Thursday, January 3, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1213: Madonna

Happy New Year! At some point soon, I will provide a list of my ten favourite albums from 2018 but I like to wait a bit and let a few of the late comers sink in a bit more. For now here’s a blast from the past instead!

Disc 1213 is… The Immaculate Collection
Artist: Madonna

Year of Release: 1990 but featuring music from 1983 - 1990

What’s up with the Cover? Some sort of logo. There are a lot of M shapes here, which makes sense. Inside the booklet there is a centerfold of Madonna wearing some skimpy lingerie and fishnet stockings but I’m not posting that. If you want that go buy the record! Or I suppose you could just do a Google Image search. Stupid internet…

How I Came To Know It: I was a teenager in the eighties, and back then you couldn’t avoid these songs. Believe me, I tried. More recently my friend Casey helped me realize I had only been punishing myself. I figured a Greatest Hits package would be a good addition to my collection as well as a helpful source of party music.

How It Stacks Up:  I only have this one Madonna album, but even if that weren’t true Odyssey common law stipulates that compilation albums can’t stack up anyway.

Ratings:  No rating for compilation albums, donkey!

I tried to reject you Madonna, but your songs were just too damned catchy. So here we are, 35 years after you fired your opening salvo, and finally victorious.

As an avowed metal-head through most of the eighties, Madonna was not something that you were allowed to like, except maybe in high school gymnasiums on a Friday night. On those occasions this stuff was liquid gold for tilting the odds in your favour when you asked a girl to dance.

In the years since I’ve come to better appreciate Madonna and her penchant for catchy danceable pop songs. These songs have stood the test of time and the ones she selected for the Immaculate Collection played a big part in a career that has sold more than 300 million records.

Overall, I prefer late eighties Madonna, where her music had evolved from the early edgy teen vixen stuff into a sexier club-appropriate sound. I bought this album mostly so I could own “Like a Prayer,” which has been a guilty pleasure dating back to when it was first released in 1989. This song has one of Madonna’s strongest vocal performances, where you sense she’s genuinely lost in the story of the song and not just playing the coquette. The production is also inspired. It features a funky dance beat that makes it fun to groove to, and a slow building choir that eventually takes the song over. The whole experience gives the song a rising anthem-like feel.

Production has always been Madonna’s strong suit, and while some of the window-dressing has evolved over time she always knows how to throw in just the right amount of dance and sing-a-long into each song. These are songs that make you want to move. “Vogue” even had me out learning moves from its titular dance style to impress at the club back in the day. I’ve never been very good at Vogueing but that’s never stopped me from busting out my two or three moves every chance I get. Thanks for that, Madonna.

On this listen I was expecting to cringe my way through the early part of her career, but instead I was pleasantly surprised. “Holiday” is a whole lot of dance joy, begging you to throw your arms in the air and twirl. I demurred while walking the busy streets of my city, but it wasn’t easy. There is no denying Madonna’s playfully dirty “whoo!” in “Like a Virgin” either. It isn’t vocal excellence but it’s a good time and just the right amount of naughty. I even didn’t mind songs like “Crazy for You” and “Live to Tell” which generated volumes of nostalgia for the slow dances of my youth.

There were a couple of stinkers that did not improve with the passing of time, notably “La Isla Bonita” and “Cherish”. I recall the mix of thrill and revulsion I used to feel watching Madonna splash around in the waves in a short black dress while singing Cherish, simultaneously forcing me to listen to bad hand snaps and one of the most vacuous and insincere-sounding love songs ever written. Back then I had mute but the Odyssey’s rules were less forgiving, and entirely lacking in compensatory visuals.

Also, while the inherent danceability of the record was a natural pick-me-up, many of the songs just go on a bit too long. This is a common problem with dance music, which never seems to know how to wrap itself up.

These were minor quibbles though, and what once used to drive me crazy were now mild notions far in the background as I enjoyed this collection of happy hooks and groovy beats.

Madonna was the quintessential sound of eighties dance pop, and when a lot of artists were straining to just be noticed she was dropping hit after hit. She is no great vocalist, but she puts everything into it, and knows how to write and choose songs that showcase her talent. She was at the forefront of a score of different fashion, music and video trends. Decades later modern pop artists still emulate her ability to continually reinvent herself, while never straying far from the radio-friendly pop. It may seem critically uninteresting, but discovering that many pop hooks in a single career is unfathomably rare.

Did Madonna invent all these trends or was she just talented at seeing them coming and then riding them like a wave to the shore? I have no idea. I do know that I went to high school with a host of young teens emulating her style. I know I’d never heard of vogueing until she showed it to me and that she was touring with the Beastie Boys years before most people even knew they existed. And who is more impressive in these situations anyway, the person who first sees a wave, or the surfer who masters its power? I’m just glad I finally put my pride aside and enjoyed the ride

Best tracks: Holiday, Material Girl, Open Your Heart, Like a Prayer, Express Yourself, Vogue

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