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 – 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?