Posts Tagged ‘trend’

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Madonna – MDNA (album review.)

March 28, 2012

MDNA is Madonna’s 12th studio album (depending on what you include / exclude) and it’s an improvement on her last effort, Hard Candy, simply because there’s a higher strike rate of really good tracks. It’s no Ray of Light, Bedtime Stories or American Life (her most introspective albums and not coincidentally, her best – let the debate begin!), but we get more of an insight into Madonna the Human Being than we have in possibly 10 years.

Not that you’d know it from the two singles that have been released: “Give Me All Your Luvin'” is a straightforward ‘fun’ track which has had a lot of the fun ironed out of it. Madonna’s vocal sounds flat, the production sounds a little lacklustre, and while Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. acquit themselves well during their verses, their presence is unnecessary. The melody is perky but calculated, the cheerleader chants are hooky but calculated – the whole thing is a perfectly acceptable pop song, but it sounds so desperate to be joyful that it ends up losing a lot of charm. “Girl Gone Wild” serves well as an album opener, but again it sounds dated for Madonna – which means bang-on-trend with what’s in the charts – and unimaginative. The lyrics are uninspired, the melody is catchy and you will be humming it after a couple of listens. In this sense, the singles both do their job, but there’s much more exciting stuff on the album.

Which, take my advice, should be sequenced thus:

01. Girl Gone Wild
02. Gang Bang
03. I’m Addicted
04. Some Girls
05. Turn Up The Radio
06. I Don’t Give A (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
07. Give Me All Your Luvin’ (Feat. Nicki Minaj & M.I.A.)
08. B-Day Song (Feat. M.I.A.)
09. Superstar
10. I’m A Sinner
11. Love Spent
12. Beautiful Killer
13. Best Friend
14. I Fucked Up
15. Masterpiece
16. Falling Free

I am never usually one to mess with how an artist envisions their album by cherry-picking individual songse, or by listening to things on shuffle. I am very in favour of the idea of an album being treated and listened to as a body of work. However, I gave this track list (which I found on the Popjustice forums) a go and it seems to flow so much better. It stacks the harder-edged songs at the front of the album, followed by a sunny middle section and winding down towards the slower songs at the end.

“Gang Bang” is my favourite song on the album. A revenge anthem featuring menacingly-spoken vocals (reminiscent of Dita from Erotica) atop a minimal beat, a dubstep breakdown (again, bang on trend / a little passé, but it works well in this instance) and screams of “DRIVE BITCH! AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT DIE BITCH!”, it’s irresistible, edgy, a little silly (Madonna does not need to prove she is edgy and ‘down with the kids’ by swearing, but never mind), and it totally works. I can’t help but think of The Bride from Kill Bill when I listen to this song. Even though it would be an extremely weird choice for a single, this song is so cinematic that it deserves a video. “I’m Addicted” is the “Impressive Instant” of the album – swirling synths and insistent beats piling on top of each other to provide a climactic finish, while Madonna abandons insightful lyrics such as “all of the letters push to the front of my mouth, and saying your name is somewhere between a prayer and a shout” in favour of hedonistically chanting “M D N A M D N A” over and over.

And so we come to the album title. It’s a cool way of writing “Madonna”. Madonna has also said that the songs on this album display her musical DNA, so that also makes sense. And then, it also sounds like MDMA – which is a drug (hence the aforementioned refrain) and implies that Madonna’s new music is addictive. It’s a well-chosen title that has layers of meaning – well done to all concerned! The album cover (I am talking about the deluxe cover, above – the standard is pretty but doesn’t really go beyond that) shows Madonna posing behind a ridged glass screen which slices up the picture into discordant segments and perhaps represents an impenetrable layer between us, the listeners, and her, the performer / musical icon. The super-bright colours then pack a punch to the eye, and also reference a psychedelic, drugged-up state. Drugs like MDMA! I am spelling this out. The most intense colour comes from Madonna’s lips however, which is also important – she always takes centre stage. And her lips are where her voice comes from (sort of – you know what I mean) and Madonna is a Singer. Yes.

Back to the music then. “I Don’t Give A” is another standout track which has an urban quality to the beat. It discusses the hectic schedule of a star on Madonna’s level, and how she does ten things at once without feeling the pressure, because she doesn’t give a. It’s a defiant moment that’s further strengthened by another strong rap from Nicki Minaj, and tops out with an operatic choir repeating “I don’t give a”. As we’ll learn later on in the album however, Madonna does give a. “Love Spent”, “Best Friend” and “I Fucked Up” are introspection done right (unlike “Falling Free”, which is an epic ballad marred by Madonna’s incredibly mannered delivery and too little momentum too late). “Love Spent” switches up halfway through from practically one song to another with little more than a hook in common, but the same theme pervades throughout – if love were money, would you spend it on me? Would you care about me as much as your money? It sounds ironic for Madonna (who is not poor) to be discussing this, but then again, why can’t she? Everyone can relate to the feeling of coming second best in a relationship, regardless of whether either member of the couple is wealthy or not. It’s an emotional moment that is buoyed by a strong melody and interesting musical touches (such as the opening guitar and the Nintendo bleeps). “Best Friend” and “I Fucked Up” are apparently about her divorce from Guy Ritchie, and the demise of their relationship. Now, I know that it is easy to attribute these lyrics to that experience which the whole public knows about- and Madonna has had a couple of relationships since then (one of which was with Jesus!) – but it sounds pretty convincingly like Guy was on her mind when she wrote these tracks.  “Best Friend” talks about losing someone Madonna was very close to, and reflecting upon the time they shared together – “It wasn’t always good but it wasn’t always bad”. The fact that time has passed between the divorce and the album has allowed Madonna to apportion the blame where it lies on both sides – as well as Guy being the subject of her vitriol on other tracks, “I Fucked Up” sees her take some responsibility for the relationship’s demise. “I blamed you when things didn’t go my way… In front of you, I was cold.” Listing a number of the things that the couple could have done makes for some heart-wrenching listening, even as the production picks up speed. Although parts of the album sound manufactured for radio (like the singles) and others see her aim blindly for the craziest dancefloors, these tracks are where Madonna is open and sounds honest, rather than pre-meditated.

Other songs that deserve a mention are “Some Girls” and its basic but essential proclamation: “Some girls are not like me”; “Superstar” and its sugar-sweet hook of “Ooh la la, you’re my superstar”  (I imagine this song as being great for driving along to); the romantic “Masterpiece” which is somewhat cliché but manages to remain elegant and understated. On the other hand, weaker points of the album include “I’m A Sinner” which sounds like “Beautiful Stranger” (and I didn’t like that song either), and the ridiculous “B-Day Song” which wastes M.I.A.’s talents and doesn’t match up to the quality of the rest of the album. However, it’s relaxed nature reveals that Madonna probably had genuine fun recording this track, and it’s nice to hear a song that’s so unguarded. Perhaps it should have remained a b-side.

Overall, MDNA is a good album. It’s not outstanding as a whole, but it contains a fair few excellent moments. The songs are cohesive enough to feel like they belong (with a couple of exceptions), while varied enough to retain interest. There’s genuine introspection, braggadocio and hedonism – which is what we want from Madonna. It’s a shame that some of the album feels so calculated that it detracts from our enjoyment of the material. But once you can look past that, MDNA provides a trip well worth taking.

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hypersex.

July 27, 2010

I’ve spent the last 4 weekends away from home with my boyfriend Toby: the first weekend in Peterborough, and the latter three in his new flat in London.  I’ve had a terrific time each time, and it’s a marker of how far I’ve come that now when I am at home in Bristol during the week, life feels empty and, well, a bit lifeless.  I’m finally feeling the love I so desperately longed to feel in the first few months, and I am truly lucky to have found him: I now only fear some unforeseen circumstance or twist of fate breaking us apart and taking this amazing man away from me. But there’s nothing I can do about that, so I just enjoy the times we share together and watch our relationship grow: I have let down my hard-to-get, impenetrable guard and now he sees me as someone who is often vulnerable, sweet and soppy.  During my last two visits, we went to the cinema to watch Eclipse and Inception, and as well as enjoying the films, I cherished the fact that going to the cinema with my boyfriend and cuddling up on the seats, arms linked & heads on each others’ shoulders, was something I thought I’d never get to experience.  It made me feel young, carefree and happy, like the teenager I no longer am but always longed to be.

However, as well as displaying and embracing my softer, romantic side, we also enjoy having sex and often joke that we must be nymphomaniacs.  The sex is the best I’ve ever had, and I am not going to go into specifics because y’all don’t wanna read that and I want to keep that between me and Toby.  But I feel like I finally get to unfurl the wings of my sexuality without embarrassment or shyness.  I have always been a sexual person, and I remember my body being a constant source of fascination as a child (and I mean way before puberty, which I hit early anyway).  As a boy and now a man, I’ve occasionally felt slightly ridiculous for being in touch with myself in a non-macho, non-“I want to fuck everything that moves” way.  I mean, I definitely get horny, but for me my sexuality is less about posturing, racking up notches on a bedpost to prove my virility to others and allay my own insecurities and more about feeling intangibly good in my own skin, exploring what feels / tastes / good and what my body can do to synchronise with my soul and feelings and heighten my experiences as much as possible, and then also sharing that with another person and trying to heighten their experience, someone who knows you and is always uncovering new things about you as you grow together, is a privilege.

As I’ve gotten older, my sense of fashion has grown and evolved as well, and my having tattoos is not only an embodiment of my darker, more dangerous side with personal emblems for me, but also an expression of sexuality. I believe that tattoos are very sensual things (I’m not interested in getting them as a fashion statement per se, and I will never be seen with a tattoo that is “on trend” because it’s “on trend”), and having someone firstly pierce your skin with a needle shows an immense display of trust; to leave a symbol or picture or message on you that has meaning is exhilarating; then to display tattoos, to let someone in on their meaning, to allow someone to touch that part of your body, is a thrill that for me is part of sexuality.  For me, I don’t need or want everyone to see my tattoos all the time (partly because for work I need to exercise some common sense and be able to cover them), but they are for me first and then for my friends and finally for my boyfriend (who likes them nearly as much as I do!).  Just as wearing sexy outfits, fitted clothes (both of which are again decidedly un-macho), certain colours and styles is more an embodiment of who I am at that particular moment, on that day, at that stage in my life and of who I am as a person (the different layers) than displaying labels, belonging to a particular social clique or taking part in a contest to display as much of myself as possible.  For me, sexuality and promiscuity are two extremely different things. I’ve come to the point where I am happy enough with my body to wear more or less what I want (apart from all the outfits I can’t afford!!! but I’m getting there slowly 🙂 ), and in contrast to my attention-seeking performance outfits of the past (leather trenchcoat here, ripped jeans with handcuffs there – though those outfits were definitely fun and I’ve very glad I wore them!), I am less about turning heads (although that’s always nice) and more about satisfying my own standards.  Which are usually higher anyway! But I also appreciate that I want to feel that I look sexy in my clothes: some people are not concerned with that stuff, but I am – call it vanity, call it what you want. The difference is that now, what validates my sexiness is primarily how I myself feel, and secondly what my boyfriend and close friends think and say. I’m more comfortable in my skin to be more about pleasing myself and to know that yes, some people’s opinions do matter and I want to please others too.  But I also know that the general public is not important, and that I shouldn’t feel intimidated or afraid to be who I am. My sexuality, sensuality, fashion sense, looks, physicality and being as a whole may occasionally be compromised by external forces – I’m only human – but I know that it shouldn’t be and I’m better at making sure that it isn’t 90% of the time.  I am learning to be comfortable in myself as a sexual being, a sensual being, and it’s thrilling that I can listen to sexually-themed music (the thought process behind this post was set in motion while I was dancing to “Desnúdate” from Christina Aguilera’s Bionic album, which I still utterly adore) and understand more of it – not because of the meanings of the words (which are translucent), but because my life and my maturity is falling in line with those things.  I’m growing, and I am grateful to my friends, to Toby and to life in general for provoking me and allowing me to do so. 🙂

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imbecilic.

August 16, 2009

Another thing from the wedding yesterday that I wanted to touch upon was the fact that depending on whom you are surrounded by, your every action can be made into a big mistake or faux pas.  For example, we were lining up for wedding photos, and I somehow ended up at the front (which was not where I wanted to be, nor where I thought was appropriate for me to be).  Other people weren’t really getting the hint that we were assembling for this mass photo, so for a while I was stood at the front by myself, because I am one of the tallest and therefore stood on the front / lowest step.  After a while, Aiman (the bride) stood next to me, and I said “I shouldn’t be standing next to you!!!” Everyone was like “OMG WHY?” My response: “Because that is Phil’s place, not mine! He’s her husband!!!” It makes sense, non?  So I tried to step backwards, despite people being stood behind me, and some of my friends were like “Alan, what are you doing?” a) My bag was quite robust, filled with my necessary stuff, and it was that, more than me, which was hitting their feet.  And b) It should have been pretty obvious what I was doing: I was trying to get out of the way of being right at the front of the picture, and allowing the focus to be on whom it really should have been on, considering it was not my wedding day.  So why was I made out to feel foolish and melodramatic?  Was my train of thought really so illogical, so difficult to understand?  I don’t think so, and even typing out this paragraph, it makes sense to me.

My university friends, by and large, make fun of: my proclivity for designer things and large black sunglasses (two of my friends laughed when I put them on.  I pointed at the emerging sun, and then also at another guest across the car park who was also wearing sunglasses.  Nobody was laughing at him.); my vanity; my ability to spend money.  They genuinely think that I am funny (and they also laugh at the joke-ish things I do on purpose), but I don’t think they realise that they sometimes hurt my feelings.  This is the way that I am, and I’m not constantly trying to amuse anybody.  It doesn’t seem to strike any of my other (read: Bristol) friends as hilarious that I put Prada sunglasses on when the sun is shining, nor that I get nervous anticipating an important life event for one of my friends.  It’s just me, and I don’t know why, coming from Oxford university, some people are so insecure that they want to try and put me down to feed into their own intelligence.  I know that I’m not bookish, but I also know that I’m not stupid.  So why does making me feel bad (or trying to) make them feel good?

Today I met up with two of my friends whom I haven’t seen for a good while: Mel and Erum.  They’re both making moves: Mel is in the middle of her Scandinavian Studies degree and currently working in the Cabinet Office on a summer internship; Erum is a law graduate about to start her LPC.  We were in Starbucks pondering school, relationships, jobs, politics, the economy & swine flu, among other things.  We also discussed current fashion, including those ridiculous visor sunglasses as worn (but not invented) by Kanye West.  In case you don’t know what I am referring to, I illustrate:

Okay, they are impractical, which is a major con.  But then so are Beyoncé’s “Diva” sunglasses which employ gold tassels hanging from a minimal frame, and I like those (plus, the fact that they hang vertically and move with the body means that you do have more of a chance of seeing where you’re going).  What I don’t like about these is that a) they are really quite ugly, and b) they are being sold everywhere as the “new biggest trend”.  Not just in white, but in neon colours.  People are wearing these to clubs (I have seen pictorial evidence, as well as witnessing it myself) where normal sunglasses would be ridiculed, despite the fact that normal sunglasses generally look 100% better.  And just because Kanye West wears them?  I have of course been inspired by various celebrity fashion statements, and seeking to copy that is perfectly understandable and acceptable; that’s what inspiration is.  But this is something else; it’s taking something quite clearly idiotic and pretending that it is cool and intelligent.  It feels like a conspiracy that everyone is in on, and I take a stand against that because if I don’t like something, I am not going to wear it and that’s that.  But don’t ridicule me for wearing fashionable designer glasses that look great, when there are people wearing these venetian blind things who can’t even see where they’re going!  I mean, wtf?

Who decides what is “foolish” and what “isn’t”?  I do what I like, and I use my common sense, and I think that everybody is entitled to do that.  But what irritates me is when I make decisions that to me seem logical, and others want to pick on that for whatever reason, but they are quite happy to ignore / accept other things that are clearly beyond sensible.  Are we, as the general public, really that insecure that we’re willing to knock down one person just to make ourselves feel better, but then able to pass an imbecilic trend just because it was started / revived by a celebrity who has more money / status than the majority of us, the general public?  If Madonna jumped off the Empire State Building, would we all climb up there to follow?  (The paparazzi would certainly be crowded around at the bottom, snapping the impact point to make numerous tributes in special-edition magazines… just look at Michael Jackson).  I guess that it all depends on how caught up we are in appearances, and I am very conscious of the way that I look.  But the final decision is made by me, and if others want to try and knock me down for doing something that I choose, or for not following a herd of sheep, then let them; I have my insecurities, but one of them is not following the crowd when I would prefer to follow my instincts.