So how did I like this one? Let's put it this way: was Jaws II a good film?
I think it was, even when compared to the first Jaws. Jaws 3 or 4 I don't even want to talk about. Same with a few of some of Madonna's earlier works, although a few select songs I liked. And I'd say that this album was a good buy (well, it was a gift, but I still paid for it). I like her dance music. Her ballads... not so much. Her dance ballads are iffy, too ("Papa Don't Preach" is about as appropriate subject matter as "My Name is Luka" for peppy music).
I respect Madonna's business sense. A lot. If I was going to have a pop career, I would study her methods like a monk studies scripture. Madonna has "re-invented herself" so many times that she's almost still fresh with each return, and unlike some Divas, she hasn't become some sad pathetic version of a younger self. She isn't a tool of the industry; she uses the industry like a bullwhip. She had evolved, and so few artists can pull that off.
So when I heard, "Hung Up," I knew she was at least, by the song, trying to go back to dance. You never know, because in the album "Music," she had the title track, which I liked, but the rest of the album was as generic as a contractual obligation. So I looked forward to this album, but cringed in apprehension as I burned the MP3s to my music directory.
As I read the liner notes, I noticed the lyrics were not listed, but that was second to the fact that a 40something year old woman should not be posing like a stripper in a 70s-style leotard. Her wiry, muscular body, while I am sure it is in the best of health, and damn fine for her age... does not lend well to her makeup and dancing tights. Even the overuse of the airbrush fails to remove the sun-wrinkled leathery look that killed Sofia Lauren's modeling career. In an interview a few years ago, when asked about whether she's ashamed of that latex BDSM phase of "Erotica" now that's she's a mom, she said those days were past her. Um. Not quite. Cabbalah mysticism is not being honest with you, Madonna. A woman your age looks better celebrating her wisdom; every wrinkle has a story kind of thing. You're pulling a "sad aging supermodel," and you're better than that. yeah, maybe you're going for that leathery 70s look, but... no.
"Hung Up," was the first track. It's the "flagship track," as promoted in the industry, and it's a good solid song. Heavy dance music, and it carried me through NaNoWriMo quite well. I use music to pace my thoughts, and this was very appropriate because of the ticking clock. It reminds me of another favorite song of hers, "Deeper and Deeper." Like most dance music, the lyrics aren't really important, but they aren't bad. There is a 70s "riff" I recognize, but can't place the song. I have been told it's from an Abba song. One of the elements I like about this song is what I have called "blurred thumps," which gives the illusion the music is blurring in the distance. Kind of like the sounds you hear on the street of some dance club, probably behind an unmarked metal basement door down at the end of a set of some cement stairs. It's a nicely produced piece.
This fades into a more somber piece, if you can call it that, "Get Together." This is what I call "filler track," because it always seems like a lot of albums have a few good songs, and then some... filler. I am told this is because contracts ask for albums with X amount of songs because that's what they do. "Out of most of this crap, a few gems might shine," I can see record execs saying. Some albums have almost all great songs, but they are rare, and cherished by the music industry. Dark Side of the Moon is one of them.
"Sorry," starts with Madonna saying "Sorry" in a handful languages. Sorry is an "angst song," the kind of track I think many pop musicians are obligated to include so that their album runs the gamut of moods. "I've seen it all before, and I can't take it anymore," she says in pop-angst. Dee Snider said that once in his song, appropriately titled, "We're Not Gonna Take It," but artists still get upset at being lied too, and as long as they get lied to, they will continue to have songs about people who piss them off. This song has a good beat, but doesn't stand out from a lyric point of view. Her pentameter is good, though. I bet we'll see a video of this; probably with at least one clip of a girl pushing a guy back at a cafe or something. "No!" she'll mouth. "There are more important things than to hear you speak...!" I heard it all before.
"Future Lovers," kicks butt with a good beat, and this is a severe trance piece with all the echoed repetition ("Give me ev-i-dence of its brilliance...")and talking bits about religion. Man, Madonna really does have a sexy voice. Her voice almost teases you when it doesn't sound bored and jaded in some awkward interview (and almost all interviews with Madonna feel that way).
One of the marks of an album made to generate revenue is those that have a song destined to be used in a commercial or a sports arena. Like Smash Mouth's, "You're a Rock Star," and Right Said Fred's "I'm too Sexy," the track "I Love New York," is waiting at the doorstep of the New York tourism industry aimed towards the jet-set 20-something crowd. Sadly, half the lyrics are rather stilted. Madonna cannot carry the words "dork" and "f- off" (she says the letter F, literally); she handles those words like an Alabama native might handle the words "decoupage" and "schlock." Nice beat, so I am not going to complain too much, and in fact, this is why I consider this the second best track on the album. Might also end up in a video, and Punkie's crystal ball shows clips of people on the city street awkwardly shouting out their love for the Big Apple, like the people dancing in the Bangles video, "Walk Like an Egyptian."
I think their are a union of people who play stringed instruments, because it seems every since the 70s disco era, classical players have tried to peddle their craft by "adding class" to a tune in a way that suggests a lobby of some sort. From a violin section in disco hits, to INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart," and again in this track, "Let It Will Be." Sadly, the strings are replaced with synth (and actually, who can tell if they even were real strings to start off with, the technology is now so good...). Otherwise, forgettable.
"Forbidden Love?" This tune is so cliche, it's right up there with "Sorry." It sounds nice, though. This would be a great dance track in some teen movie during the prom scene, when the outcast falls in love with the popular girl, and finally they dance, social cares be dammed... single slow claps lead to crowd applause.
This track fades into "Jump" so subtly, I didn't even notice the tune shift at first. Most of this album fades from one song to another, which makes for a lot of abrupt pops on a playlist when played out of order. Apart from sounding like a remix of "Papa Don't Preach," the song and lyrics are so generic, I don't even think SHE is interested with it. Definite filler.
"How High," a song that starts out with a voice of a wawa pedal like Aerosmith's classic, "Sweet Emotion," has a lot of potential when it starts, but fades into a different feel that almost sounds like it was produced in a lower quality studio at the last minute. Her voice blows out on some of the lower notes like a set of speakers on gets from some dude in the back of a van who approached you in the mall parking lot. The synth sounds like the kind you see with a "demo" button these days, but the drum machine and vocal backtracks seems like a top of the line. The combo is unusual, and may be intentional, but I am not sure why. It really ruined this track for me.
So after walking through patches of good and bad parts of the neighborhood, we are left at the sunlit desert sands of "Isaac." The opening singer seems to call out at you from a prayer tower in Cairo, and this tune was definitely designed to appeal to the growing Bollywood influence. But it doesn't go quite as far, as say the Beatles did with, "Within and Without You." The mix of Madonna-pop and middle-eastern themes are more Aladdin meets Britney Spears, and I am sure this is related to her Cabbalah thingee. Or at least is alluding to it.
"Push," is, I think as urban as this album tries to go. As in Beyonce, sassy "oh no you d'in't," kind of music. Sadly, Christina Agulera does it better. And Janet Jackson owns this type of music, no one can muscle in, especially a rich girl who lives in a freakin' castle.
The album ends with "Like it Or Not," which sounds so much like her previous song cover, "Fever," that I almost thought I selected the wrong MP3 for my playlist. This has a good beat, and I guess ends the album with the saying, "I'll do what I want, I'm past you." I am not sure if this album IS telling a story or not, but this would be as generic an ending as the final kiss scene in a John Hughes film.
All in all, I give the album a solid B. Positive points for some great trance and dance tracks. Negative points because a lot of the songs sound the same or generic and the album liner notes are slightly disturbing. But it's definitely on my "music to write to" rotation.