After a pretty long blackout, Popfection is back!!! Yes!! We will try our best to keep a flow of content coming in from now onwards – we are getting ready our year-end lists and a few more reviews are coming, so get ready! Today I will review what is regarded by almost everyone as Madonna’s best album; Like A Prayer. It spanned two big hits that managed to stand the test of time and still be somewhat relevant nowadays: Like A Prayer and
Born This Way Express Yourself. This album is probably one of her albums I took more time in digesting and enjoying, probably because it isn’t as straight up pop as her former albums, but it’s indeed a grower.
Overall, the album deals with religion, her troubled marriage to Sean Penn and her family – specially her mother and father. Sonically, every track sounds like if some kind of a church touch had been added in the production, probably thanks to the quasi mystical ‘reverb-ish’ atmosphere that revolves the album. The opening track, Like A Prayer, is in my opinion the best song released in the eighties and easily one of the best tracks ever written. It somehow manages to be everything, a ballad, a dance track – it’s groovy yet soft, the gospel choir at the end is simply glorious and the most iconic moment in pop history.
Express Yourself is an amazing follow up for such a great opening, an upbeat song about female empowerment that picks up right where Like A Prayer left. It features live percussion that, combined with the lively brass during the chorus and bridges, helps tremendously in achieving that ‘groovy‘ feeling the listener gets from the track. The music video for Express Yourself was the most expensive ever done at the time and was praised by the critics for its gender equality message. The follow-up is Love Song, her first collaboration in her discography – with none other than Prince! (who also played the guitar in a couple more tracks) The result is complete audio garbage, easily one of her worst songs ever! This is simply because of the laziness of the songwriting, featuring a very simple and repetitive drum pattern with some guitar licks here and there, the melodies are also pretty simple and dissonant – which added to its random structure makes it almost unlistenable.
Til Death Do Us Part starts like if Love Song didn’t happen at all and picks up where Express Yourself left, this time talking about her failed marriage with Sean Penn. The feeling you get whilst listening to this song is a bit bittersweet since the lyrics describe a domestic abuse situation but at the same time it’s an upbeat track so there’s quite an odd atmosphere going on. Promise To Try is one of Madonna’s most haunting ballads ever, its lyrics talk about her dead mother and that’s probably why it feels so intimate and special. The song is both nostalgic and hopeful at the same time, and due to the fact that there’s no choruses but rather several verses instead, it is more of a conversation she is having with herself or her younger self.
After such a moving song, Cherish feels like quite a bland track, a downgrade from all the preceding songs – it would fit perfectly in True Blue, but in Like A Prayer it sounds a bit off. It’s an upbeat 60s reminiscent love song, too sugary for this album indeed. Dear Jessie on the other hand, whilst being an overly happy and childish song sonically speaking, fits perfectly as it’s more of an uplifting lullaby (which was inspired by Leonard Patrick’s daughter) and manages to be a highlight of the album. Dear Jessie‘s outro blends in perfectly with Oh Father‘s intro, but these two songs couldn’t be more different; whilst the former is a carefree track, the latter is more of a survival tale and probably one of the best songs Madonna has ever written. Oh Father is a mid-tempo ballad that can be interpreted in a number of ways, but she explained once that:
”Oh Father is like the second half of Live to Tell, in a way. It was a combo package—it was about my father and my husband. I was dealing with male authority figures once again”
The instrumental of the song flows perfectly, as if it was changing throughout to suit the vocals instead of the other way around as if it usually done. The chorus blows into one of Madonna’s most mystical sounding melody ever, and the bridge draws a strong influence from Simon & Garfunkel, just like most of the track. In Keep It Together, a song that belongs to the uptempo trinity of the album, she sings again about her relationship with her family, whom she missed after her divorce with Sean Penn. Although it isn’t much of a special song, it is very lively and its funky rhythm makes it quite enjoyable within the album.
Even though Madonna’s known for her controversy and uptempo songs, it’s at ballads where she truly excels, Spanish Eyes is the ultimate example of this. Starting off as a very soft, Spanish-influenced ballad, ends up as a true anthem! Her raspy vocals during the chorus are incredibly moving, along with the lyrics which talk about AIDS. The music is again breathtaking, specially during the bridge, where the brass fully rolls into the mix and adds a strong feeling of grandiosity to the song – indeed an amazing closer for an incredible album (if we oversee Act Of Contrition). The actual closer is just a few stems of Like A Prayer reversed, and over that, there’s Madonna reciting the Act Of Contrition prayer… then there’s an odd couple of lines at the end where she implies that she’s making a reservation and… that’s it! It’s a cute closer but not really important.
Overall, Like A Prayer is one of Madonna’s best albums ever, an album where she shines – particularly during ballads. I strongly recommend to all of our readers (if there’s any left after our long ass blackout) to give a chance to this album, even though it might not be the easiest to get into, since it really has quality and delivers one of the most iconic moments in pop music.
(9.5 / 10)