Music. Over the years it has grown and evolved, with artists pushing the boundaries and creating new sounds and genres to keep things fresh. Music artists must keep moving forward to survive (or at least, until they've been going long enough for them to starting living off of nostalgia).
Coming into the late 1980s, Madonna was no different. Having recently turned 30, she was looking to confirm her career's longevity, to expand her fanbase beyond the youth. She also wanted to explore more serious topics in her lyrics, to use her platform to speak about issues she felt were important. So, how would she do this? Oh, only by releasing one of the greatest pop records of all time.
From start to finish, this album absolutely radiates with fantastic songs, fantastic production and fantastic singing. The likes of 'Express Yourself', 'Cherish' abd 'Keep It Together' bring the fun if you fancy a dance, whereas 'Promise to Try' and 'Oh Father' are beautifully emotional moments that are performed with grace and poise. The album is varied and yet consistent, with essentially those two types of song interchanging. The order of the tracklisting is an important and underappreciated element of making an album, and it has been absolutely nailed on here. The mood certainly swings, but never in a way that feels like a jolt to the neck.
One particular highlight of the album, naturally, is 'Love Song', written and performed with Prince. The two contrasting styles (his signature guitar and her synths) are gelled perfectly together to make a unique, disco-pop track quite unlike anything else on the album. Backed by a slow, powerful drum machine, it certainly feels tense and mysterious, and a certain sexual energy courses throughout. It's a track that would certainly fit onto a, er, bedroom playlist.
Madonna must also be commended for using her platform to bring attention to issues of the day; in this case, 'Spanish Eyes' (alternatively titled 'Pray For Spanish Eyes' on some editions) dealt with the problems regarding AIDS, at the time a taboo issue that people often refused to talk about. Make no mistake, having people like Madonna discuss the issues makes a difference, and it was a brave decision from Madonna to dedicate a song to it.
With that being said, Madonna's not exactly known to be shy, a point best illustrated by the title track. Without doubt THE greatest pop song of all-time, 'Like a Prayer' discusses both religion and sexuality, deftly comparing the similarites between the two despite their uneasy relationship. The video goes even further, as it also adds the issue of racism into the equation. Featuring a case of racially-aggravated mistaken identity and Ku Klux Klan-style burning crosses, Madonna and director Mary Lambert did not hold back on their imagery, and perhaps most controversially, the video features a saint whom Madonna kisses. A saint...who is black.
The combination of "blasphemous" religious imagery and lyrics being interspersed with sexual themes made 'Like a Prayer' one of most controversial songs of its day, but this lack of fear that Madonna holds it what makes her who she is, and when we look beyond the controversy, we see and hear a song that discusses the similarities between different types of 'ecstacy' and how they relate to one another. It is one of the greatest songs ever recorded; the controversy was just a marketing bonus, more than anything.
The album, then. It addresses big issues and sometimes hits hard emotionally, whilst also retaining a lot of the fun and vigour that had made Madonna's name in the years previously. This was a turning point in her career, the first time she really wanted to focus her lyrics on deeper topics and make a full album of classics, rather than focussing on her single game. This slight change of direction worked wonders and what she created was an album that stands the test of time and then some. Like a Prayer remains an excellent album, and if you've never heard it before - as I hadn't, save for the title track - then it's one you should be sure to get around to. And even if you have, go and revisit it. A brilliant, varied and, at times, daring record that solidified her title as the Queen of Pop.