Madonna, American Life (Maverick Warner Bros)
Truly, it is so easy to write on Madonna that it’s difficult. There are too many things to say. The woman is a mystery. Well, not so much a mystery as an idiot. In fact, she addresses this very subject in the third track of her new album – American Life – titled “I’m So Stupid.” Unfortunately, even Madonna seems unable to penetrate the mystery of herself.
American Life is a fifty-minute attempt at figuring out who she is exactly. Metaphysics, pilates, soy milk – all of these have left Madonna unsatisfied and confused about the world and her place in it. Ordinarily, this sort of navel-gazing would make for incredibly annoying listening, but Madonna has (surely, accidentally) pulled off an incredible feat: she’s made nothing out of something. Follow me here.
Pop lyrics are best when they’re silly and inconsequential. The more topical and serious the lyrics are, the more uncomfortable they are to sing along to. Madonna, in her zeal to write deep lyrics, to probe her own existence, has actually recorded her most empty, meaningless lyrics perhaps ever (including the “Who’s That Girl” soundtrack). They just flat out don’t make sense and therefore don’t intrude. Since she also had the foresight to hire Mirwais to create the music, the tunes are mostly listenable, easy to move to and completely unimportant. In fact, it’s only when Madonna tries her hand at this new “rap” thing and draws our attention to her words, that she falls flat on her face.
The single “American Life” subjects us to the first dose of this “rapping” when Madonna drops some mad science on us: “I do yoga and pilates / And the room is full of hotties / So I’m checking out the bodies.” Embarassing as it may be, this pales in comparison to the moment when “Mother/Father” – a sensitive song about her mother’s death – erupts into “They couldn’t take my loneliness / I couldn’t take their phoniness / My father had to go to work / I used to think he was a jerk.” Thank you, Mrs. Ritchie, I’d like to have a few words with you after class.
When not punishing us with bons mots like “Sigmund Freud, analyze this!” Madonna cuts some nice songs here. “Nobody Knows Me” features some of the coolest sounds pop music has ever heard – its electroclash-ish beats and blips make it the best dance track here. “Nothing Fails” has a great vocal melody and weirdly segues into a choir singing the refrain before easily moving back to Madonna’s voice, guitar and drum beat. “Intervention” also has one of the better vocal moments here. Heck, even the easy “Hollywood” would make a nice single.
Madonna has always been a pile of contradictions – famous for singing, not really good at it; sexy as hell with terrible taste in men (Dennis fucking Rodman!?). In American Life, Madonna delivers another – great lyrical efforts pay off as pap. Still, despite the record’s achievements, we long for the Madonna of Erotica – where sexiness and pure sex got confused in the dance beats… and other people handled the lyrics.