The Drama You've Been Craving
Monday Sept. 11, 2000
Madonna Rides The Wave
For over 16 years, the Queen of Pop has managed to stay on top.
By Michael Goldberg
Madonna is back. I know because she's on the cover of England's The Face, right as "Music," her new single, is rockin' the house in the clubs and on the charts.
I also know because "Music" itself is, as the British might put it, quite brilliant.
Inspired by great dance tracks from such early '80s standards as Indeep's "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" and Zapp's "More Bounce to the Ounce" to the latest UK club hits Madonna and producer/co-writer Mirwais Ahmadzaï have fashioned a deceptively simple club track.
"Generally, it's music that kicks me into thinking a certain way or feeling a certain thing," Madonna told The Face's Miranda Sawyer about her approach to songwriting. "...And I rely heavily on the people that I collaborate with to inspire me lyrically. Believe it or not, I'm at my most creative when I'm standing at a microphone and the pressure's on."
"Music" is all about an early '80s synth-disco sound, but its rhythm, though minimal and purposefully machinelike, feels very current and bold. When it shows up on the radio with Matchbox Twenty's "Bent," Joe's "I Wanna Know," *NSync's "It's Gonna Be Me" and 3 Doors Down's "Kryptonite," this record stands out.
"Hey Mr. DJ, put a record on/ I want to dance with my baby...," Madonna sings.
"Music makes the people come together..." she goes on. So simple and so profound if you've danced the night away in a club or at a rave, you know dance can bring transcendence. Calling out to the DJ "a god, or at the very least a sacred intermediary...," as Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton put it in their history of the DJ, "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" the singer entreats the spirits to help us collectively transcend the everyday.
Evidently with some success the record is zeroing in on the top of the charts.
Madonna hasn't exactly been gone. Last year's Ray of Light marked her re-entry into mainstream pop music after a period in which she appeared to abandon music for the movies. Ray of Light, with electronic/dance music mastermind William Orbit in the producer's seat, was a grand statement that Madonna still mattered. Even in a post-Spice Girls, Britney/Christina/Mariah world.
Since I first listened to her 1983 debut Madonna, which featured such still-amazing dance tracks as "Holiday," "Lucky Star" and "Everybody," Madonna has fascinated me.
Then as now, she was adept at absorbing the music of the moment and pulling in collaborators who could help her give it a unique spin. At the time I was certain that Chic's Nile Rodgers was behind Madonna; I was wrong. Like many of us, Madonna had simply been listening to Chic (as well as to their production of the Diana Ross hit "Upside Down"). For her next album, Like a Virgin, she hired Rodgers.
Madonna was one of the first stars to become internationally famous before playing a single live show. Thanks mostly to MTV, which came into its own in '83'84 after going on the air three years before the singer broke big, Madonna was able to win over millions without touring.
Not until months after the release of Like a Virgin did Madonna begin her first tour. That's when I met her. I was in Seattle to see her debut show (the Beastie Boys opened; this was two years before the release of Licensed To Ill).
I'd like to say that meeting Madonna was something special, that we had some kind of deep exchange that changed my life. But it wasn't like that. It was after the show, in a dressing room in the ornate Paramount Theater. Madonna was there; her manager at the time, Freddie DeMann, was there, and a few others. Everyone was drinking champagne. Wearing her hair long, kind of like she's wearing it these days, the 24-year-old Madonna came across a lot like her character in "Desperately Seeking Susan."
At the time I wrote in a review of the show for Rolling Stone: "Sipping champagne, laughing about some writer who'd written that she has set women back 30 years, she looked like a very happy star. 'I was excited,' she said of her first concert. 'Excited and nervous.' "
If you'd asked me then if I thought Madonna would become an icon, that 16 years later she'd still be a superstar, rockin' our world with a state-of-the-moment hit, I would've looked at you like you were crazy.
In The Game
Slumber Party (Kill Rock Stars): The years pass, but the Velvet Underground's influence continues. Describing themselves as a "4-girl combo from Detroit," Slumber Party make drone-pop that falls somewhere between early The Jesus and Mary Chain, the Velvets and the Roches. Writer Aliccia Berg has a firm grasp on what she wants to tell you, and Gretchen Gonzales' slightly tentative solos shimmer sadly at an almost subliminal level. Standout tracks: "Sooner or Later," "Any Other Day," "Why Do I Care" and "Fantasy."
Electronic, Twisted Tenderness (Koch): Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it was out in England last year. But I didn't buy it as an import, and I bet you didn't either. I've been digging Bernard Sumner's vocals since Joy Division morphed into New Order, and by now I think we know just how important Johnny Marr's role was in the Smiths. Here, with production help from Arthur ("Planet Rock") Baker, they move (sometimes in the same song) from guitar-heavy dance music to English balladry ("Make It Happen"). "Vivid" is '80s new-wave retro pop; "Breakdown" funks it up; and "Can't Find My Way Home" is, of course, the old Blind Faith song done up as electro-funk.
Michael Goldberg is the Editor in Chief of ARTISTdirect.
(c) 2000 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.