Elizabeth Stolfi
staff writer
May 01, 2003
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American Life

It's easy to have high expectations for the same girl who rolled around on stage in a wedding dress the first time she was ever on TV. Or, maybe it was the fully illustrated book of her deepest sexual fantasies that raises the bar? Burning crosses, naked bullfighters, black leather body suits; It seems like controversy has been Madonna's alibi on her trip through the past 2 decades of pop music. But this time around, simplicity seems to be the key.

With the chance to make this album just as shocking as some of it's predecessors, Madonna chose to pull the first video for this record's title track before it aired, claiming the imagery may suggest an anti-American theme. While the song does indeed hint some bitterness towards her road to success, over all the message is a positive one; "I live the American dream/you are the best thing I've seen."

Musically, Madonna continues her adventure into European electronica influenced keyboards and drum beats that could easily find a home in Radiohead's "Kid A" or The Sneaker Pimps "Becoming X". Sprinkled with acoustic guitars and the occasional vocal distortion, the sound of the album seems to form a genre of it's own. While Madonna has been a professional at reinventing herself for each album, she tends to come halfway from 2000's Music, but still manages to come across as a reinvented version of herself once again.

Lyrically, American Life shows a much more emotionally vulnerable and honest side; "It was not a chance meeting/feel my heart beating/you're the one" sings Madonna on "Nothing Fails", an album highlight that brings on flash backs of "Like a Prayer" when a choir chimes in at the end to repeat the line "I'm not religious/but it makes me want to pray."

Overall, it is not among her strongest albums, but it seems unfair to expect her to get it perfect every time. Madonna has taken her life experiences with love and religion, and is in the process of putting it all together. After failed attempts at trying to understand both, she finally seems to be coming into her own as a human being, which comes through on the record; "There was a time that I prayed to Jesus Christ/there was a time I had a mother/it was nice," she confesses on "Mother Father," the album's best example of her confessional lyricism.

Somehow Madonna has managed to stay in the spotlight for close to 20 years. Whether it's out of pure curiosity that we keep paying attention, or the fact that we just have to, Madonna has proven herself a dozen times over that she is, and always will be, the Queen of pop.

Release date: April 22, 2003
Label: Warner Bros / Wea
Rating: 8.5 / 10