. It’s good fun hearing all these 80s songs which you didn’t hear first time around, or forgot about as they all manage to pull back memories. I was only a toddler when this albums came out, but nevertheless, the music was replayed on TV and radio for years. Anyway, not many hooks on this one, the chorus is okay, but it’s definitely mid-album filler.

Love Don’t Live Here Anymore: Ah yes, I remember this one, and it is of course a cover. Given the synth treatment, it’s probably Madonna’s first ‘dark’ song with its desolate lyrics about loss. The vocals are fine at the high ranges, but things get a little strange for those lower notes. Nevertheless, the arrangement blending strings, synth, guitars, and booming drums gives that timeless 80s feel, and it sounds a little like something Roxette would have done. The song threatens to drag on a little bit, but Madonna brings it back by some fine yelping and howling for the final moments.

Dress You Up: Thumping drums. Disastrous synth. Nice melody. Hand clap sounds like cardboard boxes being dropped in a puddle. Silly lyrics about clothes/sex. I remember the chorus. The chorus is a little too short and whiney. Feels more like a one hit wonder than a genuine memorable Madonna track. It’s a little weak sounding with flat production, decent melodies. It’s a fun, silly inclusion that doesn’t really go anywhere.

Shoo Bee Doo: I don’t know this one. A piano led ballad with a lot of space for Madonna’s vocals. Now drums, slowly becoming more of a dance track. Some of this sounds a little familiar, but I can’t place my memories accurately so I may well have heard this in my youth, or it could simply be similar to other songs I’ve heard. Something about it is also reminding me of a Michael Jackson song, but I can’t quite determine which one. Oh dear Lord, Saxomophone. Vague, light, forgettable, overlong but aside from those points, nothing particularly poor about it.

Pretender: Weird fast noises. Synth drums and other strangeness. I don’t know this one. Attempts to be funky, but doesn’t quite work. Weird vocals, silly boo-hoo lyrics. Nothing catchy here, no matter how many times ‘He’s a pretender’ is shouted at me. Ooh, an interesting middle section. That almost went somewhere good, but didn’t quite manage it.

Stay: The final track, hmm this is a pretty short album. Then again I’m used to metal and prog albums lasting forever. More weird noises at the start. These last few tracks have been more reminiscent of stuff from the first album – middling dance pop songs with no real hooks. It’s an okay song, but not memorable in the slightest. No, not more speaking parts. When will we learn that talking during songs just DOESN’T work? EVER.

I think I was expecting that to be a bit more. Only the singles have any sort of impact, with the rest of the album being average fluff. Note – it turns out that  one of my favourite Madonna songs – Into The Groove – was added to a re-issues of this album, after being recorded for the Desperately Seeking Susan soundtrack. Ah well, we’ll have to skip that one. Hey, Crazy For You was also recorded around this time and wasn’t part of any studio album. This album would have been epic had those two tracks replaced a couple of the others! So, nothing overly brilliant here, but it’s easy to appreciate the impact and sales the album had. Next time we visit Madonna’s back catalogue, we’ll be going through True Blue which I know contains at least two of my favourite Madonna songs, and I’ll be keen to hear if there are any classics I’ve missed.

Let me know what you thought of this album in the comments – does it contain any of your favourites, or is it an aged relic of a time best forgotten?