Into the Grooves
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
Madonna’s Celebration at Nine: The Career-Spanning Masterpiece That Is Impossible to Ignore
I have already said goodbye to Kate Bush pieces in 2018...
IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna in a promotional shot for her 2015 album, Rebel Heart (the tour of the album)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
and will pick things back up next year. I wrote a lot about her because, not only did she turn sixty, but there was a lot of activity going on. There was no new material but we got her albums remastered and reintroduced and a book of her lyrics. I think there will be more next year from Bush (I hope so!) and the same can be said of Madonna. She also turned sixty this year and many of her albums came to mind. Every anniversary that marks another year of one of her masterworks makes me dig into the original work and why it struck such a chord. It may sound like a flimsy excuse to mark Madonna but the vinyl release of her greatest hits collection, Celebration (hard to get on vinyl (at a reasonable price) at the moment so the streaming version is easier), came out nine years ago in the U.S. – nine years ago yesterday, in fact! I think, without releasing any material, it has been a big year for Madonna and a chance to celebration her life. Many artists are fearful of getting older and celebrating certain birthdays but Madonna took to sixty with aplomb! I have looked at some of her albums, such as Erotica and Bedtime Stories, this year and investigated the ins and outs. I am not sure why but it seems like, the more time passes, the more interesting these albums become. Many feel The Immaculate Collection is the defining greatest hits collection but I feel Celebration is a wider and more appealing selection.
It does not take much for me to celebrate and mark a Madonna release but there are so few modern artists who can project the same sort of intrigue and consistency today. I wonder how often we put greatest hits collections on and buy them on vinyl. To me, the true way of listening to music in on vinyl and I think a greatest hits collection is a great way of discovering a new artist. Every Pop innovator has their own greatest hits collection but, as it is Christmas, many might be looking for an introduction to Madonna and her incredible body of work. I would advise you to pick up Celebration – the non-U.S. version or the U.S. version – and diving into an awesome back catalogue. I love how accessible and wonderful Madonna sounds in 1983 (on her debut) and the fact she is delivering the goods on her modern albums. To say goodbye to Madonna for 2018, and provide additional guidance for those who want some essential Madonna vinyl; here are five crucial albums that you should snap up alongside Celebration. The greatest hits collection is a must-own and shows how the Queen of Pop has matured and changed through the years. It is hard distilling Madonna’s brilliance into five albums but I think these records should be part of everyone’s collection. Grab your copy of Celebration and, to go with it, get your hands on these classic Madonna records!
IN THIS IMAGE: The back cover of Madonna’s 2005 album, Confessions on a Dance Floor/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images
Release Date: 27th July, 1983
Labels: Sire/Warner Bros.
“This is music where all of the elements may not particularly impressive on their own -- the arrangement, synth, and drum programming are fairly rudimentary; Madonna's singing isn't particularly strong; the songs, while hooky and memorable, couldn't necessarily hold up on their own without the production -- but taken together, it's utterly irresistible. And that's the hallmark of dance-pop: every element blends together into an intoxicating sound, where the hooks and rhythms are so hooky, the shallowness is something to celebrate. And there are some great songs here, whether it's the effervescent "Lucky Star," "Borderline," and "Holiday" or the darker, carnal urgency of "Burning Up" and "Physical Attraction." And if Madonna would later sing better, she illustrates here that a good voice is secondary to dance-pop. What's really necessary is personality, since that sells a song where there are no instruments that sound real. Here, Madonna is on fire, and that's the reason why it launched her career, launched dance-pop, and remains a terrific, nearly timeless, listen” – AllMusic
Standout Tracks: Lucky Star/Burning Up/Holiday
Key Cut: Borderline
Like a Prayer (1989)
Release Date: 21st March, 1989
“The emotions on Like a Prayer aren’t all fraught. “Cherish” is a feather-light declaration of devotion that calls back to Cali-pop outfit the Association while updating Madonna’s earlier exercise in retroism “True Blue”; “Dear Jessie” engages in the reaching toward sounding “Beatles-esque” that was in vogue at the time, pairing fussy strings and tick-tock percussion with images of pink elephants and flying leprechauns. “Love Song,” meanwhile, is a synth-funk chiffon co-written by none other than Prince, one of Madonna’s few pop equals at the time. The two of them feel locked in an erotically charged session of truth or dare, each challenging the other to stretch their voices higher while the drum machines churn. Prince also played, initially uncredited, on “Like a Prayer,” the sauntering pop-funk track “Keep It Together,” and the album-closing “Act of Contrition,” a two-minute maelstrom that combines Prince’s guitar heroics, backward-masked bits from the title track, heavy beats, and its title inspiration, the Catholic prayer of… confession” – Pitchfork
Standout Tracks: Express Yourself/Cherish/Oh Father
Key Cut: Like a Prayer
Bedtime Stories (1994)
Release Date: 25th October, 1994
“To increase the threat, Madonna’s lyrics mingle sex and romance in more personal ways than ever. Previously, she wrote largely in characters and slogans; now she writes, more complexly, from the heart. In several songs she exposes an emotional perversity with the clarity she once had reserved for her sexual kinks. In ”Forbidden Love” she dismisses any relationship untouched by taboo, in ”Love Tried to Welcome Me” she fetishizes rejection, and in ”Sanctuary” she aligns love and death in a way her shrink may want to seriously examine.
In fact, she’s on far surer ground thrashing through such neurotic (if not uncommon) views of relationships than she is trashing the media. In striking back at her critics, Madonna simply sounds self-righteous and smug. ”I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about sex,” she sneers in ”Human Nature.” ”Did I say something true?” Yes. But tooting your own horn about it just sounds petty. For Madonna, luckily, revenge needn’t lie in such squabbles. She wins through the catchy bass hooks and clear persona of the music.
Longtime Madonna fans may still pine for the ecstatic buoyancy of her early hits. And even open-minded listeners may find that the new tracks work less as individual songs than as a sustained mood suite for the boudoir. But seven albums into her career, there’s no denying that Madonna keeps moving forward and crossing barriers — this time, helping another kind of black music further penetrate into the mainstream. Apparently, pop’s most shameless exhibitionist still has something to reveal” – Entertainment Weekly
Standout Tracks: Secret/Human Nature/Bedtime Story
Key Cut: Take a Bow
Ray of Light (1998)
Release Date: 22nd February, 1998
“Returning to pop after a four-year hiatus, Madonna enlisted respected techno producer William Orbit as her collaborator for Ray of Light, a self-conscious effort to stay abreast of contemporary trends. Unlike other veteran artists who attempted to come to terms with electronica, Madonna was always a dance artist, so it's no real shock to hear her sing over breakbeats, pulsating electronics, and blunted trip-hop beats. Still, it's mildly surprising that it works as well as it does, largely due to Madonna and Orbit's subtle attack. They've reined in the beats, tamed electronica's eccentricities, and retained her flair for pop melodies, creating the first mainstream pop album that successfully embraces techno. Sonically, it's the most adventurous record she has made, but it's far from inaccessible, since the textures are alluring and the songs have a strong melodic foundation, whether it's the swirling title track, the meditative opener, "Substitute for Love," or the ballad "Frozen." For all of its attributes, there's a certain distance to Ray of Light, born of the carefully constructed productions and Madonna's newly mannered, technically precise singing. It all results in her most mature and restrained album, which is an easy achievement to admire, yet not necessarily an easy one to love” – AllMusic
Standout Tracks: Ray of Light/Nothing Really Matters/The Power of Good-Bye
Key Cut: Frozen
Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005)
Release Date: 9th November, 2005
Label: Warner Bros.
“If Price can't stop Madonna writing songs that tell you fame isn't all it's cracked up to be in a way that suggests she thinks she's the first person to work this out, he can summon up more than enough sonic trickery to distract you. There are hulking basslines, fizzing synthesisers, rolling tablas on Push and an unlikely combination of frantic double-bass riffing, Goldfrapp-ish glam stomp and acoustic guitar filigree on the closing Like It or Not, a collaboration with Swedish pop songwriters Bloodshy and Avant. Isaac falls flat, its lyrics about Kabbalah teacher Isaac Freidin married to global-village trance makes you think of Australian backpackers dancing badly at beach parties in Goa - but elsewhere, the songwriting sparkles. The choruses of Get Together and Sorry are triumphant. I Love New York may be the most agreeably ridiculous thing Madonna has ever released: timpani, a riff stolen from the Stooges' I Wanna Be Your Dog and a Lou Reed deadpan.
It may be a return to core values, but there's still a bravery about Confessions on a Dancefloor. It revels in the delights of wilfully plastic dance pop in an era when lesser dance-pop artists - from Rachel Stevens to Price's protege Juliet - are having a desperately thin time of it. It homages the DJ mix album, a format long devalued by computer-generated cash-in compilations. It flies in fashion's face with a swaggering hint of only-I-can-do-this: "If you don't like my attitude," she suggests on I Love New York, "then you can eff-off." Dancing queens of every variety should be delighted” – The Guardian
Standout Tracks: Sorry/I Love New York/Push
Key Cut: Hung Up