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Class ?

Main Category: Dance Pop
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Madonna fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Madonna fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1983

Oh, the good old days when I used to shun Madonna as the impersonation of everything that was wrong with the Eighties... hey, not that it isn't true! Yet somehow, it manages to be true and I happen to like this record a lot, too. I guess Madonna is like alcohol - a little can be fun, too much can make you run to the bathroom. (Except that embarrassments like these don't make you stop drinking, I guess).

Nah, whatever. The truth is that Madonna's debut is one of the best dance-pop albums of the early Eighties, and can easily be enjoyed in the way you enjoy your "classic" late Seventies disco record. Attempts at passing the music on here as "innovative" would be futile, but the entire 'package' of the music, lyrics, singing, arrangement, and Madonna's persona was certainly a new thing at the time, and you'd have to agree that to a large extent, it was her that was setting the rules for dance-pop at the time - and for years to come. I mean, how's your average Britney Spears that different from early Madonna? Except that the songs are so much worse. And Britney never really writes any of her material, and probably never will.

Now don't laugh at me, these songs are really good - take this from somebody who's managed to successfully stay away from Madonna throughout all of his childhood and teenage years and took the brave decision of "discovering" her two decades after her debut came out. And guess what? This stuff is, well, extremely listenable even by the standards of 2003. And in many ways, this album is actually Madonna's best, unless you're willing to defend Signora Ciccone's status as that of an artist with a profound message to the masses or something. It's very enthusiastic and raw, at least in respect to her singing - maybe her voice got better later on, but there's some kind of real passion to be found on here, and personally, I find it fun to observe Madonna actually panting for breath and occasionally rasping on the more tricky passages as she tries to surpass her own limits. She doesn't do that in a bad, miserable way either.

What's the most impressive thing about this album, though, is the quality of the vocal melodies. I guess Madonna would have been a breakthrough even if the quality of the songs was uniformly low, but the fact that most of these songs are amazingly catchy certainly helped people get interested in the girl, too. 'Lucky Star', for instance, has both a catchy chorus and a catchy verse structure, although, of course, it's the triple rhyming of 'starbright, starlight, first star I see tonight' that really does it for everybody. (Now doesn't it?). 'Borderline' alone has two vocal melodies in the verses and two vocal melodies in the chorus, and it's firmly in the ABBA tradition which works all right with me - the difference is that the production on the record kinda sucks, being very minimalistic and sparse as compared to ABBA's lush wall-of-sound. Then again, ABBA were writing "symph pop" style with a nod to dance, whereas Madonna's debut is pure dance music, so instead of actually complaining, we should praise the album for paying enough attention to melodicity.

'Burning Up' is a terrific "modern R'n'B" rave-up and my favourite on the album - beats out every single similar song by the Eurythmics (who were never really that hot when it came to pure dance music, mood being their forte and all). Repetitive as it is, Madonna pulls it off easily, transforming the robotic monotonous pulse into a sweaty groove through the power of vocal expression alone (I mean, there's some kind of a guitar solo on there, but who really needs it?). Plus, that 'come on, let go!' just ROCKS. I'm serious. The other two well-known tracks, 'Holiday' and 'Physical Attraction', are slightly less memorable but still quite idiosyncratic - hard to tell which individual elements make them so good, but you can't dissect until you're frustrated and blue all over, you know. Sometimes you just gotta dig the whole shenanigan. I'll offer you just one hint, producers of modern pop - put some more of those overfunked guitars in your songs. You know, like real guitars played by real players and stuff. Ah well.

Thing is, even the minor songs on here are cute - 'I Know It' has that neat pleading Sixties-like chorus, 'Think Of Me' will have you singing 'think of me, you better think of me' and I know you'll not be able to help yourself, and even that early single 'Everybody' is infectious. Now don't deny it. I tried denying it to myself for as long as I could, but you know there's something wrong with that if these songs just start ringing in your head over and over upon the very first listen. There's real pop talent here for sure - yes, it's Madonna, yes it's cheesy Eighties arrangements, but sheez, twenty years on, it's possible to live with that.



Year Of Release: 1984

Madonna's transformation into a pop icon truly begins with this record, but it simply doesn't live up to the youthful catchy innocence of its predecessor. Simply put, Madonna begins ripping apart the "adequacy rules" on here - the basic music ingredients of the songs are still the same as before, but there seems to be, excuse me while I puke, a message here that Madonna is becoming sexy, soulful, and sincere, when she is not. She is just becoming phoney. Glammy. Show-off. She is even relying on outside songwriters to provide her with her major hits - how cool is that?

No cool at all, especially considering that the hits are pretty rote. The chorus of 'Material Girl' is catchy, for sure, but in an unbearably corny and gloppy-schloppy way, something you'd be more likely to hear on a bad kiddie show than in a serious pop venue. Not to mention the tinny, underproduced sound; I bet your life if you converted the song to MIDI format, you wouldn't hear that much difference. As for the title track, that one simply is not catchy - it's quite mediocre, in fact. Is the main hook supposed to be 'like a virgin, touched for the very first time'? In my humble opinion, it's more trivial and predictable than the main hookline on any of the songs off Madonna. And what's up with the twelve-year old girlie vocals anyway? The shock value of that vocal delivery might have been high in 1985; today, it merely sounds ridiculous.

It's still much worse when Madonna actually tries herself on a ballad - her vocals are so weak that the potentially emotional 'Love Don't Live Here Anymore' comes off more like a "young talent showcase" than a serious artistic statement. Wonder how many sweatin' hours she had to spend in the studio before she finally got to get that 'high - low' pitch modulation right, and even so, each sung line in this song is the equivalent to an unexperienced docker finally getting to throwing a 300 pound sack of coal off his shoulder. (Ungh! Ungh!). Compared to that effort, both 'Material Girl' and 'Like A Virgin' are absolute masterpieces.

Once you manage to throw the stinkin' coat of "artsiness" off the album, though, about half of the songs are okay, and somewhat redeem the misfires. The best song on here, I guess, is the one that originally was not on the record - which is 'Into The Groove', taken off the soundtrack to Madonna's cult movie Desperately Seeking Sushi, and unsurprisingly, it's the one that sounds the closest to the original Madonna style: a lengthy hot dance groove with an unbeatable couple of vocal hooks that will get your body going and your emotions flowing even if your dry pedantic brain protests against it. But I'm also pretty sympathetic towards the fast chuckin' 'Over And Over', which also has a notorious vocal hook - 'you get up again, over and over you get up again, over and over...' - yet doesn't seem to puff it up into something bigger than it actually is. Same with 'Dress You Up', which you probably know as '(Gonna) Dress You Up (In My Love, All Over, All Over!)' because that's the way it is going to imprint itself in your head.

And then there's everything else... unspectacular and not really that much danceable as last time around, with lotsa slower, "moodier" rhythms that all reflect the girl's desire to "progress", I guess, but there's progress and then there's going to the lavatory, so I do regard all these songs like 'Angel' or 'Stay' or 'Pretender' as inferior recreations of the earlier material rather than superior. Not that I can really knock them down, I don't have neither the force nor the will to do that. See, there's only one truly bad song on here - 'Love Don't Live Here Anymore (Neither Does Good Singing)' - and it's really really bad, almost objectively so, because there are people qualified to sing "traditional" soulful balladry and then there are people who aren't qualified to do so. The other songs are all kinda catchy. Yeah, I guess to a certain extent even 'Like A Virgin' is.

I mean, I glance back at the track listing and I see that, okay, I didn't like 'Shoo Bee Doo' that much, but I still remember how it goes, and that's a plus. And come to think of it, Like A Virgin is not that pretentious. You really wouldn't know if you weren't so much aware of Madonna's public image. It's just that I don't like when people "mature" that way - taking their innocent life-happy dance grooves and 'seriousifying' them instead of changing the music itself. If I wanna dance and shout, I'll dance and shout. I don't want to dance and think at the same time. Besides, there's not much thinking to do anyway.


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