Give the Arena Some
The first six tracks are all heavy irony shading over into murderous rage, with refurbished arena-rock to slam it home; it's perversely anti-political to lay any other interpretation on the opening "We Take Care of Our Own," which cites places "From the shotgun shack to the Superdome" where we‑-meaning the U.S.A. so many Americans weren't even born in‑-documentably haven't taken care of our own. It's protest music, damn right about moral abstractions rather than those finely limned characters good little aesthetes get gooey about, and for me a cathartic up. Second half's less of a scour, which the anti-political find a blessed relief and I find a forgivable nod to humanism and Clarence Clemons‑-
especially since the climactic "We Are Alive" is so vulgar as to assume that all America's oppressed will rise up from the grave they share. To wreak vengeance, y'think? They got a right. A MINUS
Madonna: MDNA (Interscope)
Forget the four "Deluxe" extras, not one of which except maybe the pretty little "I F***ed Up" improves on the updated '90s arena-dance power tracks of the first 43 minutes, although they top the deadly-dreamy closer "Falling Free" as well as the penultimate "Masterpiece," which begins "If you were the Mona Lisa . . . ." Granted, I could mock "Ooh la la you're my superstar/Ooh la la that's what you are" just as easily. But lyrics have never been where she showed off her gorgeous brains, and anyway, the 10-track mix I propose as an alternative goes out on a real song called "Love Spent": "Hold me like your money/Tell me that you want me/Spend your love on me/Spend your love on me." Nicki Minaj shines bright, but she's no more crucial structurally than the cheerleaders who garnish "I'm Addicted" at its close and embellish "Give Me All Your Luvin'" throughout. Play loud. She's smart and she's proud. A MINUS
'Wrecking Ball' is a superb, though not optimistic, album from America's greatest rock 'n roller. Bruce remains this country's most sincere, passionate rock artist, and he's always one of the first to respond to our collective national conscience. He did so after 9/11 with 'The Rising', and he's doing so here. What I find so ironic about the music on this album is its contrast to the lyrics -- the music is often uptempo, and sounds like stuff you would hear at an Irish wake.
Let's face it -- this country's been going steadily downhill since Reagan was elected in 1980, and any working man should find his thoughts and emotions addressed here. The songs should sound fantastic live with the E Street Band.
Another thing I felt was that the entire set seemed like non-singles from many of her previous albums, more like 'Great Madonna non-singles collection'. I don't think her album may sell so well (and it isn't) because there isn't even one commercially-acceptable single in it. My dad (who is a sucker for catchy songs with indelible hooks) found MDNA boring because he couldn't sing along in the first listen, and though I said it grows on you after a few listenings, he didn't budge and changed to horrible hindi remix songs. BTW, the only one he would have loved had he been in the car while it was playing is Gimme All your Love because of its braindead lyrics but catchy hook.
MDNA is predominantly clustered with Euro dance beats that made me forget I was listening to the same Madonna I got accustomed to in her past attempts. The Material girl does away with her deeper vocals until Love Spent, where her voice sinks to bring in the maturity. In fact, it is that womanly tone that made some of her work stand out: 'Live To Tell', 'Shoobie Do', 'Deeper and Deeper', 'Bedtime Story', 'Human Nature', 'Swim', ' Drowned World...', 'Skin', 'Future Lovers', 'Let It will be' and 'Miles Away'. Her girly twitter on the other hand has given us many classics too, but that was when she was a girl. The fifty plus dame sounds nagging when she complaints about other girls' vanity in 'Some Girls' and sounds desperate to sound fresh at times.
Still, the record deserves the A- it has received, and I had predicted this long before Christgau had officiated it. The tracks, because of the Euro dance music, seem tad dated (as if it is a version prior to the actual studio version, had a similar feeling with Robyn's latest album) but they can be played over and over and over and over... no die b... sorry got carried away! **** is wicked, I'm Addicted can make you drunk, Turn up the Radio is great for the car, Gimme All Your Love is mediocre when compared to the remix by LMFAO, and the William Orbit finishers (right from I'm a Sinner to Falling Free) are a level above the rest. A brilliant observation by Mr. Christgau regarding the bonus tracks is that they seem like a respiting catharsis after Falling Free's climax.
I think I've finally broken it down for myself to two sets of questions --
1. Does he always have to name names (Wendy, Mary, Kitty, Sandy, Leah, Sonny, Outlaw Pete, The Chicken Man [yep, there's a real person]) so as not to be accused of being generic? Is the possessive pronoun "our" truly insufficient when it is used in a line as clear as "They destroyed our families’ factories and they took our homes"?
2. Is it categorically impossible to "limn" moral concepts? Speaking of The Chicken Man, in "Atlantic City" Springsteen said, "Everything dies baby, that's a fact/But maybe everything that dies someday comes back" and nobody had a conniption. I happen to think that "There ain't no help, the Cavalry stayed home" is a clear and distinct call to arms, backs, hearts and minds, in other words, to rev up the human engine of democracy. If we don't do it, nobody's going to do it for us. That is not vague.
A few exceptions that I think probably prove your rule about Bruce not writing good abstract protest songs: "Land of Hope and Dreams" and "American Skin" (which of course takes off from the murder of Diallou but does it's work on a non-narrative level mostly--and which he dedicated to Trayvon Martin in Philly the other night).
And if we can include his introduction to ("blind faith in anything will get you killed") and performance of Edwin Starr's "War"--a staple of the live show for a couple of years, well then...
And interesting to think about all this in the context of Bruce's career. Many before me have noted how for a good portion of his career he has alternated between superstar moves and conscious efforts to scale back: Nebraska kicks this off, disbanding the E Street Band, Tom Joad, Seeger Sessions, that weird cabaret-style tour in arenas behind Devils and Dust, the record with Joe Grushecky, and so on.
But also in how he goes on the road into these giant (and once upon a time Giant) stadiums for years at a time and then comes back to NJ and plays the Stone Pony and Holiday shows and reconnects with Southside Johnny, and John Eddie, and Joe Grushecky and now Willie Nile and Garland Jeffreys and Jesse Malin and so on. (And yes, to answer an old question of Bris Piggy's--it's a man's, man's world. Bruce's masculinist, heterocentric worldview--see his recent Rolling Stone inteview--has been a challenge for many of us for years. How thrilling when his video for "Tougher than the Rest" included a gay couple in the scrapbook of images!). He struggles on and on with that "got what he wanted and lost what he had" dilemma more publicly than most rock stars--while never seeming to doubt that the mass audience is what he wants.
Interesting also, in this context, is that Greil Marcus--who has written more than once about that the thrill of the moment when a subcultural or small-scale artist meets a mass audience--should have loved Nebraska so much and hated Born in the USA almost equally.
It's just that surely one pop usage is sound reproduction itself, no? If we could agree to that, then Springsteen's notion that "the genie got out of the bottle" when Elvis danced on the Ed Sullivan show was not quite the causal agent he makes it out to be (to invoke that Keynote again). And needless to say, I'm more interested in all those other pop usages -- and how they're altered under their new conceptual regime.
Man, I'm sorry, but I can't respond to this because I can't quite figure out what it means.
Fame and stadiums are not for everybody. The pressures of success had at least something to do with knocking Peter Green off the rails, for instance. And I was just thinking the other day what a wonderful performer Joan Armatrading could be and how she intentionally cut back the career-building until she was comfortable with the pace and scale.
But I also offer up two cheers for superstardom to counter the pervasive (and I think mindless) notion that we would all be happier in a country where the music industry was 10,000 cottage industries and every musician ran their own career or settled for a hobby that paid for itself. Sounds too much like folks who claim everything would be dandy if the USPS withered away.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.