Hell-bent on making Like A Virgin a distant memory, Madonna set about creating the ultimate “artistic statement” album with the similarly titled -- yet much more mature -- Like A Prayer. With this 1989 release, Madonna was determined to live her earlier work down. The album had stronger themes, spawned impressive videos, and was even scented with Madonna’s favorite fragrance, patchouli. Within the sleeve you could find pictures of a brunette Madonna, as well as some guidelines for safer sex practices. At the end of the ‘80s, AIDS was in full bloom and Madonna had already lost countless friends to the disease. As one of the first celebrities to step up and speak out at AIDS benefits, Madonna found she even had to convert her own homophobic husband Sean Penn into believing AIDS was more than just a “gay plague.”
Though it wouldn’t be until 1992 that Madonna finally wrote a song about how her life had been touched and influenced by AIDS (“In This Life” from the uber-sexy Erotica), Like A Prayer contained plenty of other personal, revelatory songs for the public to glean more information about this newly crowned “Artist of the Decade.” Madonna has a song for her deceased mother (the haunting and beautiful “Promise To Try”) and her father (the underrated “Oh Father”), as well as the rest of her large family (the funky “Keep It Together”). It is as if she has come to the realization that it isn’t so easy to distance oneself from your family completely. As they say, home is where the heart is.
Madonna manages to come to terms with not only feeling alienated from her family, but also from her husband Sean, whom she had divorced a year earlier. The song “Till Death Do Us Part” tells us all we need to know about the stormy union and in how it ended with the superstar in peril. As confident and invincible as Madonna has always seemed in her career, her personal life was an entirely different story altogether. With so much turmoil and drama swirling around her, it’s a miracle she could come up with tracks as sweet, buoyant, and happy as “Cherish” and “Dear Jessie.” The album could have very easily been titled Like A Human Being, since so much of the material shows that even the strongest individuals have a vulnerable, insecure side that they don’t always care to reveal.
The most rich and complex tune of all is the lead-off single “Like A Prayer.” Producer Pat Leonard combined elements of a church hymn with a funky chorus you could dance to, which all added up to a sure-fire #1 hit. The controversial music video and Pepsi commercial controversy brought more publicity to the track, making it stand up today as perhaps her greatest song ever. The video for the second single “Express Yourself” was even better. Set in a Metropolis-like world of man slaves and power plays, Madonna presides over it all with a monocle, pin-stripe suit, and peek-a-boo black bra. Knocking the gloved one from his throne by grabbing her crotch was the first of many signs that Madonna was taking on whatever perceived competition was getting in her way.
When I first heard the Like A Prayer album and feasted my eyes on the amazing videos, I knew that Madonna was going to be with us for a very long time. While Michael
If Madonna’s music wasn’t so damn irresistible, I would probably hate her, too. But I can’t. I’m a lemming who has fallen completely under her spell. I am firmly in her grasp and will bow down to her until the day I die. As a lifelong fan, I admit I am a little biased when it comes to reviewing one of her albums. So be it. Hell, I’m even starting to like American Life. You can call me a blind fool, but that’s the way it is and how it always shall be. When you come right down to it, Madonna wouldn’t have it any other way.