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MUSIC REVIEW

Madonna: Music

Better “Music” Would Bring the People Together

By Erik Blankinship

staff writer

I was pretty enthusiastic when Madonna’s new single “Music” hit the air in August. It was a great dance track with some funk to it, and even the music video was pretty entertaining with its cartoons and flying logos.

It was like a Madonna hit out of the ’80s, not the uninspiring “Ray Of Light” or “Take a Bow” she has given us in the ’90s. I anticipated the new album as being nothing but pure pop -- and this would be a good thing -- something to dance to, hear on the radio (and actually keep on the radio), and maybe even sing along with. I haven’t given a damn about Madonna’s last three albums and I was psyched for her to get back into some unadulterated pop grooves.

The new album, however, is quite lackluster. Most of the tracks are quite listenable, but rather uninspiring beyond the first spin. I am hard pressed to find myself humming any of these tunes an hour after listening to them. In her new album, Madonna seems to be obsessed with adding effects to her voice, and on one track she sounds as bad as Cher singing “Do you believe in life after love....” In fact, that over-played Cher single sounds like most of Music, only Cher is a lot catchier. The effects on Madonna’s voice are fun for a listen, changing from a robotic chipmunk sound to an oscillating bird warble. For good measure, Madonna also throws in some funky starts and stops into her tracks, making the whole album push forward with a pretty listenable groove, but not one with a lot of resonance.

It is a shame that Madonna, whose voice has brought her this far into stardom, would bury it under so much processing. When she does sing out, as she does in the final track “Gone,” you can hear the real power of her voice. Unfortunately, most of the album sounds like the Pet Shop Boys’ “Domino Dancing.” At its worst, most of the album sounds like standard club fare: a pop track without really catchy grooves and only a slightly memorable chorus.

The album liner directs the listener to Madonna’s website for lyrics, which will bring any machine slower that 500mHz to a crawl because of all the Quicktime streams and Flash animations, and since it is Flash, it is impossible to copy the lyrics. It looks nice, but the site suffers from feature overkill, just like the album.

However, Madonna’s Music is not a complete failure. The track “What It Feels Like For a Girl” is one of the few songs which stands out as inspired. The sultry title is prompted as a question to the listener, and when Madonna whispered this question to me in my office, it suddenly felt a little warmer, and I closed the door so Madonna could tell me what it was like with a little more privacy. She doesn’t go into any “bedtime story” descriptions, but the track nonetheless is a good one.

“I Deserve It” is another of the album’s small points of light. Madonna sings a ballad about having finally found a man worth all of her past woes. Her voice is full and soothing, and the instrumentation is a nice background of soaring digital effects. Remember how good she sounded on “Live to Tell” back when? You get a bit of that pop vocal power back with this track.

Then again, there are tracks like “Amazing” which are, well, just not. Digging back into Madonna’s song vault, do you remember that track “Jimmy, Jimmy” from the True Blue album? Remember how terribly annoying it was? Well, it looks like Madonna decided to take some of her worst approaches to song writing and reapply them on “Amazing” wherein she states over and over “it’s amazing what a boy can do.”

I somewhat believe we are in the midst of a pop music renaissance, the likes of which we haven’t encountered since the early 1980s. As proof we have had a pop music dry spell, I use Weird Al Yankovich as my barometer, who had to cover “American Pie” for his album’s last title track. For years there have been no new recordings worthy of his mockery. And Madonna isn’t helping: she covered “American Pie” too, but her version sucked. If we are going to have a complete and total return to pure pop, we need new material. The first sign of this new pop music age is the advent of Britney Spears. Regardless of what you think about Ms. Spears, you cannot deny that she is pure pop and making a big splash. Maybe Madonna is just running out of music.