by / September 24th, 2009 /

Madonna – Celebration

 1/5 Rating

(Warners)

If X-Factor and American Idol are to be deemed the great barometers of popular culture (and why not), then it would appear that Madonna is all but finished. Each week a succession of pop wannabes put themselves through the torture, but none of them wannabe Madonna. Mariah yes, Whitney even, but Madonna? She seems to have slipped right off the radar. In a way it’s not hard to see why she means little to the teenage girl of today. She started her career over a quarter of a century ago (when an aspiring pop starlet had to do a lot more than just flash a smile at Simon Cowell to get noticed) and, the odd single aside, hasn’t released an album of real note since 2002. Throw in the increasing soap opera of her personal life and the memory of Madonna the pop star is fading fast.

But what a memory it is, as this – the sixth compilation of her career – unequivocally proves. Not many would have suspected that the bratty twenty-five year old who emerged from the New York club scene with debut single ‘Everybody’ in 1982 would have lasted beyond her patchy debut album, let alone be issuing a thirty six track best of come 2009. Yet along the way she has amassed a body of work that easily puts her up there alongside – if not ahead of – the other two major names of the era, Prince and Michael Jackson.

Those early singles, ‘Holiday’ and ‘Borderline’ especially, are still damn near impossible to fault. It’s something that Madonna herself has been well aware of, maintaining a connection with them no matter what stage of her career or what much vaunted reinvention she has gone through. The truth is that these reinventions have only been skin deep, that Madonna has been at her best when making pop music pure and simple. When she has lost her way (the wilderness years of Erotica and Bedtime Stories in particular) she has done so because the desire to be shocking or fashionable has obscured that primary aim.

Every album contributes at least one track here – even the shocking Dick Tracy soundtrack in the form of ‘Vogue’ – leading to some forgotten gems amongst the towering highlights from her two periods of dominance. The likes of ‘Like A Prayer’, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ and ‘Ray Of Light’ have of course stood the test of time, but so have the tracks that initially appeared less substantial (‘Cherish’, ‘Beautiful Stranger’ and ‘Dress You Up’), as well as her ability to tackle the big ballad with surprising ease. The more recent albums – the underrated American Life, overrated Confessions On A Dance Floor and hardly rated at all Hard Candy – do their best to keep pace with their younger siblings but in truth the old spark is missing. The two new tracks, meanwhile, are just appalling.

Is this then one final, glorious parting shot from the Queen of Pop? With the final call on her career down to her alone, the feeling is that she will never know quite when to stop. The danger is that each new record, each new move will leave her even further behind the pace that she once do dominantly set. So it’s perhaps no surprise at all that, to the X-Factor generation, Madonna is simply someone who got divorced and tried to adopt African babies. Celebration proves that there has to be more to her legacy than that.

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  • what everyone thinks of her as a person aside, i am glad to see someone who can objectively say that she has contributed a shitload of music that, admit it or not, we ALL know and even like (some of).

    all the newcomers owe her a huge debt…she has changed the landscape for all those after her.

    while i dont love her newest stuff, i insanely admire that she wont stop. why should she? we are still debating her.

  • shle896

    Are you kidding me with this article? Madonna continues to be the biggest selling female artist of all-time. Her last two albums sold in the millions all over the world. Here in the states she just scored her 40th #1 dance hit AND she just completed her “Sticky & Sweet” tour – the highest-grossing concert tour ever by a single artist.

    All this – at the age of 51 and nearly 30 years into her career! These “wanna-be’s” on American Idol and X-Factor will be lucky to have even 10% of her success.

    Idiots like you can keep writing her off, but she’ll prove you wrong as she has again and again and again and again in the past.

  • Patrick Conboy

    What an infantile post! Did you get out on the wrong side of the bed this morning, Shle896? It looks ike you didn’t even read the review properly, as it’s actually very positive. Phil merely questions whether or not Madonna will choose to carry-on after the release of this compilation. Hell, he even criticises the ‘X-Factor Generation’ for not appreciating her music as much as they should!

  • Well, no offence Patrick, but I woke up on the right side of the bed today(a little late perhaps, but still on the right one). And eventhough the review is favorable in general, still, I believe it is offensive.

    Firstly, let’s get the facts right. This is a review from someone who is living in USA, because anyone outside America wouldn’t even dare to think that Madonna has ‘slipped right off the radar’. But even so, since 2002 (that you mention), Madonna had 3 No.1 album in the States(American Life,Confessions On The Dancefloor and Hard Candy)! This seems to me quite right into the centre of the radar.

    Also,using X-Factor as a pop barometer(!) is lame and extremely narrow-minded(unless you are Simon Cowell). Madonna isn’t amongst the X-Factor reditions, because her songs are more than JUST songs. They are events. And like her, events can be imitated, but rarely duplicated. They are so deeply rooted into the public consioussness alongside Madonna’s persona and dynamic, that is stupendously difficult not to think of her while somebody else is singing them. So, wise enough, noone dares touching them(same goes for Prince and Michael Jackson songs).Instead, they prefer Whitney and Mariah: karaoke numbers already, not songs.

    Finally dear Phil, give a chance to yourself and actually start enjoying Madonna. Why world’s most famous woman is still considered ‘a guilty pleasure’ remains unanswered. Is it the gay following? Is it her provocative nature? Is it easier/cooler to hate such an icon? Too much of yourself is reflected on her and her songs? I believe that now, almost 30 years into a magnificent career, it’s fair enough to shouted: I love Madonna and I’m proud! Cause she is probably world’s coolest star. A white canvas, constantly reinvented in an endless loop of metamorphoses and noone knows what the next one can be.

    Well, I remain eager to watch her transformed. Phil, keep watching X-Factor.

  • “This is a review from someone who is living in USA”

    You might wanna take a look at the address bar and read the part after “www.state.”

  • KL

    What’s X-factor? People in America don’t watch that. Also, reality TV in general sucks, you can feel yourself getting dumber as you watch. Blech!

  • Giannis Drakos

    This is what we call ‘irony’ Dave.