Relevance is a balance between being part of what is popular at the time and taking progressive steps to be at the front of the new wave when it comes. Rihanna has dealt with this skilfully by adopting a new style on each record she makes. In terms of both fashion and genre, she is able to build something truly her own. In 2010, at the height of her powers, it appeared to be Lady Gaga’s time to stake a claim for longevity. However, the furore soon faded when Gaga’s third album, Artpop, failed to live up to the eclecticism of her previous records. Of course, as edgy and unique as they think they are, anything these ladies attempt has been already done by the woman who did it all before they were born.
The longevity and success of Madonna’s career has been typified by Rebel Heart, her thirteenth studio album, being heralded as her finest in over a decade. The album’s second single, the pop ballad Ghosttown received a lot of praise when it was rush-released after tracks from Rebel Heart began leaking online. The track shows Madonna again rejecting the modern sound, as featured on the albums Hard Candy and MDNA, and instead forming a new progressive sound on her own terms.
Almost 30 years ago Madonna found herself in a similar situation and the resulting album, True Blue, released in 1986, was the one that set her on the path to becoming the icon we know today.
Papa Don’t Preach opens True Blue as a definitive Madonna anthem and is 80’s pop in the finest form. While some of the other singles were minor hits this has cemented itself as a classic Madonna track. Open Your Heart began life as a rock song for Cyndi Lauper until it was found by Madonna’s management and reworked into delicious electronic pop. The pulsing bass and drums made a simple love song so catchy, becoming her fifth US number one.
After a strong start comes White Heat. Though it is the first obvious album track it is still a sturdy song. First single Live to Tell made powerful statement about the difference between what was expected of Madonna at this point in her career and what she was artistically willing to offer. A number of recent reviews noticed similarities between Live to Tell and Ghosttown, both in style and relevance to the direction of their respective albums.
A common complaint about True Blue’s title track is its dated and simplistic sound. These viewpoints neglect to consider that the song is a genre piece where Madonna takes on the role of lead vocalist in a performance that recalls 50’s and 60’s standards synonymous with acts like the Supremes. The outro repeating ‘true love, it’s true love’ could easily be sung with a sneer of irony, but isn’t. Madonna delivers her lyrics with simple sincerity. It is a love song with no caveats. Understandably, hearing this from the woman who was singing Like a Virgin a year earlier could be disorienting, but what a feat it is to shock people by being so simple and pure. It represents a clever inversion of what is expected from pop music stars.
The Latin sound on La Isla Bonita fired it to the top of charts around the world, spending two weeks at number one in the UK. It continues to be one of Madonna’s most loved songs to this day.
So close to the end, True Blue finally loses its way. The simplistic pop idea that made the song True Blue a hit is the same that scuttles Jimmy Jimmy, which is just too bland and forgettable. Even with simple, repetitive lyrics it struggles to be catchy. It is a pity that Jimmy Jimmy made the cut as it is the only track that could be lost without any hesitation. Closer Love Makes The World Go Round carries a festival air leaving this record on a high note. By no means is the song a lyrical masterpiece but the music is exuberant pop – sometimes that is enough.
Before True Blue Madonna’s sound and productions were growing larger and larger. Previously she was known for her singles and accompanying music videos, instead the focus here is not on spectacle or sex, but showcasing the strongest vocals of her career on an authentic album.By taking a U-turn and making what is a simplified album, Madonna reminded people that she was not just a brand but a genuine artist. Having an image is one thing, but being unafraid to strip all that excess away and bare herself as a story teller proved Madonna wasn’t just a phenomenon, but an artist with integrity and conviction to follow her vision through.
The physical release of Ghosttown will be available in the UK on May 4th