The most recent chapter of Madonna's evolution (or devolution) is American Life. No one has approached her level of worldwide chart consistency with singles and albums since she willed her way on to the scene way back in 1983 with "Lucky Star." Consider that nearly every solo female star or female-dominated group lists her as a major influence both musically and as a self-made icon. If you doubt me, read up on Britney Spears, Kylie Mynogue, Pink, etc. The only active commercial star that could claim that status for the past 20 years is Michael Jackson, but his star has dimmed greatly as the result of various celebrity-killing forms of controversy and plain unapproachable weirdness. Queen Madonna has no peers, only some jesters that keep her chair warm for short periods of time.
After Music, I had no idea what to expect. Her career has never lost its luster because it's been consistently changing, while usually striking the appropriate chord. Madonna has always been calculating, but is also a committed and brilliant business person/market forecaster. Considering that she is a London resident and her CD is titled American Life, an anarchist's approach is perceived.
Madonna was so confident in her albums that hit singles like, "Crazy For You," "Into the Groove" and "Beautiful Stranger" were omitted. Before listening to the record, I noticed the inclusion of "Die Another Day." This was the first song she has included on an album that was initially featured on a movie soundtrack and then on an original studio recording. Interesting...
The album as a whole reveals an underwhelming lack of effort. In a career that featured at least five or six immediate standout tracks on each album, this one had three; "Like A Virgin"-esque "Hollywood," the heavenly Latin-tinged acoustics of "Intervention," and the haunting, ambient and revealing "X-Static Process." The rest of the titles are left-handed attempts at a milder Music with blatant retro appeal, which includes the scattershot dance pop of "American Life."
My impression is that this should be Madonna's last complete studio offering. With American Life, she has gone full circle. She revisits old sounds, but the lone 'breakthrough' was that this was a synth-pop record enhanced with modern technology. Sure, it crosses genres at times, but it's only a hiccup.
American Life is Madonna's least ambitiously realized release of her career (outside of Dick Tracy). For the 1st time in her career, there was no noticeable expansion of her music and content. She is content to retread and play to the pop radio-listening public. As a result, her general lack of artistic effort left me disappointed.
Fans holding on to the pipe dream that Madonna is still at her prime, may point to her lyrics. My response is that Madonna is certainly no Morrissey. They spew out of her diary like the aimless prose of an eight-year-old child. There is no sense of storytelling or humor, and the results are internalized as the depressed ramblings of a financially wealthy middle-aged fallen idol.
To paraphrase Sylvester Stallone (Screenwriter, Rocky III): Madonna, this is not 1983. Back then, you were young, hip and had the verve of a flesh-eating and crapping beast. Now look at you; you've gone civilized. There's no going back.