Madonna will be remembered for a lot of things. Some groundbreaking, some just silly. But she should always be remembered for this album. Written at a time where she was emotionally distressed, this turned out to be her most personal release. The songs may not be instant hits, in fact most of them will depress you, but you can still appreciate the thought and emotion that went into these tracks. The queen of pop steps down from her throne to show that she is human after all and it’s a heartbreaking journey.
The most well known track is “Like A Prayer.” No matter if you think about the video or the controversy it’s still a great song. When she sings out the first verse with the organ swelling and choir singing softly it gives you chills. The music is very upbeat and catchy, which is surprising since the lyrics are heavy. This is one of her most complex singles. She takes elements from her Catholic upbringing and uses innuendo to give the song another layer. I always felt when she sings the first verse for a second time where the music gets intense and the choir grows louder as pretty dark. But it’s an expertly crafted song that resonates today.
“Express Yourself” is the ultimate female anthem. It seems like she was trying to combat her unwanted material girl image by saying fancy cars, diamond rings, and gold doesn’t matter. What you need is someone to treat you like a queen. It’s a really great message trying to remind women, anybody really, that it’s important not to hold yourself back in a relationship. Make yourself heard. I love the way she says “Respect yourself.” It’s a really powerful message that still rings true today. Things start to get personal on “Til Death Do Us Part,” which describes the disintegration of her marriage to Sean Penn. The way she sings “Our luck is running out of time/You’re not in love with me anymore/I wish that it would change, but it won’t/’Cause you don’t love me no more” shows her in a vulnerable state. She wanted nothing but a loving husband, but she couldn’t even get that. Even though the music is very playful and bright, it’s a pretty sad song. It almost makes you feel bad for her. It’s one of the many moments where she’s open on the album.
Unlike her previous LPs, Madonna tones down on the number of dance songs and focuses more on slow numbers. And yes, they’re all really fucking sad. She talks about the absence of her mother on “Promise to Try.” Sitting there listening to her sing “I think you forgot to kiss her goodbye” while the sad piano plays and the violin gets stronger is almost too much. On the right day it can move you to tears. “Oh Father” deals with her rough relationship with her father. The way she sings “You can’t hurt me now” gives the listener an insight on life with her dad after her mother’s death. On both tracks her voice is really strong and has matured. On the latter, it almost sounds like she’s holding back tears while singing. They’re both very powerful and emotionally charged songs that show a more vulnerable Madonna.
Things pick up again with “Cherish” a feel good hit that’s easy to sing along to. Something about the doo wop style and the positive lyrics will put you in a good mood. The bridge of “Who? You!” is the best part. Something about it is so satisfying and memorable. Another upbeat track is “Dear Jessie.” This one is notable for the fantasy elements of mermaids and fairies mentioned in the lyrics. It’s a very whimsical song, a perfect fit for any Disney movie. It may not connect with all audiences, but it has good intentions. “Keep it Together” is another song with a good message about sticking with your family. The music has a funk/hip-hop vibe that reminds me of the songs from the early ’90s. Here, she seems to apply her lonely experiences on the road to talk about always having a home to go to when it comes to her family. What I like about the song is “family” seems to refer to anyone whose close to you, not just blood relatives.
The weakest song here is “Love Song.” It’s a well intentioned duet with Prince that just doesn’t work. The music isn’t bad; it has a funk vibe with a mechanical feel as if it’s being made by a machine. Otherwise, the track isn’t memorable. The lyrics are pretty cheesy and their voices don’t match up well. Rather than singing with or to each other, they sound like they’re trying to be louder than the other. One thing I noticed is how much Madonna’s voice resembled Gwen Stefani’s here, which is to say it’s easy to see where Stefani got her style from. It gets even freakier when you realize Stefani later did a duet with Prince for Rock Steady. Just some food for thought.
Overall, the album gets 8.5/10. It may not have the fun, sexy dance songs Madonna is known for, but this album made fans and critics take notice of the singer. This proved she wasn’t the material girl who only thought about one thing. It’s her most personal and vulnerable work yet. Just about all of the songs stem from her difficult childhood and her failed marriage. Not only did she improve as a songwriter, but as a singer as well. There are many tracks where her voice sounds better, stronger than before. It’s an essential album of the ’80s and one that still sounds great today.