Music Review: ‘Music’ by Madonna

Madonna Music album cover

After the memorable introspection of “Ray of Light,” Madonna headed back to the dance floor with “Music.” It’s a throwback of sorts to her first few albums as she gets her listeners excited about her just like they did when she made her breakthrough into popular culture. While she works with her “Ray of Light” producer William Orbit on a few songs, Madonna’s chief collaborator here is Mirwais Ahmadzaï, a French producer, songwriter and one of the leaders in progressive electronica. Together, they create an album which stands on its own from what its predecessor, and it proved this queen of pop music has yet to run out of inspiration.

The title track has us hooked instantly as she celebrates the power of music and how it brings us all together. This is Madonna at her most upbeat, and the song’s tempo never lets up. She’s out to dance up a storm with her “baby”, which made sense since she became involved with film director Guy Ritchie whom she would later marry (and later divorce). Many out there will continue to scream out how Madonna’s music career is all but finished, but from the start of this album she lets you know this is not the case, and how dare you think otherwise.

With William Orbit, she worked on three of the album’s songs: “Runaway Lover,” “Amazing” and “Gone” (which was also produced by Mark “Spike” Stent). “Runaway Lover” is a dance tune fueled by a propulsive beat which sounds so different from anything on “Ray of Light.” Neither artist is focused on achieving musical perfection this time around, but are instead determined to let their emotions and passions flow out without any attempt to quell them for the benefit of the easily bothered.

On “Amazing,” both Madonna and Orbit get introspective as she becomes enraptured by a lover she can’t quite tear herself away from. Through the electronica, we go through the tumult of emotions we experience when we find that one person we feel is meant for us. With “Gone,” she sings with sheer conviction about how she will not compromise herself by selling out or abandoning what she was brought up to believe in.

With Mirwais, she finds a new musical direction, and two follow up the title track with “Impressive Instant.” This album could have easily peaked with the first song, but he and Madonna increase the tempo and get our adrenaline running even faster with this dance track. Still, not all of Mirwais’ contributions to Madonna are confined to the realm of electronica. He captures Madonna in a moment which feels purely honest with “I Deserve It.” However you perceive Madonna as an artist or a person, she makes us believe she deserves that one loving relationship which had long eluded her.

On “Nobody’s Perfect,” Madonna makes us see she is perfectly aware of her own flaws and that she’s just doing her best. Even with all the fame she has acquired through decades of work, there’s still a part of her which is never fully satisfied. Mirwais does even better with Madonna on “Don’t Tell Me” as she is pleasantly defiant against those who attempt to crush her desires. Madonna is determined to live life on her own terms regardless of what others think.

But the album’s best song is “What It Feels Like for a Girl” which deals frankly with the men’s shameful misperceptions of women. Whereas some feel a girl being a guy is no big thing, a guy being a girl just seems flat out wrong to so many and for no justified reason. Opening with dialogue spoken by “Antichrist” actress Charlotte Gainsbourg from the film “The Cement Garden,” Madonna confronts this senseless contradiction head on. But instead of being overly aggressive like the music video it inspired, she and Mirwais create a really beautiful song that gets to the issue by giving us a soothing melody which puts us in a euphoric state. Not once does she try to bang us over the head with how absurd our attitudes to sexual orientation are, but instead make us see those absurdities in a rather calm fashion.

With “Ray of Light,” Madonna set the bar very high for herself, and it felt like her next album would not even compare. But she has constantly surprised and enthralled us throughout her career, and “Music” proves to be a strong follow up containing memorable songs and strong introspection. It’s not better than its predecessor, but it remains one of her best albums from the first decade of the new millennium. Almost 20 years after its release, it remains as tuneful as ever.

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‘Ray of Light’ is Still My Favorite Madonna Album

Madonna Ray of Light album cover

20 years after its release, “Ray of Light” remains my favorite Madonna album ever. Those which came after it had their merits, but this one is unforgettable in how the famous singer gets personal about the changes she was going through in life. Recorded after she did the film version of “Evita” and before she got married to film director Guy Ritchie, “Ray of Light” captures her as she enters the most important role of her life, being a mother.

When Madonna gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Lourdes, the media went into their typical frenzy and called it one of the best career transformations ever. But in the opening track of “Drowned World/Substitute for Love,” she is at her most personal in describing how unfulfilling the realm of fame is for her. It certainly pales in comparison to her becoming a mother, a role she always wanted to take on in real life. Listening to her here and on another track entitled “Little Star,” there’s no doubt of how seriously Madonna takes the role of being a mother. Her own mother passed away when she was very young, but she sounds determined to be there for her daughter no matter what, and to never leave her while she is young.

Madonna worked on “Ray of Light” with noted English musician William Orbit who is well known for his contributions to the world of electronica music. This allowed Madonna to go in a different musical direction and not repeat herself, and this is one of the things we love about her. Her pop music aesthetic melded wonderfully with electronic music to create seductive and enticing beats which made me want to listen to this album over and over again.

The most popular song is of course the title track which is one of her most energetic songs ever. Fueled by a propulsive beat which never lets up, Madonna sounds like she has found a new thrill out of life, and it excites us for her to take us on her journey as a result. This remains one of the most memorable songs on any album she has ever done.

“Ray of Light” also has a brilliant seductive quality to it thanks to songs like “Candy Perfume Girl” and “Skin.” The soothing sounds of these tunes put us in a welcome state of ecstasy which we live to experience. This is Madonna at her most alluring, and Orbit’s electronic music puts us in the right frame of mood for it.

Another memorable song from this album is “Frozen.” This is a most emotionally piercing love song as it describes someone who is not as emotionally open as they should be in a relationship. It’s moving and has lost none of its power in making us aware of what it takes to keep the bond we have with our significant other growing.

Other songs like “The Power of Good-Bye” and “To Have and Not to Hold” illustrate the emotional damage brought about by a breakup. Anyone who’s been through it knows how it feels, and Madonna captures the shattering emotion it produces to memorable effect. These are among the more solemn tracks on this album.

“Little Star” is a song which is sung directly to Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes, who was barely a year or two old when this album was released. Now when musicians sing songs to their just born children, they can seem either incredibly moving or unforgivably cheesy. Tommy Lee overdid it on Motley Crue’s “Generation Swine” with a song about his son Brandon, but the late Scott Weiland fared better when he sang “A Song for Sleeping” which is on Stone Temple Pilots’ “Shangri-La Dee Da” album. Madonna manages to find the middle road between those songs with this one, and the end result feels very honest and to the point.

In many ways, Madonna’s “Ray of Light” has a timeless quality which makes this album as popular today as it was upon its release. Many of her other albums such as “Like a Virgin” or “Erotica” have not fared as well because they were of a certain time which has long since passed us by, but this particular record shows her at a moment of total vulnerability we will never forget her going through. Even after all these years, it remains her most compelling album.

Worst Movie Trailers Ever: ‘Swept Away’ (2002)

swept away 2002 movie trailer

You all know how much I love movie trailers, so it is only fair I begin writing about those which give you every reason not to watch the movie they are advertising. While many movie trailers get us hyped up to where expectations are elevated to an unrealistic level, there are others which make clear, be it intentionally or unintentionally, why we should not watch certain motion pictures.

My first exhibit in this category is for Guy Ritchie’s 2002 remake of “Swept Away.” Based on the 1974 Italian film of the same name and directed by Lina Wertmuller, it starred Ritchie’s then wife Madonna as Amber Leighton, an infinitely spoiled human being who looks determined to make life miserable for anyone she deems underneath her, and this includes her husband Tony (played by Bruce Greenwood). But the biggest recipient of her needless abuse is Giuseppe Esposito (Adriano Giannini), the first mate on the ship Amber is sailing to Italy on. When a storm ends up stranding Amber and Giuseppe on a deserted island (is there any other kind?), the tables turn to where they both fall in love.

This version of “Swept Away” is one of those movies you have definitely heard about but never bothered to watch when it arrived at your local multiplex. I still vividly remember watching its trailer for the first time back when I was a cast member at Disneyland, and I watched it with a fellow employee who had the same reaction to it I had.

Believe it or not, I am happy to defend Madonna on a number of movies she starred in. When it comes to “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Dick Tracy,” “A League of Their Own” and “Evita,” she can be a mesmerizing talent to watch. But then there’s “Shanghai Surprise,” “Body of Evidence” and “The Next Best Thing” which leave us wondering what she is trying to prove. Seeing her in this “Swept Away” trailer is especially painful as it quickly becomes clear how one-note her performance will end up being. Watching her here is not the least bit appealing, and it makes one want to slap her for failing to dig deeper into her character or taking the chance to make Amber more complex than she was in the screenplay.

Then there’s Adriano Giannini, son of Giancarlo Giannini who played Giuseppe in the 1974 original film, and watching him put Amber in her place feels especially uncomfortable. While the sexual politics may have been an important subject back when Wertmuller’s film was released, they feel completely out of place here, and this gave audiences even more of a reason to run away from any theater daring to show this horrific remake.

Ritchie’s “Swept Away” had a budget of around $10 million, and it ended up grossing a worldwide total of around $1,000,000 at the box office. My Disneyland colleague and I looked at each other after the trailer ended, and we shook our heads which was more than enough to tell everyone else in the nearby vicinity that we were not about to subject ourselves to this cinematic experience.

Check out the horrific movie trailer for 2002’s “Swept Away” down below.

 

Exclusive Interview with Jessika Van about ‘Seoul Searching’

Seoul Searching poster

Jessika Van returns to the silver screen in “Seoul Searching,” a comedy by Benson Lee which follows a group of Korean teens from all over the world who are sent to a cultural heritage school in Seoul during the summer of 1986. Van plays Grace Park, a pastor’s daughter from Cherry Hill, New Jersey who worships Madonna the way her father worships God. Grace doesn’t even need to point that Madonna is her favorite singer as she dresses exactly like the Material Girl and even performs an acapella version of “Like a Virgin.” She also excels at teasing all the young boys who lust after her constantly, but she soon meets her match when an especially rebellious teenager catches her eye.

Van started her career in music where she was a classically-trained pianist and singer, and she won various awards and even performed for the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. She made her breakthrough as an actress playing Becca, Queen of the Asian Mafia, on MTV’s critically acclaimed comedy “Awkward,” and she trained in weapons and martial arts for her role in the first-person shooter game “Battlefield 4.” Videos of her work can be found on her YouTube page.

I spoke with Van while she was in Los Angeles to promote “Seoul Searching.” She talked about the research she did into the 1980’s and Madonna to prepare for her role, what she learned about Korea while filming there, and of how she managed to peel back Grace’s emotional armor to reveal the person hiding underneath. She also spoke of how “Seoul Searching” is much more than just an Asian American film as it touches on issues that are universal to everybody and anybody.

Check out the interview below and be sure to visit the movie’s website (www.seoulsearchingthemovie.com) for more information.