I love this album. While the contrast between the worthy spirituality of “Ray of Light” and the experimental tackiness of “Music” made it hard to tell which sound worked better (it was “Ray of Light” … I guess it wasn’t that hard!), “American Life” really walks the middle path. The introspection of “Ray of Light” and the fun of “Music” are both here and come together to make something personal without being (too) brash.
I mean sure, the album has its bizarre moments – about half the lyrics in the title track for starters – but I feel a much greater personal connection between Madonna and the songs here, which I felt “Music” was lacking.
10 American Life: Well what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Spiky, squelchy, Bush-baiting… it’s really not the template of a lead single, putting things very midly, and the album suffered commercially as a result, but I really think this is a great song. It’s a hot mess, and just when you think you’ve got over that she does a fucking RAP about yoga and coffee. AMAZING. The new Vogue. I’m not even joking! FUCK IT.
08 Hollywood: Everyone has this pegged as the better choice for a lead single, and to be honest there are few tracks that would have been a less commercial option than “American Life”, but I don’t really see “Hollywood” as the magic bullet that could have saved the campaign. The video leaves me totally cold, and while the song is easy enough to grasp (perhaps too easy) it just doesn’t really have much of an effect on me. The “push the button” stuff is ace but as a whole it feels a bit diluted. I did like the VMAs performance around this song though with “everybody-everybody-everybody..” breakdown and MISSY on the M-I-C, and all the lesbian lunacy. But the song itself doesn’t really excite me as much as it should. That said, it’s a solid pop song, I can’t deny that.
08 I’m so stupid: I remember first putting this album on and thinking it was fucking awful, wanting to find her vocoder and SMASH IT UP. But the harsh noises (harshest of which is that “iiiii” at this songs intro) seem to make it for me. While at heart this is another anti-fame reaction piece, I do love the electro-guitar stuff here much more than I ever did on “Music”. Not really much of a chorus but I just love her voice on this, and it just all seems to work just FINE.
10 Love Profusion: Sometimes a video just MAKES a single, and this is one of the best examples I can think of for that phenomenon. The beautiful Luc Besson masterpiece really set this on fire for me, stunning. It just helps tune me into what this song is meant to feel like. I think this is amazing, and it’s a travesty this is one of her few non-Top 10 singles, kept out by the Cheeky Girls of all people. The beat is just so simple while her voice is actually SINGING for a change. Then there are the breakdowns .. “I. GOT. YOU… UNDER MY SKIN”. Gorgeous to the max.
09 Nobody Knows Me: Now I was never that much of a fan of this one, but the Reinvention Tour (more specifically the live CD “I’m going to tell you a secret”) revealed how great this is. The lyrics are a bit retarded (though after Track 1 that seems like a rather weak criticism in comparison). But it’s a really good STRUTTING song. Why couldn’t “Music” have been this good? The general sound really isn’t that much different.
09 Nothing Fails: Now I don’t see the whole “Like a Prayer 2.0” comparisons that were drawn to this at the time (and after). I mean sure it’s great and it has a gospel choir, but I don’t have it down as the great lost single or anything. Maybe that’s more because I can hardly imagine her releasing a ballad now. This project was doomed from the first single so this would only have got a lukewarm reaction regardless of how good it was. Anyway the music gets a little more gentle for a time now and this great in that respect. A love song about Guy that I can actually take seriously, who’d have thought? The production once again shines with the vocal effects being a welcome feature rather than a gimmick.
09 Intervention: The Reinvention tour had a bit of a mashup with this didn’t it? For some reason THAT triggered this track off for me, I think this is really a great tender little slow-burner. The chorus isn’t amazingly catchy but it’s a joy nonetheless. Her vocals seem to suit untaxing songs like this. That rather gorgeous instrumental break at the 3:38 mark just makes me die. I just think the lyric and the sort of sad but hopeful tone of the song does wonders.
08 X-Static Process: Shit name, and it was probably one of my least favourite on the album for a while, but I have come round to it. Very understated, with a hit-n-miss harmony section with her own vocals that works more than it flops. Maybe I’m just retarded, this sort of stuff just feels so much more natural that on “Music”. Things like “Gone” from that album just didn’t feel so intimate to me.
10 Mother and Father: Enough coddling, back to the synths. And a bit of an 80s throwback with a MELODY, that whole “I got to give it up, find someone to love me” is great, and I can forgive it being ANOTHER ‘dead mother’ song. Sort of. “There was a time I had a mother, it was nice!” is a bit flippant, but I just love the production on this too much, especially when it goes super-harsh at the end. The mini-rap is a bit of a wreck though, but I’m in blind forgiveness mode right now.
10 Die Another Day: Oh God I totally lost my shit when this was leaked, a Bond song at the absolute pinnacle of my Bond fanship, and it’s HER with her first single for nearly 2 years. Amazing video, really one of her best. So there’s a few cringey moments (“SIGMUND FREUD!”) but this is so great. It would have been so easy to do a Bond-song-by-numbers but evidently they came to the wrong person. The production is just awesome, I just love the jumping orchestra sample and the robotic vocals. Then you think it’s stopped… and BACK in for the outro with a little punch. WICKED.
09 Easy Ride: So glad the bonus track wasn’t the closer, that wouldn’t have worked. This is PERFECT. Loads of strings at the start (amazing), into a rather simple folk song with a serving of introspection. I don’t want to fill the whole review with “I love this” “I love that” but I can’t help it. I think this is MARVELLOUS. The chorus is pretty brilliant too “Round and round just like a circle”. Then the strings are back for one last discordant squelchy finale. GORGE.
And that’s that. I think this could WELL be my favourite Madonna album. “Ray of Light” was surely brilliant but can feel a bit lifeless if you aren’t in the mood for it. I understand “American Life” isn’t for everyone, and some will even think it’s one of her worst albums I’m sure, so I’m prepared to be disagreed with here.
Can I just mention the artwork though? Now THAT is a great front cover.
Keepers for the iPod: Fuck it, I’m taking the LOT