True Blue


Sire Records, 1986

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


The third time was indeed the charm for Ms. Ciccone. Her 1986 release True Blue sold truckloads all over the world and completely sealed the deal when it came to cementing her superstar status. It helped to demonstrate that the success of Like A Virgin wasn’t just a fluke and that she was truly committed to her artistic career for the long term. It also didn’t hurt that she had just gotten married, even if it was to the incorrigible Sean Penn. Finding love at last obviously had an effect on her creativity. This new and improved Madonna was more willing to open up to the world and wasn’t afraid to show just how happy she was. One needs to look no further than True Blue’s title track to hear her brimming over with joy and lovesick abandon. It is one of those rare “fluff” pieces that has nevertheless proved itself amazingly sturdy over all these years.

For someone of Madonna’s tiny frame to become so…well, HUGE…was a remarkable achievement. Big things really do come in small packages. The early ‘80s were especially tough on women who were trying to break into the music business. Finding a female manager to represent her was perhaps the smartest move Madonna made during her rough and rocky early days in New York City. Surviving on favors and relying on the few friends she had, Madonna was a hard worker in any odd job she could find. Her strict work ethic, which her father had instilled in her when she was a young girl, would sometimes rub her early friends, bandmates, and other associates the wrong way. She also wasn’t afraid to get romantically involved with any man who came along, provided they could help her to get a leg up -- no pun intended.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

What True Blue did most of all was to leave the old Madonna -- and much of her ragtag past -- behind her. As a result, her image received a starker makeover than her music did.  She started exercising like a madwoman to shed some of her baby fat and to gear up for the inevitable world tour that was to follow. Then she cut her hair short and dyed it in the whitest shade of platinum she could find. The effect was striking and left thousands of wannabe’s devastated in her wake. As for the music part, she stuck with her tried-and-true producers, Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray, two men who had a lot more up their own sleeves, just as Madonna did. What sets these collaborators apart is the fact that they also co-wrote most of the hits that have become such an important part of the musical and cultural fabric in this country.

From the dramatic opener with its strong pro-life message, “Papa Don’t Preach,” right on through to the plea for hunger eradication “Love Makes The World Go ’Round,” True Blue cuts much deeper than her previous albums. The mature ballad “Live To Tell” is considered by many to be her slow-burn masterpiece. This song’s arrangement is so complex and the lyrics are so cryptic, it makes me wonder if Madonna even remembers writing it. I also like the fact that it is one of those rare Madonna songs that is open to interpretation. In terms of tone, it is as far from the buoyant title track as you could possibly get.

A song like “Where’s The Party” may not have aged all that well, but other filler tracks like “White Heat” and “Jimmy Jimmy” have. Whenever I hear those two songs, I am instantly transported back to the bright and sunny summer of 1986. And although I am a little tired of “La Isla Bonita” at this point, it was a solid jumping off point for Madonna’s intriguing Spanish phase, which would continue over the course of two more albums (remember “Who’s That Girl” and “Spanish Eyes?”). Madonna will be the first to tell you that she was undoubtedly Hispanic in a past life.

One of my all-time favorite Madonna hits has to be “Open Your Heart,” which was made all the more memorable by its oh-so-revealing peep-show music video. It’s somewhat surprising to see that it was Pat Leonard, not Stephen Bray, who brought the song to Madonna’s attention. Word has it that the arrangement was quite different before Pat Leonard got his hands on it and turned it into the #1 smash that we hear on the radio today. That is, if we can find a radio station that still plays Madonna.

Rating: A

User Rating: C



© 2008 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 Records, and is used for informational purposes only.