Own It or Disown It: #289: Madonna, Like a Prayer

OwnItorDisownIt

Madonna's most celebrated album gets its time in the Sun. The hot, blistering Sun.

So long as we have to get through this year if we’re going to get to the next one, which might better than what this year is sure to throw at us, I’m going to enter it ass-first, shaking that ass in 2018’s face, letting it know I’m not putting up with its shit. So long as I’m doing that, I may as well fix a blind spot in my knowledge of music and figure out if Madonna’s work justifies the media’s attention towards her over the course of the past oh my God her smash debut album is older than my older brother. Okay, let’s rephrase that: does Madonna’s most universally celebrated album still hold water?

I mean, I know who Madonna is, and it isn’t as though I’m not familiar with her music. I’ve liked most of what’s crossed my ears, and the media’s occasional attempt at making her look like a monster seemed to ring false as she’s always come across, to me, as someone who’s trying to figure shit out like the rest of us. (Keep in mind I was a baby during the height of her popularity and the first time I recall watching a music video of hers in the same year of its release was “Ray of Light”, which, yeah.) That said, whenever I’ve seriously considered actually buying one of her albums, I’ve always justified doing something else with my time and money, though always more of a “not now” instead of “never”. Looking over reviews of her first decade of albums gives the impression that she was on a hot streak matched by few in the pop scene before or since, with most critics arguing that she peaked with Like a Prayer, a deeply personal record that you can dance to. Given my love for ass-shaking as well as overly-personal material, you’d think this would be my favorite album of all time.

A red flag in a bunch of retrospective takes on Like a Prayer come in the form of relating how important it was to both Madonna’s career as well as to pop culture as a whole, and while I’m not about to dismiss the impact it might have had (an album doesn’t produce six singles without doing something right), I’ll just lay it out for y’all: half of this album ain’t great. It’s at its best when a song keeps its kinetic energy for its runtime without Madonna resorting to conjuring overly-precocious imagery, like with the title track and divorce anthem “Till Death Do Us Part” and funky jam “Keep It Together”. Venturing outside of that framework gives us lame ditties like the passionless “Love Song” and “Promise to Try”, which isn’t a charity song but is so vapid and airless that I thought it was on first listen. “Dear Jessie” has an okay composition but is ruined by Madonna’s sugary nothings too childish for a Care Bears joint, and “Spanish Eyes” puzzles as a pseudo-closer by not being spectacular. A whole bunch of what I consider to be lacking material is also capital-I Important Music (“Spanish Eyes”, for one, advocates for AIDS awareness), and I can see how that might excuse kinda-not-great music for some.

I sound down on this, but I still recommend giving it a listen. The tracks that didn’t connect with me are uniformly four-out-of-tens, and the good stuff is really damn good, good enough that I might give more of her work a chance. Like a Prayer isn’t the decade-defining pop masterpiece so many have made it out to be, but I think it’s alright.

VERDICT: OWN

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