By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Aided by Music’s returning producer/co-writer, Mirwais Ahmadzai, American Life boasts a leaner and less glossily electronic approach than their previous collaborations, and is loaded with funky little ditties about simple joys and simple problems. Atop some fairly tasty electronic thumping twined with her own acoustic guitars and well-placed change-ups and modulations, the spunky (and ambiguous) “Hollywood” says, “I tried to leave it but I never could . . . Hollywood — how could it hurt you when it looks so good?” Then she complains a bit about L.A. radio stations always playing the same songs: “Push the button/change the channel.” Good idea.
Despite her excellent acting when making lyrical statements about the burdens of fame and fortune, Madonna seems impervious to the normal pressures that would’ve completely messed up other big stars. You get the sense that she feels obligated to address these serious issues, to answer her critics, but that none of it is all that upsetting. Her act compels her to deepen her “message,” such as it is. Not that we really expect our superstars to suffer or anything. We know it’s all about who’s got the best act, who’s going to represent all those emo-shuns we’ve heard about on TV — fear, loneliness, heartbreak, dreams pursued/hopes dashed. Even so, in “Nobody Knows Me,” featuring the Vocodered voice of Madonna atop de rigueur synth squishes and tightly gated drum-funk programs, one can imagine real feeling deeply ingrained in this particular icon. “Why should I care what the world thinks of me?” That is, yes, she does care what the world thinks of her. She says she’ll just withdraw from the public eye, ’cause who needs this, huh? “Intervention” (“I know that love will keep us together/I know that love will take us away from here”) harps again on escape — from fame, from false expectations, etc., with love as salvation. In “Mother and Father,” she finds she’s never left home, though she knows she must: “I got to give it up/find someone to love me.” She lapses back to her Diana Ross vocal chirps over a rudimentary urban old-school funk track, synths and squeaks and squawks and wocka-chocka electric guitar, and — uh-oh — she’s rapping pop psychology, she’s “A victim of a kind of rage.” As we all are, I’d wager.
Your cruise down to the last song is painless and crisp. On “Easy Ride,” pensive, minor-key chording details Madonna’s hopes for herself, her children and her husband. The arrangement is widescreen, string synths rolling counterpoint prettiness over Madonna’s full-circle route to what she’s been driving at all along: She wants a home, she’s looked so long, and now suspects that, for better or worse, she’s found one.
Mere actress though Madonna may be, it’s not even like she can or does feel scorn toward her detractors; interestingly, she’s at her most genuine and revealing with this endless shrugging at the perils of fame and the trap she’s set for herself. Meanwhile, you might be someone who wishes for something really foul to happen in Madonna’s life, to shake her up and out of her homey torpor. That’s because you’re not a sympathetic 16-year-old girl, or a fat kid, or a gay kid. You may be someone who’s more interested in tracking artists’ career arcs than in the more pertinent idea of watching them follow their muses. Whatever the case may be, to every frickin’ geek music expert who now feels compelled to dryly say, “John, it’s just that her music sucks,” my equally dumb but correct reply is: You just wouldn’t know.
MADONNA | American Life | (Maverick/Warner Bros.)
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