Madonna Tribe Year End Review: American Life – The album
Madonna ‘American Life’ album review – 10th April 2003, by Alan Braidwood BBC Radio 1
Most people have heard the single and title track of the ‘American Life‘ album, and for the first time in years, people have an opinion about a Madonna record. It might be a difficult single to get used to, but it serves as a good introduction to the album.
On ‘Ray of Light‘ post-motherhood she was spiritual. On ‘Music‘ she was in the throws of Guy Ritchie induced love and a new found friend in Mirwais. Here on ‘American Life’, Madonna talks and really opens up.
‘American Life’ succeeds as an album where ‘Music’ failed. It sounds like an album, with an agenda of what the singer wants to say. On ‘Music’ the mix of Mirwais, William Orbit and Mark ‘Spike’ Stent all producing made it sound unresolved as a whole and a bit messy. And it had ‘American Pie’ on it. Here the sound is consistent and as a result it’s brave and strong where ‘Music’ was afraid to really go for it.
Initially it’s not an easy listen. There is a lot going on here, but it sounds fantastic and definitely an album which you want to listen to again and again.
With her vocals right up in the mix, this is as close as we’ve ever got to Madonna. Moreso, than the last album and also on ‘Ray of Light‘.
It’s braver too – no longer does she hedge her bets and mix an album with people which she scored earlier successes with like Pat Leonard on ‘Ray of Light’ (‘Frozen’), and William Orbit on ‘Music’ (‘Runaway Lover’, ‘Amazing’). On ‘American Life’ it’s her vision and Mirwais’s production alone – and it’s all better for it.
However, like ‘Erotica‘ this album could be overlooked if people judge the album by the first single. And like with ‘Erotica’, that would be a real shame.
It’s a strong album. It’s a break-up album, a fed up of work/school/college album. It has attitude and balls – just like a good Madonna record should have.
First single (not including ‘Die Another Day’) and it’s the mission statement of the album. Whether you love it or hate it, as the beginning of the album it makes sense and serves as a good introduction as to what the rest of the albums’ lyrics are about. It’s also, in my opinion, the weakest song.
This is going to be the second single. After the first track it’s actually a huge relief after the single ‘American Life’ – instantly catchy and fast-paced it reminds you of what Madonna really is about when she’s good. Great tunes, attitude. It starts with bird singing noises in the background, and soon Madonna gets into the Hollywood is not-a-very-nice-place theme of the song.
I’m So Stupid
A bit slower with her voice distorted at the start. It’s sounds a little 60s with the synths in the background, and has more of a rock feel to it. With lyrics like ‘Everybody’s looking for something’, it’s a grower.
Probably the most straight forward dance track on the album. I think this is one of those which could become a favourite and it feels like a classic upbeat Madonna song. It fuses the message behind the song ‘American Life’ with Mirwais’ beats and acoustic elements really well.
Nobody Knows Me
This song is insane. Very electronic, chaotic, fast, manic. Pounding synths. There is so much going on here several it’ll take several plays to really get it, but it’s ace.
Rumoured to be single no.3, this is classic downbeat Madonna. It’s also the first time the album drops the pace. Think ‘Don’t Tell Me’ mixed with the low, gravelly voice on ‘Live to Tell’. The London gospel choir sounds amazing when their voices take off. Strong, with beautiful strings.
Mid-paced, it builds up to be a lovely album track. Not a single, but with its REM 80s-style guitars in the background it’s a good track to follow ‘Nothing Fails’.
Early rumours that this would be the big ‘Impressive Instant’ dance track were wrong. It’s one of the slowest tracks. It’s also striking because throughout the album Madonna vocals feel very close and real – here’s she sounds bare. Intimate.
Mother and Father
This isn’t the sad confessional track the title leads you to believe. It’s stronger than previous attempts on a similar theme – ‘Inside of Me’, ‘Promise to Try’ and ‘Oh Father’.
Die Another Day
Like the ‘American Life’ single, this song had mixed reactions when released. But bizarrely, because the production sounds consistent throughout the whole album, it fits. Where on ‘Music’ ‘American Pie’ irritated the flow of the album, ‘Die Another Day’ finds itself a home here and compliments the set.
Like ‘Gone’ near the end of the last album, this feels like an epitaph for the album. It sounds like she’s exhausted – and no wonder – in a good way, and again the strings sound amazing. A great and natural end to the album.
Madonna has said of the album via an official statment from her record company that:
“All of these songs reflect my current state of mind. I feel like I have just woken up out of a dream. They range from dismay and anger to joy and certainty. Hopefully, I have taken the personal and made it universal.”
Source: BBC Radio 1