American Life

Maverick Records


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   Let’s consider this the third part of a trilogy that began with 1998’s Ray Of Light. That’s where her modernist, immaterial girl, mother, spiritual side took over the game and signaled her comeback to relevance after diminishing returns for the years previous to that. She followed that up by taking up guitar and going more personal and internal for 2000’s Music. American Life is the natural progression, but there may be no material left to mine in this vein after this. The buzz of the brutal, poetic honesty of Ray’s “Mer Girl” has worn off by the time you get to the new record’s “Mother & Father” which is otherwise a great song. It just feels repetitive now. Her seeming rejection of her past excesses and shallow nature with “Hollywood” and “I’m So Stupid” are telling, but the pulsing, electronic tracks backing her up sound positively nineties, which can’t be good for an artist whose success has been defined by staying years ahead of the game! Her guitar playing is steadily improving and is even more featured here. It’s clear that was the basis for a lot of these songs and that’s far more intriguing (Madonna the folk singer?) than the trendy attempts at Madonna rapping (see “American Life”). Every time she does it, (even though it’s done well) it raises the cringe factor significantly. Also missing here is the much-needed feel good hit. The content of American Life is heavy and never really lets up. That’s fine, but Madonna needs a track like “Music” from the last disc to translate to middle America. On the end cut, “Easy Ride”, she declares, “I want the good life, but I don't want an easy ride. What I want is to work for it. Feel the blood and sweat on my fingertips.” If that’s true, it’s time for her to get back to work, because while American Life is still a strong record from start to finish, it’s definitely starting to feel like coasting. Plus, with all of her history in Hollywood, she ought to know to never go past a third installment of any franchise. That goes for music as well as movies. Personally, I’m pulling for Madonna Unplugged to follow this. If anyone can pull of such a dramatic change, she can. (9348 Civic Center Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210)

Chris McKay/