Whoever told Madonna that she can be the new Bob Dylan should be fired. American Life is a joke – an unfunny one at that. Madonna made it very easy for critics to unleash a backlash on her. It’s not just with the critical saturation of the overrated Music and a horrendous box-office flop follow-up, there’s also the ridiculous stunt she pulled with her video for the title track (also the first single from the album). After two decades of Madonna, we can see through her now transparent marketing tactics. As a result, her talking about Hollywood insincerity in Hollywood is unintentionally hilarious, what with lyrical gems like “I lost my memory in Hollywood, I’ve had a million visions bad and good; there’s something in the air in Hollywood,I tried to leave it but I never could”. Amazing. Who would’ve thought Hollywood has something bad in the air?
That’s the biggest problem with this CD: the vapid lyrics end up making Madonna come off like a raving insincere street prophet rather than the musical emissary to deliver us from our drudgery. Also, it is hard to believe her when she sings “I’m so stupid cause I use to live, in a tiny bubble; and I wanted to be like all the pretty people that were all around me” (I’m So Stupid) when one just has to open the pages of a magazine and see that she’s still living in a bubble, and worse, a bubble filled with frivolous pretty luxuries. Why is she whining about how sad and miserable she is? Why make a CD about your blues if you’re sincere? The Salvation Army is over there, they could use a few million dollars in donation.
Musically, this CD combines the most self-indulgent boring excesses of Music with really juvenile lyrics. Think of this CD as eleven tracks of Don’t Tell Me. There’s a charm to Madonna’s deadpan “rap” in her classic single Vogue, but here, her deadpan “raps” are closer to parodies. How can one keep straight face when she’s mouthing lines like “My mother died when I was five, and all I did was sit and cry; I cried and cried and cried all day, until the neighbors went away” (Mother and Father) without any hint of self-awareness as to how atrocious those lines are? She’s passing off first-grade poetry as music from one of the most accomplished female performers of the century. This is not only unacceptable but also humiliating.
Other than the gentle Nothing Fails (every album has at least one listenable track after all), this CD lacks musical hooks that grab my attention. The lyrics of course command my full attention for all the wrong reasons. Madonna’s more substantial music results when she is not trying too hard to be showy and relevant. There are more coherent and meaningful substance in the song Papa Don’t Preach than in the entire American Life. This CD has Madonna trying too hard to make a point and be relevant, but unfortunately she forgot to brush up on her wordsmith first. The result is a lifeless polished showcase of ersatz sincerity.