Initial thoughts of Madonna – MDNA

Yesterday I picked up the Deluxe Edition of Madonna’s new album MDNA on the first day of release! I’ve given it two full plays so far (hoping for a third listen later on possibly), I’ve still got to listen to the second disc yet, so this is just some initial thoughts about the main album. It’s not a full review, I’ll start working on that next week possibly when I’ve given both discs multiple plays. So far I’m really enjoying it and think its going to be charting high on my list of favourite Madonna albums!

  • I have to say its a big step up from Hard Candy (which I did like). Most of the songs have instantly grabbed me, and there is no song on the album I dislike (I disliked a few on Hard Candy). 
  • Gimme All Your Luvin doesn’t really represent the album, I think it was chosen for the lead single purely for the “L-U-V Madonna!” chants to tie in with the Superbowl half-time performance. Its actually quite a sparse arrangement compared to the other tracks.
  • Its incredibly contemporary, much the way that Hard Candy was, but also harks back to older Madonna (Hung Up sample in Love Spent and Superstar has a sort of True Blue era vibe I think).
  •  Its probably not as introspective as I was expecting, and its incredibly dancey, probably her most danceable album along with Confessions On A Dancefloor. It definitely benefits being played from on a good set of speakers.
  • It definitely needs repeated listens too. It’s very chaotic in the sense that a lot seems to be happening. Its worth noting though that during my initial first play, I had just heard some sad news about a teacher that I respected very much who died unexpectedly at the weekend, which would have affected my ability to take things in. Although I don’t think its possible to take it all in on one listening, and there’s a lot of breakdowns and build-ups, it feels like at least if at least one (if not both) every track. Many of the tracks also tend to start off one way, then change into something pretty different, Love Spent being a good example, the song initially doesn’t sound that much like the leaked snippet at all.
  • There are some tracks which I think will go down as Madonna classics: Gang Bang, Love Spent and Falling Free in particular, but I like every song (so far I have to say that Some Girls and I Don’t Give A are my least favourites, but even still they’re both good songs) Masterpiece also fits in surprisingly well, and has really grown on me, I now really like it!

It’s A Sin (Updated October 28th 2012)

Although it was the lead single for Actually, Its A Sin dates back to 1982, in Ray Robert’s studio in Camden. Chris was playing some chords that Neil thought resembled a hymn, and he began to say “Its a sin”. In the Actually FL booklet, Neil states that it was written in five minutes, but I’ve also read on other sites he wrote it in fifteen. Either way, its clear that the lyrics didn’t take much time to write at all, which is surprising considering that most people would either think of Its A Sin, West End Girls or Always On My Mind when they think of Pet Shop Boys. The song vents Neil’s frustrations at his Catholic upbringing and education at St Cuthbert’s High School in Newcastle. For that reason the song is very similar in terms of theme to This Must Be The Place I Waited Years to Leave. Having said that, the two songs have a totally different atmosphere, and Its A Sin is a lot more implicit lyrically in terms of the school criticisms. Incidentally, when the song was released the school had a front page story on the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, criticizing Neil for defaming the school with It’s A Sin and went as far as to have anonymous quotes from teachers. It’s been said that this prompted Neil to make the lyrics of This Must Be The Place I Waited Years to Leave so vengeful and direct. One of the most striking things about Its A Sin though, is how bombastic and over the top the arrangement is. I think that has a good contrast with the implicit lyrics. The song’s over the top arrangement lead former manager Tom Watkins to believe it was the most commercial single, and subsequently the duo decided to not release Heart as lead single (which was originally intended) and release Its A Sin instead. Personally, despite preferring Heart, I think that was a good move, Its A Sin has a very striking arrangement which is perfect for a lead single. Also, I think It’s A Sin has been more remembered than Heart. Its A Sin was a big hit for the duo, reaching #1 in the UK and staying there for three weeks. In some ways you can argue that It’s A Sin is a rather innovative song in a way that its not usually credited for. Supposedly the song was one of the first big singles to openly criticize religion in the manner that it did. You have to remember It’s A Sin predates Madonna’s legendary single Like A Prayer which is usually credited for making religion less of a taboo theme in a pop song. It’s an interesting little thing to remember I think. Its also the most covered Pet Shop Boys song and is only behind West End Girls by three performances on Setlist FM’s tally of most played Pet Shop Boys songs in concert. Its not my most played Pet Shop Boys song ever, nor is it one of my favorites, but its still quite the classic!

808 State – Pacific State

This is a total dance classic, and one of my favourite electronic songs ever! It initially appeared on the EP Quadrastate, but was then remixed prior to becoming the group’s first release on record labetl ZTT records (founded by Trevor Horn and former NME journalist Paul Morely and whose roster contained Grace Jones and Frankie Goes to Hollywood among others.) The was key in gaining the group commercial success after it was picked up by BBC Radio 1 DJ Gary Davies. It reached a very respectable #10 on the charts, but the song’s influence and sustained popularity transcends its chart placing in my opinion. The remixed versions have their own respective titles: Pacific 707 refers to the 7″ version and Pacific 202 refers to the 12″. The version found on their sophomore album, Ninety, is the 202 version. The track’s arrangement is also unique, typically bass lines in techno music tend to be short and repetitive, whereas in Pacific State the bass part has its own melody which constantly changes during the course of the song. For me, what makes the song stand out is the horn. It gives the track a timeless feel and gives it an organic kind of quality, whereas some other electronic tracks from the same era can sound a little bit stagnant or stale. It’s a versatile song for me, you can relax to it (again thanks to the horn melody) but it also has an incredibly infectious and danceable quality which makes it a classic. I first heard this song a few years ago, on a compilation called In The Mix: Rave Revival, this was when I was just dabbling in electronic music. The song blew me away, as it was unlike anything I had heard before, and I’ve loved it from that initial hearing. The song is a staple feature on many compilations of the era and rightly so, it is one of the finest electronic songs ever!

How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously (Single version)

This was released as a double A-side along with Where The Streets Have No Name (Can’t Take My Eyes off You) from Behaviour. It was the second single in the US but here in the UK it was the third. There is much speculation as to who the song is about, Neil has stated the the idea for the lyrics started with Bros, who used to say they were “about longevity”, which struck Neil and Chris as an unusual logic. Having said that, speculation has been rife as to whether or not the song’s lyrics are directed specifically at a certain celebrity. When you consider that it was released along with a cover of a U2 song as a double A-side, and given the fact that Neil has criticized U2 a number of times, you could argue its directed at them. On the contrary however Neil himself has said the lyrics aren’t about any one artist in particular. The lyrics were also less snide originally, but Neil decided then to make them as blunt and snide as possible. Its definitely one of the most vengeful Pet Shop Boys songs. Its also worth noting that the album and single versions sound vastly different. The album’s version for me sounds more bitter and emphasizes the attacking tone of the song with its crunchy sounding guitars. The single version is different though, and when I was re-listening to it a number of days ago, I felt it resembled the remix of We All Feel Better In The Dark in a weird sort of way, in terms of atmosphere at least. Then I discovered the reason for that being both tracks were remixed by the same group, the well known house remixing duo Brothers In Rhythm. The single version is much more relaxing, using piano’s instead of guitar. At first, I thought the single version was a bit dull, but recently I’ve been playing it lots. Its a shame that the song has been forgotten about (The song has never appeared on a greatest hits compilation in either remix nor album version). It was a missed oppurtunity not to include the single version on the Further Listening disc for Behaviour as it is very addictive!

Michael Jackson – Thriller (Song)

Well what can be said about this song that hasn’t already been said? You all will have heard this several times, the seventh (and final) single from Michael Jackson’s landmark album of the same name. It was written by Rod Temperton, and originally was titled “Starlight”. Rod Temperton was asked to consider titles for the album, and after writing down over a hundred titles, originally decided the title would be Midnight Man. The next day, he said the word “Thriller”, thought of the merchandising opportunities, and felt that he had found the perfect title, and the rest as they say, is history! The song is also famed for its spoken ending, featuring renowned horror actor Vincent Price. The album version is vastly different from the video version, but if I’m honest I prefer the video version. I just don’t think the verse-chorus structure of the album version works as well. Plus the video version has my favourite part of the song, the two minute instrumental breakdown were Michael performed his iconic zombie routine. If I’m honest with you, its one of the tracks I listened to the least, and probably my least favourite track on Thriller. Its an iconic song of course, absolutely brilliant at parties etc and I have a ton of memories associated with the track, but as for showing off Michael’s talents there are better tracks. Its also aged considerably more than the other tracks on Thriller (which have aged really well I feel), and I don’t think it works on an album, for me its one of those songs that is enhanced by the video. I rarely listen to the song unless I’m going out or watching the video itself. A lot of Michael’s fans feel the same, saying that its hard to listen to some of his other work and still favour Thriller. Still a good song, but I just think there’s better!

Quirky clocks

These are probably the weirdest music items I own. I was in town with my mother a few days before Christmas 2011 to get some presents. I went into a market called St George’s Market, somewhere I don’t go very often that contains an array of stalls selling all sorts from fish to candles to clothes, in the hope we’d get my brother a really quirky present. On my way in I spotted a series of vinyls on the wall, and suggested to my mum we should have a look there. Much to our suprise, we discovered they actually sell old vinyls as clocks! They had a wide variety of artists I like such as The Beatles, Madonna, Prince, and to be quite honest I could have gone nuts! When I went to the box of vinyls to see what else they had, as the girl who ran the stall told me they could also make them up on the spot if I chose a vinyl, the first artist I seen was Pet Shop Boys! Finding anything Pet Shop Boy’s related in Belfast is rare (I’ve only bought two Pet Shop Boy’s CD’s from town ever) so I was shocked to find them here! They had West End Girls, Always On My Mind, Left To My Own Devices and I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing. Anyone who speaks to me will tell you how much I adore the work Pet Shop Boys did in the 90s in particular, so I went for I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing. I also spotted a vinyl of Billie Jean by Michael Jackson so I had that made into a clock too! It’s funny, because I always said I wanted a vinyl of Billie Jean, and I ended up with it in a funny sort of way. Amazingly, it was the last day that the stall would be there at the marketplace, so I do feel very lucky that I picked these two up!

Can You Forgive Her?

This is another one of those special Pet Shop Boys tracks for me. I first heard Can You Forgive Her whilst listening to PopArt, and I think it was this track that made me realize I was a fan. I listened to this on repeat for weeks, no joke! The song wasn’t always intended to be the first single, originally I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing was intended to be the lead single but EMI loved Can You Forgive Her so they went with that instead. The song is about a closet homosexual , who’s girlfriend has realized that he is gay but he himself hasn’t admitted it. For me its a very amusing song (And Neil has admitted that the intention was for it to be humorous). I particularly liked the line “She’s made you some kind of laughing stock because you dance to disco and you don’t like rock.” I found that very amusing, and it also was something I could relate to (bizarrely enough), as I’m not really a rock fan either and I too have faced some stern criticism for that. I think that was the first lyric in a Pet Shop Boys track that really made me sit up and take notice of just how good (and overlooked I think) their lyrics are. Although its about a closet homosexual, Neil has stated that its not autobiographical. Although I have to admit, its one that I don’t listen to as much anymore (mainly because their discography is so big and for this blog to function I can’t get overly tied down with specific songs anymore) its still one of my favourite Pet Shop Boys songs and one that doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves!