Alphabetical CD Marathon: M (Part 1)

I realised that one post on all the CDs in my main collection beginning with ‘M’ just wasn’t going to work. So instead I’ll be doing three. Absolutely no prizes for what comes after Madonna. If you’re not sure then just bear in mind that I was born in Wales and I like indie rock.

Let me crack on or I’ll be here all day and the sun is shining and much as I might want to die in the summertime that time is not now. It’s hard to think of a world without Madonna; love her or hate her she’s had a profound effect on the world of music over the years and set the modus operandi for female solo dance pop artists such as Britney, Rihanna, and Lady Gaga. That said I find that my interest in her has waned as the years have gone by – I’m now three times older than when I first got into her and I’m probably three times less interested these days – to the point of not buying MDNA. I own the two albums before that digitally so no pillow talk about them here.

 

I have Madonna on vinyl prior to its reissue as ‘the first album’ with a different cover. Back then it would be hard to imagine just how huge Madonna was going to be and how in the space of a few years she would become a global phenomenon. The singing isn’t great but I guess the tunes are – notably for me ‘Borderline’, ‘Burning Up’ and ‘Lucky Star’. ‘Holiday’ has suffered from severe over exposure and I’d prefer to listen to Dizzee Rascal’s version than Madonna’s these days. That said I don’t think there’s a bad track on the album, although it sounds a bit dated now – with all those synths that were cutting edge then and now sound so passé. Well I say that but of course things move in cycles in fashion and pop music and some of the basslines wouldn’t be out-of-place in a tune from this era.

Listening to the album now as an older balding bloke in his forties is a bittersweet experience as I think about all the twists and turns my life has taken since my early teens and it’s also interesting to reflect on where Madonna ended up especially in comparison the (admittedly later) likes of Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.

 

Fast forward one year and my obsession with Madonna has reached astronomical proportions. As my voice breaks and hair grows where there was none before, Madonna takes on a whole different place in my life. With the release of Like a Virgin in 1984 it’s no longer just about the tunes it’s about the woman. My bedroom wall is plastered with huge posters of her and her breathy vocals on ‘Material Girl’ excite me in ways the girls in my class simply cannot (and to be fair don’t want to). I used to listen to this album on tape over and over (‘scuse pun) on my Walkman and fall asleep to ‘Stay’ and wake to the sound of the play button clicking out when it came to the end.

There’s more sex, passion and emotion in this album than the last. She doesn’t sound so much like a Disney character on a karaoke machine and as far I’m concerned there’s not a duff track on the CD with the one exception – ‘Shoo-Bee-Doo’ is just God awful and perhaps a precursor to some of the tracks on ‘True Blue’. The most almighty classic track and my all-time favourite is of course ‘Into the Groove’ and that’s most likely thanks to Nile Rodgers. The accompanying feature-length promotional video in the form of ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ also helped.

 

True Blue is really an album of two halves. The first half, or Side 1 if you want to go oldskool, is pretty awesome. ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ which I think is one of the last seven-inch singles I ever bought and has some brilliantly powerful vocals and a great story, ‘Open Your Heart’ has great lyrics, a good tempo and some cool vocals, I took great delight in quoting Cagney from ‘White Heat’ at every opportunity and was also inspired to watch the film and a few others, and ‘Live to Tell’ is a plodding epic and up there with T’Pau’s ‘China in Your Hand’ for heartfelt nonsense songs from the Eighties. The few lines that begin ‘if I ran away…’ two minutes from the end of what is a long song for Madonna at this stage in her career still send shivers down my spine even now.

‘Where’s the Party?’ is pretty catchy too, but I’m stretching it and we’ve descended into American cutesy cheerleader crap for Side 2 which, with the exception of ‘La Isla Bonita’ featuring the classic misheard lyric ‘with eyes like potatoes’ that reminds me of every beach holiday I’v ever been on, is pretty pants. Oh and I didn’t like what she’d done to her hair to be blunt. Who’s that girl?

 

Like a Prayer most people’s favourite according to my straw poll on Facebook over the last few days. This is the last one I bought on tape and then later replaced by CD, and yes the tape was impregnated with patchouli oil. Prince had a hand it at least one track on the album – the brilliantly constructed and initially laid back ‘Love Song’ which could sit quite happily on ‘Sign O’ the Times’ and is more about the diminutive purple meister (or was he peach and black at that stage?) than it is Madge.

Happily the vibe of True Blue Side Two has been ditched for a more mature bohemian style and long dark hair. This is also a first collaboration with writer Patrick Leonard who seems to have added some poetic lyrics to the album – this is especially evident in ‘Dear Jessie’ which if I didn’t know better I would have attributed to Prince (given the repeating ‘love parade’ lyric). Obviously good tracks are ‘Like a Prayer’ and ‘Express Yourself’ and I really like ‘till death do us part’ which has a happy jolly tune but quite sad lyrics. ‘Promise to Try’ and ‘Pray for Spanish Eyes’ sound like songs from a musical to me and foreshadow the singer’s involvement in ‘Evita’ (albeit seven years later… stretching again…)

I really switched off from Madonna during my time at university so don’t have Erotica or Bedtime Stories in my CD collection, but I don’t feel as though I’ve missed anything really.

 

Ray of Light is my favourite album. I love William Orbit’s production, the cohesive atmosphere of the songs and the fact that you can listen to it as an album where the sum of the tracks is greater than the whole. ‘Frozen’ is my second favourite Madonna song and the accompanying video is awesome. This is dance music with a dark edge and some heartfelt themes. ‘The Power of Goodbye’, ‘Candy Perfume Girl’ and ‘Drowned World/Substitute for Love’ are my favourites and it’s hard to pick one that I don’t like or that doesn’t fit. If I had to be super-critical then I guess ‘Ray of Light’ with its mild trance vibe, mixed with guitar loops and great chorus, suffers by being too long, too repetitive and by being an elaborate cover version of a song called ‘Sepheryn’ by obscure folk music duo Curtiss Maldoon.

 

Music saw a return back to ‘proper’ dance pop and although Orbit is still on the crew he gets second billing as a producer behind her Madgesty. The title track is great and ‘What it feels like for a girl’ and trance up-tempo number ‘Runaway lover’ seem to hark back to the vibe of ‘Ray of Light’ which is good. On the other hand ‘American Pie’ is a travesty and should be erased from history like the name of a disgraced Egyptian Pharaoh would be removed from hieroglyphics.

 

American Life is the last album I own on CD and it takes the dicking around with percussion and vocals to a new level of supposed funkiness. ‘Die Another Day’ and ‘Love Profusion’ are pretty good, but the obsession with auto-tuning and vocal mixing on this album gets on your tits after a while – especially evident on ‘Nobody Knows Me’.

Madonna on this album has a really nice rich tonality to her vocals and it’s a shame that she felt the need to dick around so much with them on most of the tracks except the great ‘Nothing Fails’. The problem with ‘Nothing Fails’ is her claim in the lyrics that she’s not religious – for a less highly profiled artist without a back catalogue scattered with Catholic symbolism this would work, for Madonna I find it hard to suspend my belief. Shame because if I could believe the story of the song I would rate it as the best track on the album.

The attempt at rapping on this album is just woeful – she sounds like someone’s nan trying to hip and down with the kids. There also seems to be quite a lot of moaning about her life as a famous person which I hate – Lady Gaga did it recently too and for me it conjures up the phrase about making beds and lying in them…

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