Mid-life middling

Madonna's American Life


The queen of pop’s reign officially ended with the brilliant release of 1998’s Ray Of Light; her reputation has since been on a sharp decline. Revered for being the mistress of reinvention, it seems over the last five years Madonna has been desperately chasing her own rep.

To celebrate her second decade as an icon, Madonna’s 10th studio album, co-produced once again by Mirwais Ahmadzai, is all about her mid-life crisis. A symbol of glamour and excess since 1982, Madonna, the fame junkie, is trying to convey a more grounded approach to the life by declaring that fame is hollow. In songs like the title track “Amercian Life,” “Hollywood” and “I’m So Stupid,” she proclaims that the American dream is a false reality that won’t bring you happiness. Those first three Daft Punk inspired tracks sound more at home on her last album Music and even with an addition of a silly “Princess Superstar” rap, the first part of the album comes across as desperate and stale – as if the 44-year-old is frantically trying to sound young and cool.

She continues to get very personal in unusually insipid lyrics with tracks like “Love Profusion” and “Nobody Knows Me.” The shocker is that she sounds more like Joan Baez trying to sound like a hip Jewel. “Nothing Fails,” one of the tracks not co-written by Mirwais, is one of the album’s best. It’s like “Rain” crossed with “What It Feels Like For A Girl,” a slow ballad that builds with a gospel choir.

Surprisingly, American Life is a decent album overall, though certainly not her best. At her age, Madonna could easily just coast on her past laurels, but instead she is constantly trying to grow as an artist. When the glamour and techno is stripped away, a more revealing genius emerges from hers and Mirwais’ partnership. The old fans, who don’t like Mirwais’ influence since Music, will be continually disappointed. But as with most of her past songs, many here are classic growers. I hated this entire album at first listen but after several more, most of the tracks start sounding much better. The remixes for “American Life” won’t save that song, but “Hollywood,” touted as the next single, could be a summer anthem.

The verdict: This is Music Part II with less variety and range of tempo. Let the remixes begin.

AMERICAN LIFE.

Madonna.

Maverick. $16.99.

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