Monday, 20 July 2009

1986 Madonna: True Blue

Though she would happily 'borrow' from anyone and anywhere to shape her image, Madonna only rarely looked back to the past for her music, yet it's the sound of the past that inspires 'True Blue'. From Madonna's opening 'Hey, listen' we are firmly in Motown (or more specifically, Supremes) territory, typified by the strident lead vocal that's complimented by an all girl backing providing an alternate supplementary and counter melody. Play this back to back with 'Where Did Our Love Go' and you'll see what I mean.

With 'True Blue', the music takes a back seat to the relentless waves of interlocking vocal harmony that carry it along rather than the usual heavy dance beat and it's restless, never sitting still for a second. With a musical backing, it's not pure doo wop but the structures and intricacies of the genre inform the structure of 'True Blue' just as they did for the best of The Supremes' output. It may sound simplistic and throwaway, but there's a lot more going on under the bonnet that simply a few pistons pumping.

Allegedly a love letter to then hubby Sean Penn, the light-hearted tone of 'True Blue' is a welcome distraction from the cold and calculated precision that normally goes hand in hand with Team Madonna. By not trying quite so hard as usual, and with neither a controversial subject matter or video (apart from Madonna's attempts to cast herself as some psuedo Monroe figure), 'True Blue' can be enjoyed at face value as a breezily retro (but not kitsch) homage to the music Madonna must have heard on local radio when growing up in Detroit, the Motor City itself.

She sounds like she's having a blast anyway, so what a shame that, since her divorce to Penn, she doesn't play it live anymore and also banished it from her 'Immaculate Collection' hits album. The song deserves better and Madonna would do well to lighten up a bit more often.

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