I can’t say I was excited at the prospect of Madonna’s RnB album, I’ve listened to it before but it’s definitely been an uphill struggle. But then again, some of my favourite albums have been like this, could this be one of those?
Well, short answer is NO, a bit of a CHORE from start to finish. While some of the great sexy basslines remain from Erotica, the sex is gone. Sure she puts it on a little bit in some of the songs, but the album seems to rely more heavily on terrible songwriting and paper-thin vocals. Let’s just see shall we?
06 Survival – The backing sets the scene for the album, i.e. authentic enough to sound like an RnB track, but it just sounds generic. Is this supposed to be a bit of a retrospective on her life, lyrically? Not with that shitty chorus it’s not that, “I’ve been up and down, all around, it’s all about survival”. YAWN. Then wheeling out cliches about not being an angel etc etc. The VOX are pretty weak too, not exactly a taxing song but her voice is totally not suited to this.
09 Secret – Now I will criticise this album, but there’s one thing they did right in this campaign, and that is choose singles. This is possibly the weaker of the four singles for me, but still pretty awesome. Good intro, into the lovely “Something’s comin over… mmmmm” refrain. The beat is great when it kicks in, the song allows her to actually attempt singing (to a degree), and the song actually means something, rather than coming from the Des’ree school of rhyme as plenty of her songs do. It’s just as sexy as some of the Erotica tracks (the ones without sex-moans, anyway).
06 I’d rather be your lover – After that fleeting moment of greatness, we are into rhymetime again. I mean what the hell? Shit chorus with weak vocals. The verses are alright, at least the vocals are good. Marginally more listenable than Survival at least.
06 Don’t Stop – More hackneyed cliches about moving to the music etc LA DI DA DI (hate that bit)… I mean who is this album made for? It’s a dead-eyed attempt to get some critical acclaim from a genre that she’s not familiar or suited to, after the lynchmob chased her away from what she did best with the last album. TEDIOUS.
07 Inside of me – Trying to sex things up a bit again(ish), her vocals are a bit better suited to this, but there’s not really space to do much. I dearly wish the more RnB moments of the album had been more like this, just feels like it suits her better. Still not great, feels like a bit of an early 90s Janet Jackson sort of thing, make of that what you will.
09 Human Nature – THANK GOD, back to the singles. And what a fucking single, amazing video, it’s MADONNA AGAIN. For some reason I find it nearly impossible to think of the singles to be a part of this album. They are polished, experimental in places, have iconic videos. The album tracks are like cast-offs from somewhere else, a misfire of reinvention. This track just hits all the targets, attitude, great music, catchy music that fits her vocals, and she gets to swear it up a bit.
07 Forbidden Love – Now I know there are people here who like this one, and I grudgingly agree that it is one of the better album tracks. I’m finding it all a bit much of a muchness. It’s alright though, verses are fine, the chorus is good, and sounds like it’s actually been written with something in mind, rather than a collection of mindless lyrics about something-or-other. It flows well anyway, even if I prefer the “Forbidden love” from Confessions.
08 Love tried to welcome me – Now this is better, a bit of a step away from the tedious RnB beats that permeate this album. A bit of a Latin feel to this one, a nice smoky ballad that hits more than it misses. I like the tempo, it doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard either. It almost wouldn’t feel out of place on the Evita soundtrack that followed this album.
06 Sanctuary – Spoken intro, let’s see where this goes. Oh, ropey acapella… and the tedious RnB beats are back, with a bit of a South American tinge with some pan-pipes. But sadly it doesn’t really get anywhere, bit of a snoozer. Only good bit is the last 5 seconds when it (rather oddly) segues into…
09 Bedtime Story – I’ve always been fascinated by this. A bit minimal and weird (surprise surprise that Björk had a hand in it), with a fantastic video. But where did this come from? It feels like a hint towards Ray of Light, which is odd as those two albums couldn’t be more different. This feels like a bonus track, which is probably why Sanctuary vainly tries to make it part of the album by fading into it. OK so it’s not a karaoke classic by any standards but still the most fascinating part of this album project. Very eerie too, I love the electronic undertones from the intro throughout, I’ve had a few weird moments out walking when this has come on.
10 Take a bow – Again, it feels like a bonus track, a premonition of her future ballads collection. But amazing, one of her biggest US hits and with good reason. Its use in the Season 1 finale of Friends was, I think, my earliest moment when I’ve heard a Madonna song and wanted to find out more, so it has an odd significance for me. Amazing song, gorgeous video, why did this flop in the UK though? When she carks it, I hope this is her “Man in the Mirror”. Morbidness aside, a brilliant and heartbreaking end to a ropey album.
OH DEAR. Well I suppose it’s an acheivement in itself to get four amazing singles off any album, it just feels a bit empty whenever you get a CD and that’s ALL you want to listen to. I’m glad this RnB direction was just a phase for Marge.
I know things were tough for her post-Erotica, but this album just feels completely devoid of identity, even the cover makes it difficult to see Madonna for all the fakery pasted over her. The moments of true greatness feel oddly separate from the album’s mission statement, and that says more about the idea for the album than anything I reckon. My least favourite Madonna album, I can say with confidence. Say… goooodbyeeee
Keepers for the iPod: Secret, Human Nature, Take a bow, Bedtime Story