Chicago Sun Times Review
The irony of Madonna calling her current jaunt the “Re-invention Tour” is rich, the singer has spent her entire career reinventing herself.
Pop’s wiliest female chameleon followed in the footsteps of Andy Warhol and David Bowie as a deft appropriator of underground ideas who has always excelled at taking those notions into the mainstream. For 20 years, she has changed with each new album and tour, expertly staying one step ahead of the times and the trends.
Now, at age 45, Madonna is at a difficult crossroads: How does she remain relevant and seem fresh and exciting when her primary role as a sexy dance diva and sultry provocateur has long since been usurped by a new generation of younger, chirpier and even more risque sirens?
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Chicago fans will have the opportunity to witness her latest transmogrification when she performs at the United Center tonight and tomorrow and again on Wednesday and Thursday, that is, if they can afford the steep ticket price, which is $317.50 with Ticketmaster “convenience fees” for much of the arena. (Scattered seats remain; call 312-559-1212 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.)
Maddy has been laying the groundwork for a shift in perceptions about her public persona for some time now. Over the last decade, she successfully emerged as a brilliant businesswoman, serving as the nominal head of Maverick Records (the label that gave us Alanis Morissette, the Deftones and the Prodigy, among others), though the company was recently bought out by the Warner Music Group.
Her film career has been more of a mixed bag. (Anybody remember “Swept Away”? How about “Shanghai Surprise”? Didn’t think so.) But on the personal front, she at long last settled down with her director husband, Guy Ritchie, embracing the role of mother and branching out as an author of children’s books. And she has made a big deal out of her spiritual reawakening via her study of Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism.
Madonna hasn’t fared nearly as well when it comes to reinventing her music. Her last concert jaunt, the 2001 Drowned World Tour, found her awkwardly avoiding the hits from the first two-thirds of her career, leaving some fans grumbling and drawing criticism for seeming “distant and removed” onstage (as if she was ever a particularly engaging and personable performer, she has always seemed to be acting out scenes from her videos rather than living in the moment on stage).
The singer’s last new album, 2003’s “American Life”,her 14th studio effort overall, was a soggy commercial and critical disappointment. She turned away from the playful techno sounds that powered 1998’s “Ray of Light” and 2000’s “Music” in favor of more static electronic backings, way too much acoustic guitar and some very stilted rapping. And for once she seemed oddly out of touch with the pop zeitgeist.
“I don’t know who I am, I don’t know who I’m supposed to be,” she crooned in “X-Static Process,” and that statement seemed to sum up her general artistic confusion.
The former Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone of Bay City, Mich., tries to resuscitate “American Life” by performing six songs from that disc on the Re-invention Tour, and reviewers have claimed that the material holds up better in concert than it did on album. But even more surprising is what’s missing from the show: Namely, the sex.
Like Prince, another controversial, enigmatic and genre-crossing superstar who first made his mark in the ’80s, Madonna has excised most of the R-rated material from her current stage show. There are no conical bras, no acted-out S/M routines and no lascivious voguing (just a lot of tamer posing and some fake yoga moves).
Publicly, Maddy is crediting the change in tone to her spiritual reawakening, just as Prince has cited his conversion as a Jehovah’s Witness. But shrewd performer that she is, she also knows that despite those killer abs, she no longer has the pinup-girl appeal of a Britney Spears or a Christina Aguilera. Tawdry striptease shenanigans would not only appear a bit unseemly now, but maybe even a little ridiculous.
Just what the heck is Kabbalah?
Throughout the Re-invention Tour, the video screens frequently flash Hebrew letters that are never translated. Madonna wears a symbolic red string around her wrist; she sings the last few songs wearing a T-shirt that reads “Kabbalists Do It Better,” and she’d like us to call her “Esther,” please.
What the heck is she going on about now?
Welcome to the world of Kabbalah, which Madonna, who was raised as a Roman-Catholic, calls her new “punk-rock, anti-establishment” religion.
Kabbalah, which is alternately spelled Cabala, Caballa, Kabala, Kaballa, and Qaballah, thanks to the vagaries of translating Hebrew, is generally interpreted to mean “to receive” or “to accept,” but it is often used synonymously with “tradition.” It refers to a collection of mystical Jewish writings involving symbolical interpretations of Hebrew Scriptures.
Believers hold that these teachings, which involve the nature of divinity, the creation, the origin and fate of the soul and the role of human beings on earth, have been passed on as oral tradition from the mouths of the prophets since the creation of man. But most religious scholars hold that the bulk of them date from the medieval era.
Kabbalah has been trendy among Hollywood types since the mid-’90s. Roseanne has called it “the last hope for the world,” and other adherents have included Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand and actress Sandra Bernhard (even though women were discouraged from studying the religion until the last century).
“I’m a little bit irritated that people think that it’s like some celebrity bandwagon that I’ve jumped on, or that, say, somebody like Demi [Moore] has jumped on,” Madonna recently said in an interview with ABC-TV’s “20/20.” “We don’t take it lightly.
“Paris Hilton did come to the Kabbalah Centre once, because her parents brought her,” she continued. “They wanted to help her and they were desperate and they brought her there and she had a meeting and she left, and suddenly, Paris Hilton studies Kabbalah. I mean, that’s what happens, and people … they don’t know the whole story.”
In the no-longer-Material Girl’s case, the whole story includes the fact that she was inspired by the religion to change her name in order to draw on a “new source of energy.” Hence the new moniker Esther, from the Biblical tale of a woman of limited means who went on to become queen of Persia and save the Jewish from annihilation.
Oddly enough, there is no mention in the Scriptures of Queen Esther ever having worn a T-shirt proclaiming, “Persians Do It Better.”
Artcile by Jim DeRogatis
Source: Chicago Sun Times