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Like A Prayer
On Like A Prayer Ms. Ciccone concocts a potent pot-pourri of re-discovery and re-invention.
George Byrne, 23 Mar 1989
On Like A Prayer Ms. Ciccone concocts a potent pot-pourri of re-discovery and re-invention, coming on incensed and humble, worldly wise and wide-eyed, but without ever diluting her intentions as a commercially-orientated concern. Once again, her platinum logic proves inescapable.
The central themes of Like A Prayer revolve around a stridently Catholic mixture of guilt, remorse and devotion to the family – indeed, were it not for the controversial nature of the accompanying video of the title track the album could easily form the basis for discussion at a goodly number of Family Solidarity meetings.
Her defunct partnership with Sean Penn appears to form the basis for the revealing 'Till Death Do Us Part', an intensely claustrophobic and melodic song which finds Madonna bemoaning a situation where she finds herself with a partner who's "not in love with someone else" but who makes up for the lack of any infidelity by piling on both self-loathing and destruction in equal measure.
One of the album's key tracks, 'Till Death Do Us Part' exemplifies the transition which has shifted Madonna's targets beyond the benign boogie considerations of much of her earlier work and into the realm of weightier concerns. No longer a nightclub nymph, Madonna tackles loss of innocence and regret with far greater conviction than she brings to the optimistic tracks, 'Express Yourself' and 'Cherish', both of which are potential singles but too jolly by far to sit easily with the remainder of the material.
Which is not to suggest that Like A Prayer is depressing by any means. 'Dear Jessie' is a marvellous evocation of the wonderland which childhood can be, replete with a near-euphoric string arrangement; 'Keep It Together' chugs along merrily with its 'Keep It In The Family' message well to the fore; the title track reeks of rockin' redemption and the duet with Prince, 'Love Song', serves up a carnal crawl of the lewdest nature. In fact I shudder to think what a video for this track would look like were the protagonists to be given their collective head. (Pardon? – Ed)
On a more serious note 'Promise To Try' and 'Spanish Eyes' display Madonna's increasing confidence as a singer (her credential as a vocalist never having been in doubt) as she tackles a ballad to her late mother in the former and adopts the persona of a mother herself in the latter offering, adding a decade or two to her larynx by means of an alluring huskiness on a tale of barrio gang violence. Contrite rather than a trite con, Like A Prayer finds Madonna's roots showing on a collection of songs which finally gives her the opportunity to display her true colours, and although they may be darker than expected, they're certainly not likely to run in the wash.