Quarter Life Crisis: Still True Blue

Monday, September 26, 2011

I turn 25 this year and resting in a the comfortable grey area of a 'quarter life crisis'. To celebrate, for the next few weeks of September, I'm recapping some of my favorite albums and singles that are turning the big 2-5 along with me...

Madonna's True Blue was the first full Madonna album I bought. Don't know why considering I bought it about 15 years after the fact and at that time Madonna was relaxing in the moderate success of American Life (aka one of my least favorite records of hers). Lucky for me, True Blue is a stunner and the perfect first album to expand past The Immaculate Collection. It also was the light bulb moment where I learned to really love and appreciate Madonna, not just because she was uninhibited and could spit out verbal zingers to her nay-sayers, but because she knew how to whip a pop song into shape and really make each song/album an event in itself. Like A Prayer and Bedtime Stories would confirm it for me in later years, but True Blue kicked it all off and began my now life-long jaunt with ol' Madgesty.

Sporting a more saturated bleached 'do and a glamorous 1950's-esque Hollywood image, Madonna's reached a new stylistic height with her third project. Carefully designed by production and penmanship of producer, Patrick Leonard, Madonna scrubs off that 'Minnie Mouse of Pop' persona the music rags claimed her to be, and gets buffed up with a sophisticated line of hit singles. She had somewhat made it by this point, as her previous records made the music world her oyster bar, but she was still hungry to be heard and still had her doubters. Doubts should be washed away strictly based on the gorgeous and iconic album art by famed photographer, Herb Ritts which introduced the project up front. Yet, the goodies inside were even more attractive.

"Live To Tell" was the indicator of Madonna's new attitude, as it was the first single released and was at the time Madonna's most ambitious single, hitting #1. Madonna had dabbled in doing ballads (see "Crazy For You" and "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" off of Like A Virgin), but "Live To Tell" lingered long after. The second #1 single, "Papa Don't Preach" no doubt raised a couple of eyebrows not only for it's topic about teen pregnancy, but also for the striking strings and overall structure. Brilliantly it begins the album, setting the tone. Also one of the best sequencing occurs when "Preach" dissipates into the sizzling "Open Your Heart" and then falls into the James Cagney monologue to introduce us to "White Heat". Whoever thought of sequencing the first four songs that way deserves a fruit basket.

Other singles like "La Isla Bonita" and the sugary doo-wop charm of the title track proved that Madonna could go outside her usual genre boundaries. Among the 'filler', "Where's The Party" picks up "Open Your Heart"'s heat, and yes, we cannot forget about "Jimmy Jimmy" which is arguably (to fans) the tarnishing moment of True Blue. Luckily, the mood is revived when Madonna goes socially conscious again with "Love Makes The World Go 'Round" which she had premiered at Live Aid the previous year.

In all of it's glam, True Blue would be later be out classed by later efforts (see Bedtime Stories) no doubt due to sound  and genre changes over the years. Still, it's one of my personal favorites from her as there is something quite lush and creative about the album as a whole and that is something that makes this album never go out of style.

Notable Tracks

Papa Don't Preach
Talk about an anthem. As the message is the heaviest Madonna has tackled, this was the track that showed a more mature Madonna on the horizon.

Open Your Heart
Seriously, the best way to hear the #1 hit, "Open Your Heart" is to hear it remastered. The regular album versions don't expose how meaty and bold this song is. It's pop perfection when heard in stereo--trust me.

White Heat
If this is 'filler' I want more of it! I liken this to "Angel" from Virgin, it had all the right moves, but just didn't set afire to be considered single worthy. Some will be put off by the Cagney monologue in the beginning (considering it is from the 1949 film of the same name) and yes, the drum machines add to the weight, but it really dives off into extremely infectious expressway of a groove. When the chorus charges in, you should be hooked.

Live To Tell
Easily on of my top 5 Madonna songs. Simply divine and wonderfully structured, just love the twist and turns it takes.

True Blue
Frothy and sweet like a strawberry milkshake. Madonna has pretty much banished this song from her kingdom (as it was about her then husband, actor Sean Penn) as she doesn't perform or even acknowledge it, but it's one of the moment were Madonna was sweet but not overly corny.

La Isla Bonita
It's odd, but this is the song that gets the non-Madonna fans and make them into believers. I have successfully converted two friends to Madonna Fanatics just from this song. It must be the sultry tropical groove that puts people at ease...but in truth, it's one of Madonna's most loveliest tunes--gotta love the guitars and the percussion.

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