Guilty pleasures. Everybody’s got ‘em. Nobody wants to admit to it (or at least talk about it). I had lots of them back in high school..but I never told anybody. Right in the middle of the disco (or should I say “disco sucks“) era, I would go home at night and secretly tune my radio to the local disco station to catch Amii Stewart’s “Knock On Wood” or Chic’s “Freak”. This isn’t to say that I loved disco. Nope. A lot of it was way too shallow and self-referential (most of disco was about disco…no thanks). So…I was still a rock guy…with a secret.
A similar thing happened to me with Madonna. Being at first a creature of MTV, she was omnipresent. And except for the videos and an almost shocking appearance in a wedding gown during a Grammy Awards telecast, I really had no use for her.
But then there was the tune “Crazy For You” from the mid-80′s movie Vision Quest. Just a simple pop ballad. I loved it (but gees, dont’ tell anybody! I bought the soundtrack record for Red Rider’s “Lunatic Fringe”…yea, that’s it!)
Skip forward to the release of “Justify My Love”. Written by Lenny Kravitz with some additional lyrics by Madonna, it had a nice deep & slinky bassline that was tough to ignore. So I had to go out and buy The Immaculate Collection. Listening to this greatest hits package made me realize (read: admit) that I actually like a lot of these songs.
Now that I’m older and basically no longer have these guilty pleasure hangups (I started a great email war once on the John Zorn mailing list when I brought up Pink) I listen to the stuff right out in the open. That’s what I did for Ray Of Light, which I thought was a cool blend of electronica and spirituality (ok, we’re not talkin’ the Dalai Lama here…but still….).
I’ll ignore all of that.
So what’s American Life like? Even without the title-as-hint I would have had the same thought: this is Madonna’s folk album. Strip away the blurpy electronic noises, the reverb, the deep bass and the vocal pitch-shifting* and you’ve got a folk record (again…no Bob Dylan, but still….). It’s her commentary on life in this country, Hollywood, fame, love and religion. I can see this material being done live with just a guitar, bass and percussion. Then, after the intermission, maybe we can get the full-blown electronic dance extravaganza treatment.
American Life may not be as good as Ray Of Light…but, hey…life isn’t a competition.
(First posted on Mark Is Cranky)
* Please,please,please!!! Put that danged pitch-shifter vocal thing in the back of the recording studio janitor’s closet. Preferably under the stinky old string mop. Cher used it a couple of years ago…now it’s growing like a fungus.