The Mother of (re)Invention might’ve better served her sucklings by actually releasing her phony mp3 files instead of the actual American Life tracks. Hot on the heels of yet another film flop, a withdrawn music video and a showdown with freeloading Kazaa-nauts that ended up like a Revenge of the Nerds finale, it’s no wonder people are screaming that Madonna’s lost her touch. But, as old Southern Pacific rail men used to say, the way to understanding a train wreck is to study it track by track.
1) “American Life.” Without the requisite controversial vid, all we’re left with is secondhand Patty Hearst SLA poses and Madonna renouncing her previous moneygrubbing capitalist ways, something that would’ve been revelatory had she not spilled those shallow beans on Ray of Light. On her unlucky 13th album it appears she’s going head-to-head with her teen competition by dumbing-down to Mike Tyson levels. At least four songs feature a new Madonna voice that closely resembles Britney or Xtina on Whippits. Most female artists at Madonna’s age stay young with a lift and tuck. Madonna just speeds up her voice. Here she sounds like her old “Like a Virgin” chipmunk self, and it’s the only point where she appears to be having fun
2) “Hollywood.” If she’s really serious about wanting to leave Tinseltown in the spiritual sense, why doesn’t she just burn her SAG card and spare herself any future Razzies?
3)”I’m So Stupid.” I can’t make out if this is stupid or not but ever since “Cherish,” Madonna quotes former No. 1 songs without paying interpolation fees — here it’s the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This).” But when she states that “everyone’s stupid, stupid,” she insults the members of her audience who are straddling the fence on their own stupidity; she risks inspiring a backlash of Dixie Chicks proportions.
4) “Love Profusion.” Smart Madonna bounds back by showing us how many words she knows that end with the “ion” sound. In a word, –shun!
5) “Nobody Knows Me.” Mirwais Ahmandzai’s programming is by far the best thing on the album and nowhere better demonstrated than on this track, as it avoids those breakdowns when everything drops out and you’re left with Madonna and an acoustic guitar like it’s a bad open-mic night with Jewel zirconium.
6) “Nothing Fails.” Trying to push her new atheist agenda, Madonna gets the London Community Gospel Choir to sing “I’m not religious.” MMM-smart-ERRRR!
7) “Intervention.” Madonna tells her new baby that the lonely road is “just Satan’s game” and that “love will keep us together,” yet another No. 1 reference. But will she force her son to wear a silly Captain’s hat too?
8) “X-Static Process.” Uh-uh, Ahmandzai went to the bathroom and Madonna grabs the acoustic again! It’s almost as if she got pissed off after Maverick teen signee Michelle Branch sued the label and Madonna decided “how hard can this hootenanny stuff be?”
9) “Mother and Father.” We’ve already seen Madonna’s childhood so do we really need to know “there was a time I had a mother, it was nice”? Sounds like the kind of essay kids write at school when they’ve an ear waiting for the recess bell. As with the title track, Madonna proves she’s the lamest white rapper since Brian Wilson (who could forget “Smart Girls”?). It
wouldn’t surprise me to read the two-point type in the CD booklet and learn Dr. Eugene Landy was lyrical consultant.
10) “Die Another Day.” This Bond theme has already been sharply criticized for being dull, but it’s still better than the A-ha one. Her promise of “I’m gonna shut my body” will probably make people hope she starts the closure with her mouth once they hear the boring anti-finale.
11) “Easy Ride.” Madonna “goes round and round just like a circle” and then “comes full circle.” Easily the dumbest lyric since Paul Stanley realized “you’re good looking and you’re looking like you could be good.”
Although this album proves Madonna can be as ill-advised as Michael Jackson, American Life is not gonna cause any more serious structural damage to the Madonna empire than the contrived coffee-table porn of Erotica or her idiotic filmography has. But it won’t ever inspire any revisionist opinions that it contains any of her best work. Offered up as a statement, it finds Madonna with little to say that we haven’t heard her crow on Like a Prayer or Ray of Light or during any Letterman appearance.
Serene Dominic writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.