Picks and Pans Review: Like a Prayer

updated 04/24/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/24/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Madonna

Our lady of the exposed midriff seems to be having some sort of identity crisis. About half this album consists of routine dance-pop tracks in which Madonna's voice is often overwhelmed by whap-whap-whap drum sounds and bumpity-bump synthesizers. Madonna sounds frail and tentative; none of the tunes approaches her earlier, exemplary dance tracks such as "Burning Up," "Material Girl" or "Into the Groove." Without its video visuals, for instance, the song "Like a Prayer" is not blasphemous so much as dumb: "In the midnight hour I can feel your power." "Till Death Do Us Part" does have some historic interest in view of Madonna's personal tribulations; she and co-producer Patrick Leonard wrote the song, which includes the lines "Something's wrong but you pretend you don't see/ I think I interrupt your life/ When you laugh it cuts me just like a knife/ I'm not your friend. I'm just your little wife." But Madonna is awfully high-priced talent to fritter herself away on things like this.

The less dance-oriented half of the album is more interesting, especially "Love Song." Co-written and co-produced by Prince, who also sings the tune with Madonna, it is layered with interlacing vocals, Prince's bluesy guitar and shifting rhythms. This is Prince at his best, and he inspires the often flirtatious but rarely passionate Madonna. The other off-tempo songs often show a sort of textual interest—"Oh Father" seems to be about paternal mistreatment—but there's little going on musically. However fascinating it is to hear Madonna trying to shed her glitz-only image, it would be more fascinating had she written—or found—more exciting material to shed it with. Madonna sometimes seems to be her generation's Judy Garland—a beguiling mixture of musical talent, sex appeal and intensity—but Garland had the luck and/or sense to sing things like "Somewhere over the Rainbow." Up to this point, Madonna has made herself memorable not nearly so much for what she sings as for who she seems to be. (Sire)

From Our Partners