Madonna recently kicked off her MDNA tour last week and since I could not afford tickets to any of her shows, let’s just look at one of her classic albums. Her third release finds Madonna taking influence from Latin and 50’s era music. Just as with her other albums, the songs are catchy and full of hot tunes to dance to. There’s really nothing new or different here from her past releases, but it does show a more mature songwriter.
The album opens with the controversial “Papa Don’t Preach.” It starts off very dramatic and strong with the string music before Madonna’s pleading and frustrating vocals come in. The song is pretty sad since it deals with teenage pregnancy, but it’s strange that the music is so upbeat, like it’s something you can still dance to. It really makes the song standout. What’s great about the song is that not only does it tell a compelling story, but it’s still relevant today. The song also shows Madonna tackling social issues, which she attempts again here later on. With such a bleak subject opening the album, one would think this sets the tone for the rest of the songs. But everything is fun again after this song.
Some of Madonna’s classic songs are found here: the seductive, upbeat “Open Your Heart,” the somber ballad “Live to Tell,” and the Spanish inspired “La Isla Bonita.” The latter is probably my favorite song from this album. It has an infectious Latin rhythm that makes you want to dance and wear that flamenco dress she wore in the video. Another thing that’s great about the song is how you can picture everything that’s described: the tropical breeze, the desert eyes, San Pedro. It’s just a really great fun song.
“Live to Tell” is probably one of the best Madonna ballads. It’s a sad song with Madonna sounding vulnerable as she sings about growing old. The music is very striking as well. It really hits you in the chest with how overpowering and dramatic it starts off before finishing off with tinkling from the piano. There’s also this great part where everything grows quiet with only the faintest music playing. Suddenly, the vocals come back and the song resumes. It’s not that the music comes back bigger or Madonna starts yelling. It’s how it’s presented that really takes your breath away.
One thing you’ll notice about the songs is that it’s definitely a product of the 80’s. There’s absolutely no doubt about it. A lot of the songs have synth or beats that are obviously from this era. The way the music comes together makes it sound cheesy at times. The lyrics also play a part in the cheese fest too. Take the song “Love Makes the World Go Round.” With a cliché title like that you can already feel corniness without even hearing the song.
The song itself isn’t bad, it’s pretty catchy actually. But sometimes the lyrics aren’t that well written: “Reach out for someone’s hand/love makes the world go round/it’s easy to forget if you don’t hear the sound.” This is her second attempt at tackling social issues, but the message doesn’t come through clear. The make love not war message is lost in the upbeat, fun music. Though the album is pretty dated, it’s forgivable. It doesn’t make the album bad, just a little corny at times.
As mentioned before, some of the songs here seem to take inspiration from a different genre of music and sometimes a different era. This is most notable on the track “True Blue.” It has a 50’s doo wop feel from the music and the singing. Madonna brought this idea to life with the music video for the single. This theme continues with the song “White Heat.” Not only is it dedicated to James Cagney, but it has a few lines from the movie of the same name in the intro. This song actually has a pretty cool cop motif going on. “Jimmy Jimmy” is a pretty simple, repetitive song, but it makes me wonder if it’s about James Dean since a line about crashing a car is thrown in.
There are also a lot of Spanish influenced songs, with the most obvious being “La Isla Bonita.” While the other songs aren’t as straight forward as that one, there are still hints of the influence. The music for “Love Makes the World go Round” has a sort of samba rhythm to it that makes you want to salsa with someone, even if it’s just a couch pillow. Even the opening track has a Latin guitar playing during the bridge. This is probably where the Latin theme started and it’s one that has been found in her later works as well.
Overall, the album gets 7.5/10. It’s a pretty good album, but not one of my personal favorites. All the songs are catchy and fun for the most part, even if they sound dated at times. There are some heavy topics found here, which is Madonna trying to move away from her Material Girl image. But she manages to keep the fun groove and party mood going on this record. I’m pretty sure some of these classics will make a return on her latest tour