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"Its hardly the “revolutionary point of view” that she is laying claim to, but it does sound all the more invigorating coming straight from the lips of the most famous woman in pop"
Eamon Sweeney, 23 Apr 2003
“I’m saying celebrity is bullshit, and who knows better than me?” Indeed. Even the Queen of England isn’t in the same league as Michigan’s Most Wanted. Queen Maddy did her level best to upstage Liz’s Jubilee last year by insisting on a police escort through the teeming streets of London, refusing point blank to make an exception for the biggest day in English Royalty’s recent history.
The Irish release date for American Life was switched from Good Friday to Easter Monday, which I find a little surprising, as surely you’d expect Madge of all people to go up against Jesus. All the Bling-Bling and wannabe divas in the world can’t compete with Madonna Louise Ciccone. That’s just how it is. On American Life, the prevalent theme is that fame sucks and then you die. Here comes Madge with her battle-paint on, pulling off her best Che Guervara Revolutionary Chic pose and declaring war on her own celebrity.
On the opening title track, and no less than her 56th single, Madonna attempts a bizarre rap over a soaring techno-lite r’ n’ b backdrop, “I got a lawyer and a manager/And agent and a chef/Three nannies, an assistant/And a driver and a jet/A trainer and a butler/And a bodyguard or five/A gardener and a stylist/Do you think I’m satisfied? /I’m not a Christian and I’m not a Jew /I’m just living out the American Dream /And I’ve just realised things ain’t what they seem.” Cue dramatic pause and lots of Daft Punkish old skool New York electro squelches from Gallic electronic genius Mirwais.
Okay, its hardly the “revolutionary point of view” that she is laying claim to, but it does sound all the more invigorating coming straight from the lips of the most famous woman in pop. Despite the distraction of the customary razor sharp production and swish, sophisticated sheen, American Life is a significant individual statement from Madonna. We have songs about her children Rocco and Lourdes and a trilogy of love numbers at the centrepiece of the album directly addressing hubby Guy Rithchie.
The fact that she has chosen to sequence these alongside the album’s standout, ‘Mother and Father’, is fascinating. The latter is perhaps the most direct and personal Madonna moment to date, dealing with the death of her Mother from breast cancer when she was five, her subsequent relationship with her Father and how the episode still affects and influences her life. Love gained stands shoulder to shoulder with love tragically lost.
These reflective moments mark American Life as a brave step forward from the spooky, sometimes Gothic electronic soul of Ray of Light and the killer dance-floor suss of Music. Both Mirwais Ahmadzai and Mike ‘Spike’ Stent are again at the mixing desk helm, augmented by no less than eight engineers. Madonna never does anything by half! Consequently, this album is littered with the studio-savvy gold dust. Check out the awesome vocal production and tricks on ‘Hollywood’, just for starters.
American Life is just as FX-laden as its predecessor, with all the right noises in all the right places, excellently enhanced by Mirwais, who has expanded his programming and producing brief to also include some guitar work and even to chip in a little backing vocal. Michel Columbier orchestrates some melodramatic yet effective string segments on the fantastic ‘Easy Ride’ and wonderful ‘Nothing Fails’, as well as last year’s Bond song ‘Die Another Day’ – a pompous and underwhelming effort on initial inspection, but which happens to gel perfectly into this collection’s framework.
Granted, this isn’t as astonishing a package as 1998’s Ray of Light, but it’s still a considerable improvement on and progression from the 2000 opus Music. She is now the Material Mom and wants to tell us a little bit more about herself rather than just flaunt it for its own sake.
Unlike some of the many gems in her back catalogue, American Life won’t turn pop music on its head. It does however, offer eleven pretty good reasons to tune in.
seven point /ten