1989 saw Madonna release her 4th album “Like A Prayer” as the American Singer/Songwriter continued with her domination of the charts all across the world.
“Like A Prayer” is a clear attempt to change things up in term of lyrical content and style of production. What we get is a collection of songs where some stand out as the best Madonna would produce in her career and others tracks where the execution was never quite right.
The album starts with the title track and one of the most famous Madonna songs of all time. “Like A Prayer” is certainly a more adult sound where the instrumentation is very apparent with the drums, bass, keyboards and guitar all being distinctive.
This is a wonderful pop song with it’s gospel hook that will have everyone at a party singing despite the song being quite a personal one for Madonna where the lines between religion, love and sex merge into one. There is a conflict in her lyrics about the feelings she has towards all three with love for a man being blurred with love she may feel for God.
“Like A Prayer” takes a number of twists and turns with some memorable key changes and from the 03:35 part it really kicks on to one of the great songs from the 80’s.
“Express Yourself” is as fun a song Madonna could possibly release. It’s pure unadulterated power pop. If there is in fact a title for “Queen of pop” a song such as this is what Madonna could easily put forward as proof that it is in fact her that should hold such a crown.
Much is made in the 90’s about the Spice Girls being about ‘girl power’ but for me it was Madonna who was putting this point forward long before they came about.
The song is essentially advice to women to get their man to express himself in ways not conventional to normal male behavior.
It generally is very light which despite what Madonna seemed to promise on this album with a track such as “Like A Prayer” is perhaps a surprise but what it does do is further Madonna’s hit making prowess.
“Love Song” features no other than Prince. The song is therefore very Prince like in it’s approach to production style and smoothed out lyrical delivery. Like a lot of Prince songs this track is very direct in it’s message.
A minimal synth drum beat gets a little tiring after a while and I feel that Prince’s vocals are too overpowering to the flatter performance from Madonna.
What I have found with all the Madonna albums I have reviewed so far (Madonna (1983) , Like A Virgin (1984) & True Blue (1986) ) is that despite there being a number of tracks that are creative and diverse you will always get one or two that just seem the epitome of ‘filler’ and on track four “Till Death Do Us Part” you are presented with the perfect example.
I feel that there is no connection that Madonna is feeling with this song and it just seems to be one of those moments where she is going through the motions. Dated and boring/
“Promise To Try” is a pretty ballad which tries to recapture the beauty of “Live To Tell” from the previous album but doesn’t get anywhere near doing such a thing. This is a moment for us to try and listen to Madonna’s vocal a little closer and prove that she is a singer first and entertainer second. But it’s pretty mundane and forgetable.
“Cherish” isn’t forgettable and a song which has proven to be one of the staple Madonna hits. It is very bouncy and light much like the title track to the previous album and sits beside “Express Yourself” as the quirky pop numbers.
As with many of the songs on the project it is about love and relationships. In this instance Madonna is talking about her commitment to her man. It’s all a bit throwaway but catchy nonetheless.
The 7th track “Dear Jessie” tries to recapture some of the production style of “Papa Don’t Preach” and also oddly sounds a little like a Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” rip off or perhaps “Moonlight Shadow” by Mike Oldfield.
Despite the similarities to other songs it is certainly the most ambitious song on the album and like nothing I have heard by Madonna up to this album so far.
This is a very unusual track which I have had to listen to a few times to decide whether I like it or not. I think I do and mainly because it keeps me engaged. Whilst it retains the catchy pop chorus the instrumentation seems vast and layered and is one of those songs that you seem to hear something different every time you listen.
“Oh Father” begins in a similar style to where we left on the previous track with a piano and strings bringing us into this solid ballad.
And there is certainly some depth to the lyrics as our protagonist is one who has been abused by her father either physically or emotionally (or both) and she is breaking away from him and expressing her delight in doing so. It’s mellow dramatic but Madonna’s delivery is convincing.
“Keep It Together” is excellent. Funky and sounding fresh even here in 2017. This feels like one of the more rounded songs on the album and I have always thought Madonna sounded better on Disco/Dance songs. Her vocal breezes over this enjoyable melody and it sounds a little more tailored for a R&B/Funk crowd with Prince playing the guitar on this one. My favourite song off the album.
The penultimate track is “Pray For Spanish Eyes” which in itself is a shocking title for a song. Maybe in an attempt to re-create the success she had with “La Isle Bonita” Madonna sings about a very serious subject with it being about her friend who has died of an Aids related disease. At a time where the subject of Aids was still taboo it was quite something for Madonna to be singing about the subject.
Whilst the rasp on her vocal is there to stress the emotion that she feels for this person I can’t say this song does much for me other than to acknowledge the sentiment.
The final track is “Act Of Contrition” which begins with a heavy guitar solo (played by an unaccredited Prince) Madonna delves into her religious back ground again on this loud song. She sounds oddly offbeat as she attempts to get across her emotional confusion with the catholic church.
The song is very angry as she sees herself essentially getting to gates of heaven and being denied entry with the final words seeing her say that she has a reservation and then just shouting “What do you mean it’s not in the computer”?
It’s a bizarre way to bring this lackluster album to an end.
“Like A Prayer” has a few big pop anthems but as an album it does little to bring Madonna forward from the 3rd album “True Blue”. Some of the songs sound like disregarded material from that album and are far too predictable and safe.