Album: Like A Prayer
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Looking for some credibility (and, of course, some publicity), Madonna became more personal, recording some personal balladry and religious nonsense.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Madonna's work is not encapsulated in this record; Her influence -- and her best work -- came earlier than this. "Like A Virgin" should be the high Madonna record.
Best song: "Express Yourself" is a classic.
Worst song: "Act Of Contrition" stinks.
Is it awesome?: Eh.
It's amazing to think of Madonna being shocking to people. To whit:
Icons like Tom Cruise and Madonna are so calculated and scripted in their every move that, like Bale in Psycho, they often come off like career-minded androids pretending to be human. I suspect that when the Madonna android has fulfilled her use for the evening, her handlers shut her down, then restart her the next morning for Pilates class or a business meeting. Even when the Madonna android does something seemingly spontaneous or rebellious, like trying to shock David Letterman by talking about pot and dropping the F-bomb indiscriminately, it feels like the programmers behind her simply downloaded a provocation upgrade into her mainframe and waited for revenue-generating controversy to ensue.
The above quote is from Nathan Rabin's sublimeMy Year Of Flops blog on AVClub.com.
But, it fits. This was the time when Madonna started making somewhat calculated moves in an effort to "shock" America. Sadly, we were still enraptured enough with her to take nonsense like "Spanish Eyes" and the title track seriously. So, when she brought a black Jesus statue to life, the Vatican got all made.
It's actually kind of quaint now, isn't it?
You'd be hard to find someone of my age who doesn't think Madonna was pretty great in her time. Pretty much every female I know within five years of my age at once played dress up to look like Madonna and sang in front of someone, belting out "Like A Prayer" or something else from her late '80s catalog.
However you feel about her music -- pure pop meant to solely sell records to impressionably teenagers -- Madonna's style was something incredibly important.
Again, "Like A Prayer" was the beginning of the Material Girl's decline and the music shows it. It's well-tread territory -- the Prince duet, the disco beats, the confessional to her parents -- but Madonna still could sell it. If nothing, she was a saleswoman; In fact, who sold sex better?
As the shock value wore down, she ended up in the crazy zone (1992's "Erotica" was idiotic on, like, 10 levels), but "Like A Prayer" predates that. There are highlights; "Express Yourself" and "Cherish" are excellent songs. But, Rolling Stone allegedly calls it "...as close to art as pop music gets" (I say allegedly because I can't find the source) and that's total nonsense. Madonna may have fancied herself an artist because she wrote a ballad about her dead mother, but that's totally off.
It's not Madonna's best record or even close. It's fine, but it's the first in her descent.