Monday, May 23, 2011

American Life Pictures Un-Retouched + Making of Shoot with Craig McDean and Jonas Åkerlund


American Life remains one of my top 5 Madonna albums, not only for the superb sounds she achieved with Mirwais but the accompanying promotion and imagery, as well. 2003 was an interesting time to be a Madonna fan especially for one that had followed her flourishing career since 1983. She was getting the shyt kicked out of her (made Erotica seem tame - this was a different kind of beating) and that always affects an album's aftertaste but the fact remains that American Life stands as a splendidly progressive album - her most alternative till date. The sound is still being copied today in every genre.

Maybe Madonna needed her first truly un-POP-ular album, 20 years after her debut? It's hard to say because no other musician in pop music has sustained as successful a career for as long as Madonna and the themes on American Life are throwing a big middle finger up at what all pop stands for. Let's not forget that the word relevant became part of the pop culture lexicon because Madonna had lasted prosperously in pop music for so long where her predecessors and contemporaries had failed. There's nobody to compare her to.

What are/were your thoughts on the American Life album and period?


  1. Great review of AL PUD.

    1st off, I loved her look for this album. The album itself was a little let down for me. 1st was the number of songs on the album...only 10?? Only 9 if you do not include 'Die Another Day' which seemed out of place. The release of 'Set the Right' and 'It's so Cool' showed me that Madonna was churning out some great music at that time, I just wish she would have added these gems to the album list.

    I have to admit I was not happy with this album at the time of release. I was expecting some classic dance hits (i.e Music/Ray of Light even 'Die Another Day') but all I got was the horrendous 'Nobody Know Me' and a great attempt with 'Mother and Father' (that baseline and guitar still make me tap my feet when I listen today).

    Looking back and listening to the album now...I think it was one of her best works. Very folk/electronic and new at the time. 'Intervention', 'Easy Ride' and 'I'm So Stupid' shows her depth as an artist. Good for her.

    I also believe the album would have did 100x better on the charts if she would have released the original video fro AL. Or even better scrapped AL as the first single. I think if she would have released 'Love Profusion' or 'Nothing Fails' as the first singles, the album would have done much better.

    Oh well...

    'Erotica' and 'AL' are 2 albums that I find myself going back to when it comes to her catalog which is surprising for me when my favorite songs of hers are, "Like a Prayer', 'Vogue', 'Into the Groove', 'Causing a Commotion' and 'Who's That Girl'. I love bubblegum pop Madonna..but I love political Madonna as well.

    I wonder how American Life would do if released today? I think we need a break from the manufactured dance music that is out now. I Madonna brings something new to the table..

    Anyone listen to Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' album? Someone said it's her 'Like a Prayer'. I can't help but agree. Not so much the style, but more with the lyrics and melodies.


  2. From the moment I heard the birds twittering at the start of 'Hollywood' I was in love with this album. It was probably the first album since I bought The Immaculate Collection in 1991 (my first Madonna album) that was on a constant loop.

    To me, it was her greatest album. Less pop and more depth. It was what she'd been working towards after Evita.

    I couldn't really pick out a favourite as it works really well as a whole album, but her harmonies on songs like 'Intervention' and 'X-Static Process' make me tingle, even now.

    What I found strange was the reaction from fans and the media. Was it just her outspoken views on the war that upset people? Did people just think she'd made a crap album?

    Initial reaction seemed positive but then it all went quite. Q Magazines review was lukewarm at best (although a year later they included it as one of her 5 star albums in their anniversary magazine)

    It seemed an age until 'Hollywood' was released and I think it may just have lost steam. I wonder if the negative response from the public/record sales shaded her opinion on it?

    She later said it was one of her favourite albums but the 'greatest hits' tour that followed and then the 'return to her dance roots' of 'Confessions On A Dance Floor' makes me wonder. Is it about making a great album or do sales count?

    I don't listen to it as much as I used to. It's not a pop album you can just put on and hum along to. You have to take it all in and do a bit of thinking.

    As far as the artwork/image is concerned, it was ok, loved some of the photos Craig McDean took and she looked great at the liver performances.

    A lost gem.

  3. This album is amazing, I love Hollywood <3 Artwork is brilliant and I like the dark haired Madonna. At that time, created some great music videos.

  4. I was in LA when it came out so I loved it! Radio treated it poorly and I thought AL was a great single.

  5. I'm amazed how great the untouched photos look!
    I thought the released ones were touched up way more!

  6. i love this album and era! american life is so avant-garde even now! she and mirwais mixed folk, acoustic and electronic music in a so unbelievably perfect way! easy-ride, x-static process, intervention and hollywood are 4 of my fave songs of the album and madonna's discography in general! love the artwork as well even if from music till now she never put the lyrics in the album booklets.

  7. This is not my favorite album, but I find it hard not to enjoy it. It's Madonna, for heaven's sake!

    Since you mentioned it, what are your top 5 albums, Pud? Just out of curiosity....

  8. joão-

    like a prayer
    american life

    but I LOVE THEM ALL!!! madonna is the ONLY artist that has made me cock an ear for pop music.

  9. wow, it felt overwhelming seeing all that, its been such a long time since then.. Í remember feeling sad and stressed 4 her and us true fans 'cause Everyone was hating and making fun of her. it left a mark and with, the exeption for the love she got during confessions, hasnt left. american life is a grand video probably her last, 'cause i think the trauma of banning her own video 4 peerpresure made her swear that she would give up videos and would do without them. she loves the medium, it just comes in different form (w.e) and Im happy to follow her journey!

  10. What a huge dissapointment American Life was for me, it was THE DEATH of Madonna the artist. The album has some of the greatest songs of her career, specially Nothing Fails, everytime I listen to it, it sends chills down my spine, it's unbelievable.

    However, I can't get past the American Life video debacle. I remember with huge sadness her retort to her father on Truh or Dare, "that would be compromising my artistic integrity" well with American Life, it is my belief she compromised her artistic integrity, and she did a very cowardly thing by censoring her own video.

    Fans may try to justify it saying she was protecting her family and what not, but they were not in any danger. She panicked and didn't want to jeopardize her 20 year long career by alienating her birth country, the one that saw her grow up as an artist. It is understandable but like I said that also killed the artist in her.

    Why do you think she has stuck to the dance genre for two consecutive albums now? and worse, the last one she latched unto the hot producers at the time, which is something she has only done ONCE in her career with Bedtime Stories, but what came out of that was a masterpiece, what came out of the latter quest for what was in was the rather paltry Hard Candy.

    Also, AL marks the death of Madonna as a video artist. American Life was the last decent video Madonna came up with.

    I don't know how to describe it, I mean as a Madonna fan, it is SO SAD for me to see Madonna, the woman who took the music video form to the stratosphere way more than Michael Jackson, come out with a video like Give it 2 me.

    The same woman who made the masterpiece of Express Yourself video now comes out with videos like Get Together, Jump and Give it 2 Me.

    Is that evolution? change? art? no. It is stagnation(sp?), going backwards, oblivion, death. So sad.

    And to have Madonna be obliterated by a mediocre sick psycho like Gaga is just too painful to watch.

    I mean it's almost like Madonna handed Gaga her career. It's tragic.

  11. I remember when the brilliant Die Another Day came out, I went to my aunt's house and she casually said, "I have seen the most horrendous thing in my life" and I asked what? and she said "Madonna's new James Bond video" omg I loved it so much.

    That is what an ARTIST does. They look at the work and they create art which is a reflection of the current time.

    The first decade of the XXI century was unbelievably violent, and that is exactly what you see in Die Another Day. It was a reflection of the times.

    When was the last time Madonna did this??? And don't give me the tour backdrop videos of starving africans that Madonna has used for what? three tours now? the same concept? as an example.

    Quite simply, artists don't sit in a room and wonder "mmm, who is hot right now that can give me a number 1 hit?" like Madonna did with 4 Minutes. So so sad. I have no tolerance for mediocrity, and worse coming from MADONNA, it's just beyond tragic for me.

  12. The untouched pictures were brilliant, eventually spoilt by the uninspired (and frankly ugly) album cover. American Life is a good song but the rap was bad. The original video was brilliant, the final (dull) version wasn't. Half the album is very good, half the album is not. So a mixed bag which resulted in poor sales.

    A different cover, a rap-free single, a better video for Love Profusion, and a proper release for Nothing Fails and things might have been different.

  13. my second best of all time

  14. From my point of view, AL is on par with Hard Candy: they both sound pretty dull to me, and I can't regard them as the best music she's produced in her career. On the other hand, I took it to mean, now that I've read Pud's review on AL, that this is probably her most alternative album, and that's a sign of how versatile she is.

    To me, Confessions and Ray of Light remain as her best, but all the others are just as important to me as it should be to any M true fan xD

  15. lol@ramon.

    she has done several great videos since American Life and she has already done everything in the music video genre. She doesn't need to top anyone or anything.

    She has had the best videos in the business. Been there, done that.

  16. I love the AL album. Probably her most honest and vulnerable since LAP. I hated AL as a first single. The song was weak. The video(s) however were fucking brilliant! I'm glad that she did what she did with not releasing the video. Sorry, but America really was all aboard the Bush war wagon at the time, and it probably was not safe for such an anti war video. Look what happened to the Dixie Chicks?? Apart from that, Nothing Fails is one of my all time favorite M tracks. American Life stands on it's own as a very brilliant/ignored record.

  17. "American Life"'s so-called "backlash", was nothing like "Erotica"'s. No one cared about "American Life". Madonna pulled the video, and the song wasn't even played on radio. No one cared to comment. It was all one big bore fest. The most memorable thing about that era was Madonna's desperation.

    Also, no one is copying that "sound". The album is the worst one she ever recorded. Inane lyrics, which sound as if they were written by Rocco, and the music is craptastic. Madonna got lazy, and couldn't even come up with new producers. She worked with Mirwais on three albums. This is a man who gave her one hit song and she works with him on the same number of albums as she worked with Patrick Leonard on???! 2000-2008 is not an era I would want to re-visit/repeat. It wasn't Madonna. It was the faux Lady of the Manor/doting British housewife who began taking herself way too seriously.

    For Madonna's sake, "American Life" will be forgotten completely.

  18. Wow. So many different opinions.

    I'm really surprised cos American Life is definitely one of her best - to me. It's the definition of cool to me. So special.

    I'm not surprised of its sales, it's always the same for me. If I like something too much, it will definitely flop. So I'm expecting another flop from Madonna, desperately.