So Madonna has a new greatest hits out, ‘Celebration’. Fine, you’d think – she’s had a lot of them. Sadly, listening to the 36-track compilation, it’s depressingly apparent that there have been two distinct phases of her career – the pop nirvana of her 80’s output, and the joyless bandwagon- hopping of her later years. Unfortunately, she thinks both have equal merit.
It would be unfair to say Madge hasn’t touched magic since 1990 – ‘Hung Up’, for example, is a fine dancefloor-filler. And ‘Ray Of Light’ isn’t bad, even if she was going through her horrifically unappealing “earth mother” phase.
But apart from that, it’s slim pickings. Despite commissioning the most hip collaborators around at the time, (Mirwais, William Orbit, Stuart Price), Madonna’s latter records sound strangely cold and joyless, devoid of the warmth that infuses the likes of ‘Like A Virgin’, ‘Dress You Up’, ‘Cherish’ and the immortal ’Like A Prayer’. Hell, even her overwrought ballads from that purple patch (‘Live To Tell’, ‘Crazy for You’) have a certain charm.
One of my colleagues summed up the conundrum recently – if you’re at a party and one of Madonna’s early classics comes on, everyone goes nuts. Play anything from “phase two” and the result is completely the opposite: the dancefloor empties, the buzz dissipates.
So while Madonna clearly thinks this collection represents a celebration of her longevity – hence the title – in reality all it does it expose her more recent failings. True, she still sells out enormodomes, but a lot of that can be attributed to an extension of goodwill from people whose formative years were soundtracked by her. There is a lot of loyalty there. Fair enough. But for the rest of us, her career may as well have ended in 1990.