Let’s get the analogy out of the way: American Life is to Madonna what Pop was to U2.
When the Irish quartet recorded Pop, it took its techno-rock aesthetic to a redundant conclusion — and then some. Madonna has done much the same with American Life.
Allow me to be frank, though — Mirwais sucks. Music started out all right, but over time, it revealed itself to be thin and unconvincing.
No such grace period hinders Mirwais’ second collaboration with Madonna on American Life — it’s thin and unconvincing from the outset.
The French producer’s love of a square wave lends little character to the music.
For all the suu-haa surrounding electro-clash’s allegedly cool cachet, American Life comes off as drab and inhuman.
Not that Madonna doesn’t attempt to infuse her tenth album with some humanity. If anything, the folk guitar vs. electronics template of “Nothing Fails”, “Love Profusion” and “X-Static Process” deserve marks for effort.
But Madonna isn’t a strong enough lyricist to sound more than a self-help book. “Mother and Father” was justly derided for its simplicity.
And let’s not mention Madonna’s freestyling abilities.
Thing is, this isn’t the first time Madonna has missed. In a way, it’s comforting to be reaffirmed that she isn’t a musical genius.
When her sexual frankness backfired in the early ’90s with Erotica and the rarely mentioned picture book Sex, Madonna toned it down, then subsequently veered in another direction.
Now, she’s hit a dead end with club music — which, if you believe all the fashion magazines, is passé anyway — and it’s only a matter of time before Madonna retools for another make-over.
Still, it’s somewhat disappointing to see a creative direction hearlded by such a stellar introduction — Ray of Light still kicks posterior after five years — end up in such a miserable place.
“Do I have to change my name?” Madonna sings at the start of the album. After recording something as terrible as this, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.