The strings that open this record suggest it's going to be different from its two predecessors, and True Blue is in fact a step forward for Madonna. Gone was the tentative disco queen of Madonna and the commercial pop vamp of Like A Virgin, and growing in their place was a superstar who was starting to grow musically and lyrically.
"Papa Don't Preach" uses the minimal strings to add weight to an already serious song about the singer and her unmarried lover's decision to keep her baby against her father's wishes, and the song is still resonant all these years later, showcasing the singer's first serious artistic statement.
"Open Your Heart" is a solid pop song that holds up better than most of Like A Virgin, thanks to the confident vocals ("So you choose to look the other way / Well, I've got something to say / Don't try to run, I can keep up with you.") This is not the same little girl who squealed "Like A Virgin" two years ago. "White Heat" is a tribute to James Cagney, opening with a clip from one of his movies, but musically it falls flat, suffering from the same treble-heavy underproduction and whiny vocals as the filler on Like a Virgin.
Fortunately, "Live To Tell" is better -- in fact, it's the best ballad Madonna wrote in the 80s, making good use of her lower register. The ending crescendo, where a double-tracked Madonna wails "If I live to tell the secret I knew then / Will I ever have the chance again?" will send a chill up your spine.
The title song has a bit of 1960s girl-group feel to it, something Blondie did far better with their body of work, while "Where's The Party" and "Jimmy Jimmy" are lifeless and weak, suffering from the same sort of production that immediately characterizes a song as being from the 80's (the type where synthesizers were used instead of bass guitars). "Love Makes The World Go Round" is a second attempt at a social statement, but it comes off as a half-hearted group of platitudes. Still, at least Madonna was trying, and it's nice to hear lyrics that don't just extol partying or cute boys.
And a special note goes to "La Isla Bonita," an attempt at a musical crossover that works in spite of itself. Madonna didn't quite have the conviction to pull off a Spanish song just yet, but the sense of fun experimentalism elevates the track -- and her voice sounds mature and lovely in this setting.
True Blue has enough moments to make it a step up from its predecessors and continues the upward creative streak Madonna was on at this point in her career.
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