I'm Breathless


Sire/Warner Bros., 1990


REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Another year, another Warner Bros. movie tie-in. Hell, if Prince can do it (with 1989’s Batman), then so can Madonna.

What her offering, I’m Breathless, has is a sense of frivolity and fun. Like the Batman soundtrack album, only a few of these songs would be featured in the actual movie for Dick Tracy, while the others are inspired by the main characters and carry similar themes. Madonna may not be as pitch perfect on I’m Breathless as she was on the 1996 soundtrack to Evita, but she is clearly having much more fun.

To the trained ear, Madonna falters the most on the slow songs. She does a good job with the duet with Mandy Patinkin, “What Can You Lose,” but the much-touted “Something To Remember” is a mess. The complex arrangement is a tough one for anyone to wrap their head around, making Madonna’s attempt seem all the more awkward. And even though “Sooner Or Later” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, Madonna’s performance of this song during her Blonde Ambition Tour was the point where audience members stopped paying attention to her (gasp, horror) and opted to take a bathroom break. I guess it’s a good thing she passed on the leading role in my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Fabulous Baker Boys -- the one that ultimately went to Michelle Pfeiffer. Even her glitzy Academy Awards appearance with Michael Jackson would turn into a nerve-wracking experience.

Songs like “He’s A Man” and “Back In Business” tell the listener all they need to know about the Dick Tracy film. It is on loose songs such as these where Madonna sounds as if she is really having a ball, savoring the opportunity to do something different.

As the vamping bad girl Breathless Mahoney, Madonna seizes the opportunity to chew up some scenery in pursuit of the big Dick himself, namely Dick Tracy director and star Warren Beatty. There’s even a rare guest vocal by Beatty on “Now I’m Following You.” Though Madonna’s relationship with him would only last as long as publicity for the film did, she made the most of an otherwise sticky situation. It was refreshing to see her try to sing in an entirely different style of music and push herself to excel with her acting ability.

The two standouts on I’m Breathless have got to be “More” and “Vogue.” It’s too bad that “More” ended up as a forgotten B-side, because Madonna’s full-bodied voice is mighty impressive on this tongue-twisting Stephen Sondheim tune. At least it is included in the Dick Tracy film. The same cannot be said for the after-thought addition of “Vogue,” which is the only song on the album that doesn’t feature orchestra accompaniment. As an homage to screen icons of the past, it is one of Madonna’s finest musical works.

Unfortunately, critics weren’t kind to Madonna when this album was first released. Many felt as though she was in way over her head, while others dismissed the material as being nothing more than a series of “cutesy novelty numbers.” I think far too many music critics need to come down off their high horses and make a serious attempt to enjoy the music they are listening to. Yes, there are some disposable trifles like “I’m Going Bananas” that should have been left on the cutting room floor, but the majority of I’m Breathless is positively swinging.

Madonna’s sassiness shines through and complements the big band orchestra quite well. Who could forget the hysterical Arsenio Hall interview where Madonna discussed her salacious lyrics for “Hanky Panky?” The year 1990 certainly found the pop chameleon at her audacious and in-your-face best up to that point, and this is a big reason why.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B+



© 2007 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sire/Warner Bros., and is used for informational purposes only.