Thursday, 22 March 2007

I LOVE Madonna (part 6 section c)

Number 4: Confessions on a Dance Floor - released November 15th, 2005.

Confessions on a Dance Floor was hyped as Madonna’s return to dance music. As if she had ever left. Almost every single she has released has been given the club remix treatment especially so that her fans could get their groove on under flashing lights and on clouds of dry ice. And every album has prominently featured a scorching dance number or two. So the hype was incorrect, but what this album saw, was a return to making music purely for the club scene and not necessarily for radio airplay, besides America was still not playing her because of ‘American Life’ and unless you are rap, r-n-b, rock, ballads or country good luck breaking through on US radio.

‘Hung Up’ was the albums lead track and first single. The much-hyped ABBA sample is prominent throughout this dance floor stomper, yet it comes across as completely Madonna. The lyrics are throw away and sing-a-long-able “Every little thing that you say or do, I’m hung up, I’m hung up in you”. This was made to be played at gay disco’s across the planet, and that it was, becoming one of Madonna’s highest selling singles of all time. The track ends with an alarm bell going off as the songs seamlessly blends into ‘Get Together’. This is the moment when you realise that this will not be a typical disco dolly romp.
“Do you believe that we can change the future? Do you believe I can make you feel better?” Go the lyrics, and you can imagine, with the pulsating and almost muffled synth chords, posing that question to a complete stranger at a club while chemicals rush through you. Before you get too excited that this is going to be a completely serious dance record we are back to disco with ‘Sorry’. This is the catchiest and sweetest sounding record ABBA never wrote. “Don't explain yourself 'cause talk is cheap. There's more important things than hearing you speak. You stayed because I made it so convenient. Don't explain yourself, you'll never see.” She tells her lover in one of the happiest break up songs recorded. The human door-mat of ‘Erotica’ has grown a set.

Confessions does not really have a narrative flow like many of her other albums. Instead the strength is in the music and production as the album was developed to be played continuously as one long remix, so where one song ends and the other begins is not clear. This is an album to make us dance for love, for life and for inspiration and the next track is where the album musically takes off. ‘Future Lovers’ takes from the baseline of Donna Summer’s – ‘I Feel Love’ with lyrics that keep you transfixed with their sexual energy “Connect to the sky, Future lovers ride, They're in mission style, Would you like to try”. For those of us who have done serious clubbing, this would be the moment where you would come up (on whatever) and begin dancing like you were possessed. Once you have eased into this new feeling the music scape changes into something a little more friendly and easy. There is a guitar riff sampled from Joy Division, and facile lyrics proclaiming her love for New York in the appropriately titled ‘I Love New York’. The fact that she rhymes ‘York’ with ‘dork’ shows she still has her sense of humour and sass. This is one of her most joyous songs since ‘Ray of Light’, with a jump up and down sing-a-long chorus that you never want to end.

And then it does and the track that comes next is Madonna at her most club ready. DJ’s around the world must have hoped and prayed this would get a release, even if as a promo only, because this is her least pop and most club friendly track since ‘Impressive Instant’ off her ‘Music’ album. The rearranged strings from ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ add drama over the heavy house beat of ‘Let It Will Be’ as she sings about materialism and fame. Don’t let that fool you into thinking she is being heavy, as the lyrics are not finger-waving obvious.
“Now I can see things for what they really are. I guess I'm not that far, I'm at the point of no return. Just watch me burn!” This track does set you on fire, and will leave you dripping with sweat which is why you will need the chill out of ‘Forbidden Love’, a nice slice of ambient techno. This is the albums one and only genuine ballad, and Madonna goes into sex kitten in a cyber disco mode and she purrs, “Just one touch from your hands, was all it took to make me falter.”

The next two tracks to me are the weakest, although to many they are the strongest. ‘Jump’ takes off where ‘Forbidden Love’ left, and ups the memento. While the beat is strong and the chorus very catchy, it feels like it would be more at home among the 80’s disco of True Blue. I understand how she is paying homage to her past of dance music, but I also felt ‘Hung Up’ and ‘Sorry’ more than covered this territory. The next track ‘How High’ almost feels like filler, even with its dirty electro inspired production, it never truly soars like it should.

It's the disc's most explicit nod to Madonna’s spiritual practices, and one of the most visual of tracks she has ever recorded. "Isaac”, with its Hebrew chanting, Rabbinic, spoken-word commentary, galloping beat and cascading acoustic guitar create an intriguing dynamic, evoking both African and Eastern European music. She also nods back to ‘Frozen’ with a completely hummed chorus.
The tracks are constantly shifting, with spiralling layers of sounds and samples bouncing in and out, skipping and flying across the speakers. Unlike the glassy precision of Ray of Light and Music, the sensory pattern here is of aural density. 'Push' is damn near psychedelic. She sings of those who have inspired her along the way “Every race I win, every mood I’m in, everything I do, I owe it all to you.” All these heart-felt thanks are laid over a dirty throbbing beat that would make pole dancers salivate. This could have been the single that would have done the best in the US had it been released.
The last track is the one most people are divided over. ‘Like it or Not’ plays like a F-You to her critics and the lyrics have been criticised as being rather clich├ęd. That criticism is kind of pointless when aimed at a song where the lyrics go “This is who I am, you can like it or not.” Musically it embraces the glam stomp, currently owned by currant day electro punk, and runs with it, ending Confessions on a Dance Floor on a jaunty, jubilant note and ironically, for a dance/electronica album, the final notes are played on an acoustic guitar.
Easily dance record of 2005, Confessions is an almost seamless tribute to the strobe-lit sensuality of the '80s New York club scene that gave Madonna her roots. Much credit to co-producer Stuart Price. His understanding of dance music —driving ebb and flow contained by pulsating bass, the over-the-top drama of synthesized strings, and even scratchy dirty grind sounds of overworked speakers— places Madonna squarely central in a genre that, at its very best, inspires the absence of thought, conjures the quest for joyous abandon and waves the flag for the blurring of boundaries. This is clearly her domain.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

A music bonanza break.

I need a little break from Madonna love right now (after the albums are finished I am so taking a break!!!)
Here are some of the songs I am listening to. Some are old, some are new, all are songs that need a bigger audience. Hope you all enjoy!

Clockwise from the top left:

Gossip - Listen Up How much fun is Beth Ditto

Snow Patrol feat. Martha Wainwright - Set Fire to the Third Bar Love this, thanks Dave for making me listen.

TV on the Radio - Staring at the Sun - An oldie(ish) but a goody!!

Shiny Toy Guns - Le Disko - Been about in the US for a while, but just rediscovered this song in my iTunes.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

I LOVE Madonna (part 6 section b)

Erotica - released October 20th, 1992
In the era of AIDS and Reagan, Madonna was pushing sexual and feminist bounderies. By now she was untouchable and this was the first time the artist's music took on a decidedly combative, even threatening, tone. Madonna makes a socially relevant album, and few choose to listen.
I was around 17 when I bought ‘Erotica’ and of course I loved it at the time. The sexual politics and suggestive lyrics was a musical form of rebellion to my friends and I. While others sniggered at songs about oral sex and S&M, we smiled knowingly at each other because we were too liberal to be shocked.
Later on I revisited Erotica. This was while I was in college and learning about art and society and sexuality, and the album took on a whole new meaning. The album was cold and sad like a lover too often scorned to believe in romance, but still needed a good emotionally distant shag.
Now I listen to it and I have a different experience, both similar and new, shiny and new in fact. With my own sexual revolution passed and able to look back on the frivolity of my past I am able to see a little more clearly what ‘Erotica’ is (not was) about. The head fuck of romance.
She introduces the album with “My name is Dita, I’ll be your mistress tonight.” By giving her self this guise she distances herself from the material, possibly because it too close to the raw states of her emotional vulnerability at the time, or perhaps she is playing the ultimate ringleader in the S&M circus. The title track is misleading. ‘Erotica’ the song is a song about a relationship. Take away the sexy crackle of the record player, the orgasmic moans and the throbbing pulse like bass beat and just listen, or read the lyrics and it plays differently. This is a typical story of a person using sex to gain power in a relationship, it is just presented as an S&M fantasy. We are presented with a psyche of a woman so comfortable in her sexuality, but a novice in emotional relationships
Madonna’s cover of Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’ comes next. Replacing the slow burning sexuality of the original with a classic house beat, Madonna turns the song from a brassy seductive admission of desire, to a distant observation of seduction as an act. Madonna is capable of sounding incredibly sexy (‘Justify my Love’) on record, and it seems she is purposely removing sex from the production and performance, and just allowing the lyrics to suggest and titillate, leaving the listener slightly perplexed as to if they should or shouldn’t not be turned on.
‘Bye Bye Baby’ is a self-inflicted mind game. Played like an answering machine message left by an ex you have done wrong by, played over a up tempo hip hop beat. You hear Madonna in her high pitched, baby doll blonde voice cooing to her lover how he has done her wrong and she is moving on.
“What excites you? What turns you on? What makes you feel good? Does it make you feel good to see me cry? I think it does. That's why it's time to say goodbye.” Does she still want him, or is she trying to make him wish he was still with her? I have listened to many a girl friend post break up and heard the “He is no good for me!!”/”Why did it not work??” emotional confusion head fuck. Much of ‘Erotica’ plays like this. Perhaps after the failure of her relationships with Warren Beatty and Tony Ward, she needed a therapy session, and instead made an album, which would explain its schizophrenic representations of romance, relationships and sex. Or it could be that she is just trying to point out that we find it easiest to be at our most honest in the bedroom.
‘Deeper and Deeper’ is the main full on dance track, and was a commercial success for the album. Flamenco guitar and a throbbing base line take this into new territory, even if it plays like part 2 to ‘Vogue’. This is one of the albums main love songs, but with a menacing undertone with the lyric “You're gonna bring your love to me, I'm gonna get you”. A fragile self-confidence of a broken woman builds, but never convinces.
From dancing your disco tits off in a club to the jazz soaked eroticism of the boudoir of ‘Where Life Begins’. This is Madonna’s ode to the vagina and the centre of her sexuality, her pleasure and (as the title suggests) where all life begins. With Andre Betts sensual production, and Madonna purring about oral sex, you feel the lyrics, tone and production gelling like lubricant. The woman has found where she is most comfortable, in a purely sexual relationship where she knows her role. Again it is sexual honesty vs. emotional honesty, the latter being what trips most of us up.
And so we have it, all the previous psychological disorientation as a result of love/sex comes to a head with ‘Bad Girl’ an album highlight of beautiful production and one of her most intelligent songs in it’s portrayal of emotional dishonesty.
“Something's missing and I don't know why. I always feel the need to hide my feelings from you. Is it me or you that I'm afraid of?”
This is clearly a woman in conflict with the feeling of being loved as more than a sum of her physical parts. When you greet love you also greet the fear of losing that love, and it is human instinct to protect our selves by hiding unattractive attributes or by sabotage. In the case of ‘Bad Girl’ she does both. She hides her feelings and sets out to hurt her lover by being unfaithful in an ‘I’ll hurt you before you have the chance to hurt me’ type of self preservation that never protects.

Where ‘Bye Bye Baby’ was almost playful in its execution, ‘Waiting’ treads the same territory (you did me wrong, it is over…I think) but in darker angrier shoes. “It was so easy in the beginning, when you didn't feel like running from your feelings like you are now” could this be the lover from ‘Bad Girl’ responding or the same woman not accepting blame for the failure? Perhaps it is just another variation on a theme, “I wish I could believe you, or at least have the courage to leave you”. This is the war cry of a masochist addicted to the pain, while randomly pointing blame to anyone but themselves.
And ‘Thief of Hearts’, a frantic brilliantly messy dance number, does just that. She sings about the failure of the relationship being the fault of an outside woman who stole her man although the man is never mentioned in the song. The hardest part of any failed relationship is admitting to yourself the part you played in its demise. Stopping yourself from being the victim, the emotional masochist, takes strength and hindsight, something not often obtainable during the initial hurt. There are those, however, who fully realise the type of relationship they are in and enjoy the mental turbulence caused by the hands of their sadist partner “Friends they tried to warn me about you, ‘He has good manners, he's so romantic but he'll only make you blue’. How can I explain to them, how could they know, I'm in love with your words?” she sings in ‘Words’, and song with such frantic strings and beats that it sounds like the musical equivalent of an emotional break down. Where does the victim end and the victimiser begin, and are they more often than not the same person?
So where does ‘Rain’ fit in? This is a love song through and through. Some will say she is using rain as a metaphor for cumming. I think it is used to literally wash away the past and start anew. In therapy this is what would be called a moment of clarity. “Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say, never go away.” She has accepted love without the fear and can move on. This is also the end of this part of the albums journey. Pain is the ultimate aphrodisiac in whatever form it takes, whether it be the infliction or the taking away of it. You do not need leather whips and bondage gear to participate. All you need is two people.

The next few songs tackle consequences and results of sex, as well as acceptance of it as a label.

‘Why’s it so Hard’ from the title could be a song about erectile dysfunction, but is a cry for sexual orientation to be socially accepted. In fact it is a cry for everyone to be accepted in the world “What do I have to do to be accepted, what do I have to say? What do I have to do to be respected, how do I have to play?” Madonna once again is campaigning for equality, but this time she is angry, and performs the regga influenced song with rage and urgency in her voice as she commands “Love your brother now, show your sister how!”
Like everything in life, sex has it’s consequences, and post Regan it was AIDS. Madonna herself had lost many friends to the disease, and ‘In This Life’ was her first song to speak directly on her feelings. “People pass by and I wonder who's next. Who determines, who knows best? Is there a lesson I'm supposed to learn? In this case ignorance is not bliss.” She sings over music based on George Gershwin's Prelude No. 2. The music and the lyrics are plodding and rather depressing for there is no hope suggested. This results in it being an uncomfortable listen for it is a song of despair.
‘Did You Do It?” is filler, showcasing a group Madonna was signing to Maverick records. In it guys rap about conquesting a woman over the top of Madonna’s ‘Waiting’. I guess the in joke is that most men reach climax long before women do. This track does not belong and interrupts the entire flow of the album thus far.
When we get to the last track 'Secret Garden' produced by Betts, we find an unexpected jazz house gem. Had Betts produced more songs like this who knows to what dizzying heights it could have climbed. With its shuffling beats and distant horns complimenting Madonna as she sings quietly about her desire to have a child before it is too late. Easily the sexiest moment on Erotica. we are transported to a completely different musical experience which Madonna has never taken the listener on before or since. The idea of being born again through child birth has never been put so beautifully, "There's a petal that isn't torn. A heart that will not harden. A place that I will be born, in my secret garden. I rose without a thorn, a lover without a scorn." She realises how the love she has to give can flourish and grow without the pain.

Erotica is not a master piece by any stretch of the imagination, but what it did was establish Madonna as a woman musically and socially far ahead of her time, and also as an artist challenging herself and her audience. Erotica was examining relationships from a woman’s point of view long before Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill smacked us over the head with her post feminist relationship angst, yet she was declared refreshing.

Erotica’s message in the end was too hidden beneath the hoopla of the ‘Sex’ book and ‘Body of Evidence’ to fully be appreciated at the time
For all the talk of S&M and infliction of pain as a sexual stimulant, it is emotional pain that teaches you the most about yourself, and in that, there is a certain satisfaction.
In retrospect it is easy to see anything anew and fresh. Insights are made and so-called messages are revealed allowing us a clearer view on intentions. What I am left with is this: For all the stigma placed on bondage and S&M as an activity, in most cases it is consensual. Pain is inflicted by one lover to another for sexual stimulation and excitement. Limits are established early and trust is a big key into how the dynamic works. Any scars or bruising are physical and with time heal. The same cannot be said for the psychological pain a relationship can cause. And that, to me, is the main point of Erotica.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

I LOVE Madonna (part 6 section a)

The Albums

Number 5 (tie): American Life.
American Life saw Madonna collaborate again with Music producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï, with whom she co-wrote and produced most of the songs on the album.
As much as I personally love this album, I fully understand why so many did not. This is Madonna at her most self centred, singing about her fame, her life, her loves and her self, and being very indulgent while doing so. But after six US number 1 albums, thirty six US top ten singles and sixty UK top 10 singles, why shouldn’t she be indulgent. It seems her taste of English life and the advent of the 'Pop Idol' generation have left her at odds with the world around her.
A lot of people were turned off and felt she had finally lost her magic with this release, but mainly it was to do with the choice of the first single, the album opener, and its accompanying video. If you criticize a war-time president in America, you pay a hefty price. The Dixie Chicks did, and so did Madonna. US radio would not play her anymore despite the singles that were released being hits world-wide.
But as an album it works. The lead single, with it’s chunky dirty bass beat verse and acoustic chorus sees her looking at her life and fame in terms of the big picture, and she is not satisfied. When she raps about all she does and has many thought she was bragging and were turned off (although bragging about what you have seems very successful in rap music…hmmm) but failed to see the point that materialism has replaced freedom as the American dream.
The next single and track ‘Hollywood’ did not even chart in the US, and is one of the stronger tracks of the album with its melancholy lyrics, and acoustic melody overlaid on Mirwais' famous beats. Madonna herself summed up the song when she said "This song is like a metaphor for me. It's the city of dreams and superficiality. It's the place where you forget about the really interesting things in life. In Hollywood, you can lose your memory and your vision of the future. You can lose everything because you can lose yourself." – Madonna.
The third track ‘I’m so Stupid’ is a little out of place, and sounds more like a B-side than anything. A guitar driven song still reflecting on fame “Please don't try to tempt me
It was just greed, And it won't protect me” go the lyrics which are at time insightful but mainly clunky “I'm so stupid, 'Cause I used to live, In a tiny bubble, And I wanted to be Like all the pretty people.”
Spectacularly understated 'Love Profusion' gets under your skin and from there grows and captures your heart. She sounds overwhelmingly ecstatic and honest on this song about not just loving your lover, but yourself and everyone around you.
Madonna’s favourite off the album, and an experimental dance number ‘Nobody Knows Me” for all it production and technicality seems to be the complete opposite of why she did ‘Ray of Light’. On that album she said she wanted to give soul to techno music. ‘Nobody Knows Me’ is soul free and all about the techno.
After the loud bleeps and twerks of the previous song ‘Nothing Fails’, a lovely little folk ditty about love being a new religion (and I must add that love is the basis for all religion….seems most have forgotten) is a welcome change. “I'm not religious, But I feel so moved, Makes me want to pray, Pray you'll always be here” go the lyrics. The production bleeps to not outweigh the acoustic feel, and just when you are about to drift off into a dream of love you are jolted awake, and your heart soars with elation, for out of nowhere a Gospel choir comes in on the word ‘pray’, and takes the song to dizzy new heights. This really should have been the lead-off single for the album.‘
This is turning out to be the most un-Madonna Madonna album ever as I go into ‘Intervention’ which is a welcome change. A quiet, almost folk song that unless you really listen, you will miss the effect it has. This can also be said for the next track ‘X-Static Process’. On paper this looked like a dance track to rival ‘Impressive Instant’ off the ‘Music’ album. Instead we are met with a intimate duet with herself. “Jesus Christ will you look at me, Don’t know who I’m supposed to be” go the extremely personal lyrics of a truly gracious and beautiful song, tenderly embellished with the lightest of computer-generated touches.
‘Mother and Father’, ‘Die Another Day’ and ‘Easy Ride’ finish off the album. The James Bond song sticks out like a sore thumb on the album, and although musically it fits, it stands out for what it is, the James Bond song. ‘Mother and Father’ on the other hand is the complete opposite of ‘X-Static Process’. On paper this looked to be the albums big personal ballad, in reality it is one of the albums true dance numbers. Like she did before in "Promise To Try", "Inside Of Me" and "Mer Girl", Madonna sings about her mothers death, and how her father dealt with it. But though the lyrics are sad and emotional, the song has an up-tempo dance beat. Madonna's voice is high pitched as if it were a little girl singing about her parents.
Madonna has said of the song “It's a way to free me from the pain for my mother's death, but I'm not asking for a medal for finding my way in life or for compassing for suffering so much. It isn't an excuse like 'I'm like this because I've suffered so much when I was a child.' These excuses are rubbish, because you have to be responsible for all the things you do in your whole life."
And we end with ‘Easy Ride’. Madonna has, for the past few albums, ended them with arguably the best, or most interesting song. American Life is no exception. ‘Easy Ride’, with its karma lyrics, orchestral strings, and just the right amount of technologic interference, stands out as fully accomplished, a dramatic epic of a song.
As an Album ‘American Life’ succeeds. She tries something new and it flows (aside from the James Bond song) not beautifully, like a stream, but with twists and turns like I am sure her life at the time was. It may be self indulgent, but why criticize her for something we are all guilty of.
This is the sound of a woman who is seeing her life from a distance, and realizing that there is so much more that what she has. It is her diary of an album. When you put your honest thoughts and feelings about yourself and life out there, that is when you will be criticized the most and have to be defensive. It may be foolish to some to subject yourself to that, but I would rather think of it as brave.