Madonna's latest: intelligent musicianship, breezy tone
New York — Madonna's newest album, ``True Blue'' (Sire 1-25442), has been at the top of the charts for weeks now, and two of its singles became big summer hits. The reason: This pop diva knows how to get everybody dancing -- and not just on the dance floor. That takes grooves that not only stick in the memory but don't wear thin.
Deep inside the hype surrounding Madonna's single ``True Blue'' (the album's title tune) lies a rich understanding of what creates motion in both physical and imaginative terms.
Part of Madonna's appeal grows out of the way she suspends her own disbelief in such proven clich'es as ``Love Makes the World Go Round'' with lyrics like ``There's hunger everywhere/ We've got to take a stand/ Reach out for someone's hand.'' She draws us into an idealized world by convincing us she believes in it herself.
Her intelligent musicianship enhances the record's breezy tone. Each sound is placed, each arrangement consistently drawn, to maximum effect, even as her themes -- love, self-doubt, and joyous escape -- play themselves out fairly early.
This makes the meatier thematic departures like ``Papa Don't Preach'' and ``Live to Tell'' -- which quickly became big hits -- stand out dramatically.
At the top of the album is ``Papa Don't Preach,'' which announces itself seriously with an orchestra gloss that soon backdrops the entire song. Though essentially a dance tune, its lyrics incongruously deal with a major crisis in the life of a young girl, a teen who wants to keep her baby after a premarital pregnancy.
With their anti-abortion sentiment, the lyrics epitomize a new conservatism evident in some of today's pop music. And, though the girl's line of reasoning must seem all mixed up to the ``pro-life'' and ``pro-choice'' lobbies, the centerpiece of the song isn't so much its ``message'' as the catchy tune set in motion by the little drama conjured up in the lyrics.
The album's real gem, though, is ``Live to Tell,'' the theme song for ``At Close Range,'' a recent film starring Madonna's husband, Sean Penn. It's an ominous ballad of a woman determined to uncover a lie. With a grand, expansive setting, it rises and falls, swells at the chorus, and adds extra tension during an eerie false ending. What's left unsaid is as important as the woman's impulse to set the record straight, and Madonna's delivery is reverent and focused. She lets the melodic contour guide her, and draws more attention to the woman's sentiment than to her own singing.
``True Blue'' updates basic doo-wop progressions. ``La Isla Bonita'' is watered-down salsa with a classical guitar. ``Jimmy Jimmy'' is an unabashed pop confection. ``Where's the Party,'' Madonna's answer to Lionel Richie's ``All Night Long,'' is a dance number so buoyant and full of cool turns that the music reinforces the lyric: ``Don't want to grow old too fast/ Don't want to let the system wear me down.'' ``Love Makes the World Go Round'' goes out whooping and chattering, providing a welcome balance to the record's darker moments.
Madonna coproduced and wrote all the material with Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray. The music's simple settings and the lyrics' sometimes worn clich'es are enlivened by her boundless faith in the universal appeal of dancing, both as communication and shared pleasure. She knows how to turn tired truisms into entertaining gestures.
Like her new nostalgic hairstyle (Marilyn Monroe-blond), her music ignites trends more by looking backward than forward.