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Last Updated: Monday, 21 April, 2003, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
Madonna's dull Life story

By Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff

The title track from Madonna's American Life album could not make it to number one in the UK singles chart, but fans have the chance to buy the album from Monday.

Let me start with the good news.

The American Life album proves that Madonna can still produce flashes of crowd-pleasing brilliance.

Now the bad news.

There are not many of them. And the overall impression of the album is that Her Madgesty's creative juices have become disappointingly congealed.

Madonna in American Life video
Madonna's American Life image has a military theme

The excitement that used to seep out of a Madonna record seems to have disappeared, leaving only music that is slick but self-indulgent.

The 11 tracks, including the title track single and James Bond theme Die Another Day, follow on from 2000's Music, with French producer Mirwais Ahmadzai again providing a bleeping, robotic backing that is supposed to sound cutting edge.

When the album is good, Madonna pulls killer hooks out of nowhere and her voice comes across like a siren, and we are convinced that she still has the magic touch.

But when it is bad, the tunes are bland and weak, the lyrics are uninspired and self-absorbed and the semi-Ibiza backing music is bare and recycled - and we are convinced that she has lost it.

Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good.

The title track, which kicks off the album and went to number two in the UK singles chart, fits into the bad category.

It has some memorable pop moments, but is mostly a rich girl's rant with rhymes that sound ridiculous - especially in the unintentionally hilarious rap in which she rhymes things like "Mini Cooper" and "super dooper".

Track two, Hollywood, is rumoured to be the second single - another diatribe about the thing she knows best - fame and how difficult it is being in the public eye.

This album gives a worrying sense that she is now moving backwards

It is a recurring theme of the album - but unfortunately it is not a subject to which her fans can relate or have much sympathy with - and Hollywood also ranks among the disappointments.

It is mildly catchy but feels lacklustre and, if sung by anyone else, would not register on our radar. And it includes another embarrassing rap.

On the bright side, religious ballad Nothing Fails has a simpler and more distinctive tune, building up to a gospel Like A Prayer-style chorus and showing that less is more when it comes to Mirwais' electronic tricks.

With a funky deep bass, Love Profusion is another high point, with one of the best tunes on the album and layers of dance beats and acoustic guitar making it feel like a more complete song.

Mother and Father - about her parents, funnily enough - is worth mentioning for its dub-style beat and hypnotic chorus that pull it out of the mediocrity.

As for the rest of the songs - if Madonna was playing them as a 20-year-old unknown, most record company bosses would tell her to go home and get a day job.

Video U-turn

She says that every record she makes is a progression - but this album gives a worrying sense that she is now moving backwards.

Even her attitude and image - arguably her most respected traits - have been called into question and even ridiculed.

First she appeared throwing a hand grenade to a George W Bush lookalike in her latest video - but then withdrew the video for fear of being offensive.

That made her seem desperate to be controversial - but without the guts to go through with it any more.

Then she appeared in a Che Guevara beret on the CD cover and with a machine gun on the sleeve.

But she now appears faintly ridiculous rather than cutting edge and ground-breaking and American Life lacks the killer punch.

American Life: Your views
21 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
Madonna kept off UK top spot
20 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
Madonna fights to keep pop crown
18 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
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10 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
Madonna pulls 'war' video
01 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
Madonna blasts manufactured pop
27 Mar 03  |  Entertainment

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