Madonna was always the naughty girl of pop music with her little-left-to-the-imagination videos. But undeniably she had good tunes and her older material has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, just like a Farrelly brothers movie -- meaningless fun. I had not really been following her private life but two pieces of news caught my attention. One: The birth of her kid and two: the release of her new album post delivery. Why this caught my attention was that I knew parenthood changes people. But someone so far removed from conventionalism in pop as Madonna made me wonder what the album would sound like.
Then the album released and critics all over the world poured in their praise for the blend of pop and electronic music and the mature restrained sound of the album. This was surprising... a lot of artists' forays to "mature music" have fallen flat on the face before. But then I heard "Frozen". The rest, as they say, is history. I got the album immediately. Today this is regarded as one of the greatest pop albums recorded with distinctions like
-VH1 viewers in UK voted it the tenth greatest album of all time
-Rolling STones readers voted it as the 29th best recording ever
-Rolling Stones itself ranked the album at #363 on its list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time"
Onto the review, I'm not going to do a TBT. Instead I'll discuss out the pros and cons of the album as I saw them. This will also therefore give an idea of the sound of the album on the whole
-Madonna -- On this album we see a Madonna post Evita for the role of which she had undergone strenuous vocal training. And it shows. Madonna's singing is beautiful throughout the album. None of the songs have any real special chord progressions so to say. But all the songs sound fresh even today and one of the reasons is the tunes. There are some great melodies stamped upon the songs, the prime examples being Frozen, Ray of light, Candy Perfume Girl.
-Lyrics -- The songwriting on this album is a huge leap forward from her previous material with lyrics that go from candid and honest to near detached spiritual musings on life. She even sings a song in Sanskrit Shanti/Ashtangi, the meaning of which is as given below
"I worship the gurus' lotus feet
Awakening the happiness of the self revealed
Beyond comparison, working like the jungle physician
To pacify loss of consciousness from the poison of existence
In the form of a man up to the shoulders
Holding a conch, discus and sword
Thousand headed, white
I bow respectfully
-Instrumentation -- Techno as a way to relax is not something that is explored to great depths by many people in the west, at least not with a lot of success I think. A trance remix usually translates to a disco friendly tune (or maybe i'm ill informed. If so can you guys please point me to artists of a similar sound). That's where one of the major successes of this album lies. With pseudo fast beats and melodies stretching notes with smooth transitions, yet having stop start intermittent percussion effects give a very strangely calm atmosphere. There is a lot of atmosphere on the album which is a good thing. The culmination of all their endevours happens in.....
-Frozen -- The reason I bought the album and the reason I'm reviewing it today. This has always been one of my favourite songs and with good reason too. Interesting percussion backing, beautiful use of strings with techno effects and Madonna at her soothing best. It starts off with very atmospheric strings with the entrance of seemingly off-tune percussion with effects. Then Madonna comes in more or less solo, and then after the verse as the chorus breaks out, the slow driving passion of the song can give you goose bumps. There is a beautiful string solo in the middle after which the chorus repeats and fades. The chorus is beautifully written and has something very uplifting about it -- a very ethreal sound and yet touching. All in all, a great song.
-Shanti/Ashtangi-- The first time I heard this song, I must admit, I nearly burst out laughing. The thing is that the pronounciation of shlokas is not something that can be easily pulled off, even in India. On top of that, the beauty of a Sanskrit Shloka does lie a lot in its lower resonant tones. A lot of the magic is therefore lost when sung high.All this may sound like hyperbole but there are not that many things wrong with the album and so even things like this warrant a mention.
-Continuity and Catchiness -- Being a mellow album there are issues like songs sticking out in your head until after repeated listens. This may not necessarily be a bad thing. But after the first listen, I didn't really have a riff, a melody or something of the sort stuck in my head. What is more stark and noticeable is the inability of the other songs to hold their own against frozen. In terms of songwriting and production there are all other songs and then there is frozen. Not the other songs aren't good. To me, somehow frozen didn't fit in with the mood of the rest of the album; it seemed to stick out a bit.
-Madonna -- There is undoubtedly good instrumentation electronically on this album but IMO the album leaves a little too much for Madonna to fill up. This is amply done in most songs but because of lack of variety this does sometimes get a little tiring especially towards with the songs at the end in songs like "To have and not to hold"
-Maturity of lyrics -- One must understand that despite finally dealing with mature issues, it is finally a pop song. It has good lyrics but nothing that really stands out as anything very different from what has already been done. Madonna does manage to pull it off, though. But the lyrics didn't really impress me a lot in terms of actual language used and song content.
Overall this album is a gem of a pop album making for a very relaxing almost lounge atmosphere listen and is a type of music that very much fits the new mature image she has. The new album she has out, Confessions on a Dance Floor, did not impress me with the first single blatantly using an ABBA tune in the background and the irritating synth use on the second single. But for this album it doesn't matter if you like your music hard or soft, there are many good melodies here and I think the only prerequisite to enjoy that is a liking of music.
Overall rating: 4
Ray of Light
Little Star (underrated IMO)
Candy perfume girl