Act of Contrition

After some more generic stalling, you're plunged into "I Deserve It" 's two strummed chords like you've accidentally wandered into some faraway singer-songwriter album from 1971. The transition is dramatic, hinting that Music's finally ready to mess around some. Both "I Deserve It" and its companion piece, "Nobody's Perfect" (a/k/a "Farewell, Bubba," a ready-made mea culpa for Bill's memoirs), are excellent variations on a genre Madonna does better than anyone: the Memory Song, à la "Live to Tell," "Oh Father," "This Used to Be My Playground," "I'll Remember," and other scattered ruminations on people and places she carries around in her head. On the assumption that "Nobody's Perfect" lifts its title from Some Like It Hot's famous closing line, I've gone ahead and conceptualized the video: Madonna (who was at her best on SNLsinging "Happy Birthday" to Phil Hartman's Clinton) as Marilyn, Kevin Spacey and Vince Vaughn in drag, meticulous shot-for-shot re-creation from Spike Jonze.

It was disappointing last year to see "Beautiful Stranger" lose year-end polls to a pleasant bit of nothing like "No Scrubs." I count it as Madonna's masterpiece, her own "Erotic City," with a hypnotic abandon that a friend correctly identified as rooted more in Creedence Clearwater than "Ray of Light" 's electronica. "Amazing" is another tale of obsessive-compulsive behavior with an equally unlikely texture—strip away the vocal and you're left with one of the faster numbers on Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. What amazes her, incidentally, is what a boy can do to a girl, a powerful hold that will forever remain a mystery to the boy because he'll never really know "What It Feels Like for a Girl." Which happens to be the name of my favorite song of all, the perfect answer record to The Virgin Suicides(where boys indeed stand on the side of the street looking uncomprehendingly on girls), thanks in no small part to the gossamer-like synthesizer percolating in the background (Air bubbles?).

No point in dwelling on the dirgey stuff, except to observe that Madonna's more fun going locothan going Nico. If you plan on taking in Musicpiecemeal via the radio over the next few months, hang around—better and weirder things are on the way. Meanwhile, should Madonna do anything really dubious in the next while to draw some attention to herself, please disregard parts of this review.

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