Saturday, 9 January 2016
Madonna Long Players: 2000-2004
This is my seventh blog looking at Madonna’s (UK) albums, and this month we look at what the Queen Of Pop got up to in the first half of the noughties. Post “Ray Of Light”, her US record company were not only making fancy special editions of each of her new LP’s, but also ensured that large numbers were being exported to the UK, and could usually be picked up at the same time as the regular UK pressings whilst new. So, details of not only the UK releases, but also these imports, will be mentioned in this blog (and the next one, due later this year and looking at the second half of the noughties).
Madonna entered the new millennium at the top of her game. 1999 had seen the release of the fabulous, “Light My Fire” apeing, pop nugget that was “Beautiful Stranger”, which only seemed to confirm that the genius of “Ray Of Light” had been no fluke. Things turned a bit sour soon enough, when the half hearted “American Pie” was issued as a single, even Madonna has now admitted she was coerced into recording it. It was one of two new tunes included on the soundtrack LP to her new movie, “The Next Best Thing”.
“Music”, the album, surfaced in late 2000. It seemed to have a mischievousness about it that “Ray Of Light” didn’t - that one had been all quite serious, new mum, with an earth hippy vibe, whereas the video for the title track of the new one, issued as lead 45, had an Ali G cameo and was naughty enough to get itself a TV ban, resulting in a special “clean edit” version of the clip needing to be created.
The big image this time around was that of a cowgirl. Stetson hats and checked shirts were the look here, with both the album and it’s first two singles featuring videos and artwork which channelled these visuals. Even today, some Madonna fans will still pitch up at a gig in a cowboy hat - easier than the “underwear as outerwear” look from 1985 I guess. As for the album itself, just as “ROL” had been the ‘William Orbit' record, this one featured major input from French producer Mirwais Ahmadzai.
“Music” was issued in the UK on what were, at the time, the three standard formats - vinyl, tape and CD. The vinyl copies seemed to remain on catalogue for years, I eventually bought one about a decade late, and it still seemed to be a first edition - sealed, same cat number, etc. Warners, at the time, were doing some sort of “home taping is killing music” campaign, and made the decision to put individually numbered holograms on each of the (initial) Compact Disc pressings, designed apparently to stop illegal downloading, I think. Any copies you buy today, however, are unlikely to have a hologram at all.
Of all of the UK editions, the rarest one of all is the autographed edition. OK, doing this from memory now, but I recall that Madonna was slowly starting to become a bit more “human”, and went to the effort of personally signing 175 copies of the CD edition, which were sold exclusively in the HMV branch on Bond Street in London. Basically, they each included a card insert with Madonna’s squiggle on the back. Suffice to say, they had sold out by mid-morning, and given that it was going to be the hardcore who made the effort to sit outside the shop for a couple of hours before it opened in order to get one, you are unlikely to find anybody willing to sell their copy. And before you ask, no, mine is off limits as well.
“American Pie” was shoved onto the end of the UK version of the album as a bonus track, something that was not done in the USA. The sessions had produced an outtake called “Cyber-Raga”, which was issued in the UK as a b-side, but was tagged onto the Australian and Japanese versions of the album as a further bonus track.
Now, the US special edition. Again, partly from memory. This took the whole cowgirl image to it’s natural limits, via the production of a “hessian” design digipack, which I am sure was always referred to as the ‘belt buckle’ sleeve. On the front you had a burnished copper plate, with a special “Madonna - Music” logo, which you could see being used as a belt buckle, if you had a vivid imagination.
There were two versions - US ones exported direct to the UK without “American Pie”, and copies seemingly made across two continents, which used the same sleeve, but came with German produced discs with a slightly different catalogue number, and “Pie” at the end. This meant the German ones had a catalogue number on the spine that was noticeably different to the one on the CD itself. All copies originally came shrink wrapped, with a “limited edition” sticker on the front, and a track listing sticker on the back. Because the packaging had been made in the US, but the discs in Europe, it meant there was no mention of “American Pie” inside the packaging at all.
It was produced in four different colours, with the black pressings being the rarest - quotes of £100 for unsealed copies were being thrown about soon after the event. I found one on eBay for £190 (plus postage) in late ‘15. According to Discogs, all four colours were circulated from both countries, meaning there are eight variant versions, if you fancy it. Obviously, the most valuable ones are the sealed ones that still have their front and back stickers intact, but even if you see an opened one in a charity shop with the stickers long gone, I would go for it. The number of songs it has will tell you if it is a US one or a German one, in case your eyesight prevents you from checking the catalogue number on the disc. I believe the German ones were designed specifically to be sold alongside their “normal” counterparts in bog standard record shops (I got one in the now defunct MVC), but I also have a few US ones, and so can’t remember how I got them as this was pre-internet days for me.
Madonna toured in 2001, the first time in eight years. This was seen as an event of such magnitude, that Warners decided to issue a “tour edition” version of the album to coincide. This wasn’t the first time a Madonna LP had been reissued in such a way (see the 1987 “free poster” pressing of the “True Blue” LP), but it was the first - and to date, only - Madonna album to be revamped in expanded form to coincide with concert dates. It was a 2-disc reissue, in a suitably tarted up slipcase, with remixes, foreign language versions, and videos on disc 2. Nothing here was unreleased, but most of it WAS new to the UK, so you may or may not come across un-sealed versions, depending on how much of a geek the original owner was.
Music (LP, Maverick 9362 47865-1)
Music (Cassette, Maverick 9362 47865-4)
Music (CD, Maverick 9362 47865-2, first 175 copies pre-signed)
Music (2xCD, Maverick 9362 48135-2, 2001 enhanced “Tour Edition”, all originally sealed, without “American Pie“)
Music (US CD in ‘Hessian’ sleeve, Maverick 9 47883-2, all originally sealed, without “American Pie”, but German variant editions do include it [9362 47921-2])
In my humble opinion, 2001’s “GHV2” remains the most obscure of all of Madonna’s albums. Even more so than remix ensemble “You Can Dance”. And that’s even without mentioning that it became the first Madonna album to not be made available on vinyl.
Why is it so obscure? Well, as the title suggests, it is the follow up to 1990’s “The Immaculate Collection” (GHV2 stands for ‘Greatest Hits Volume 2’). But unlike it’s predecessor, which was subjected to a promotional campaign longer and more intense than most studio records receive, “GHV2” just sort of appeared in time for Christmas, then disappeared again in the new year. Unlike “Immac”, there were no new songs, there was no “Q-Sound” remixing, and there were no singles released to coincide. In the UK, may I remind you, “Immac” spawned FOUR 45’s - more than “I’m Breathless”.
“GHV2” just sort of seems to suffer in every respect. Don’t get me wrong, the music is for the most part glorious (only the MOR monster of “Don‘t Cry For Me Argentina“, whilst it had to be here, does stick out like a sore thumb), overall Madonna was making better records in the 90s and 00s than she had been in the 80s, but whereas she was now more consistent, and at times, more daring, there is an argument that, as good as these singles were (see “Drowned World / Substitute For Love“), they didn’t quite have the bouncy pop “punch” of some of the earlier 45s. There may have been filler on those first three LP’s, but it was also the period that produced “Lucky Star”, “Borderline” and “Into The Groove”. “GHV2”, simply, is at a disadvantage from the off because it doesn’t have “Vogue” on it.
The album sort of, but doesn’t quite, run in chronological order, so that’s never a help. Certain singles are missing, space constraints are obviously going to be a factor, but apparently, the ones that got ditched did so on Madonna’s own say so. So, no “Bad Girl” but another outing for “Human Nature”. Grumble. The lack of Q-Sound remixing or indeed, ANY remixing, also means that you have here a compilation that contains nothing new at all, radio edits are included where they exist, but remember, all of these singles come from post-1991, so ALL were issued on the shiny CD format in the first place, so this is not even a best-of which can claim “track X on CD for the first time”. So, I just bought a copy, and then stuck it in a box. It’s been there for 15 years now. Apparently, there was a Cassette pressing, although I have no memory of actually seeing one in my local record emporiums, so it could be a Euro-only import.
A planned remix companion album failed to get off the drawing board. So the only other thing to mention is the US “Special Edition”. It was a fancy hardback book style thing, regular CD size, but designed to look swish when you opened it. Copies were originally shrink wrapped, and with nothing new on this release, there was no reason to bother opening them. So don’t ask me what it looks like inside, because I have no idea.
GHV2 (CD, Maverick 9362 48000-2)
GHV2 (Cassette, Maverick 9362 48000-4, possibly only sold in the UK in very limited numbers)
GHV2 (US CD in laminated hardback digipack sleeve, Maverick 9 48257-2, all originally sealed)
I haven’t listened to 2003’s “American Life” for a while, but from what I can remember, it wasn’t quite the rubbish Anti-American album that some people seem to have described it as. When I hear the singles, I hear nice twiddly electro-pop. It was almost as if Madonna’s view of the 9/11 tragedy and it’s aftermath was too near to the event to be viewed subjectively - when Green Day issued the equally ‘unpatriotic’ “American Idiot” a year later, most people - except Brandon Flowers - loved it.
Again, it was “previewed” via a movie tie in single, when Madonna’s quite fun 007 tune from 2002, “Die Another Day”, was included in the track listing, although it was sequenced as part of the main album, rather than being included as an “American Pie” style extra track. The “official” lead single, again in the form of the title track, came complete - as did the album - in Che Guevara inspired imagery, and with a military-esque promo video that managed to get itself banned.
The more you look at the period around this album, the more you feel it’s an album worthy of re-evaluation. Be it the not-at-all-war-related glamour of second single “Hollywood” (coming in both a beautiful sleeve, and with a monumentally stylish video), the Britney and Xtina lesbian threeway at the MTV Awards later the same year, the “Into The Hollywood Groove” mashup which is surely the most well known single ever to be made available only with a pair of jeans, and the “remixes and outtakes” bonus release of the “Remixed And Revisited” EP, which included ’metal’ inspired rock remixes, as an apparent nod to one of the considered musical approaches the album was originally envisaged to have, before M and Mirwais went down the “folk disco” route. Add to that the barrage of “non chart eligible” singles that Maverick tossed out in the UK, and it’s quite an interesting time in Madonna’s career, although it’s fair to say, 2005’s “Confessions On A Dance Floor” did help Madonna re-establish her “Queen” tag in a way this one didn’t.
Having now settled into married English life, Madonna turned up to do an in-store at a London HMV roundabout the time of the album’s release in the UK. Such a thing would have been un-imaginable ten or fifteen years before. The album appeared in the UK on vinyl and CD, with the LP copies originally coming shrinkwrapped. According to my notes, the LP was “technically” an import, as the suffix of the catalogue number differed from the CD format - something never before seen on “UK” Madonna releases. Again, there also exist cassette pressings, some of which use a similar catalogue number to the LP edition, my guess is that any that are in the “48439” range are German pressings with the potential of being exported into the UK, as both the LP and Tape editions use this number. “48454” is probably your ’proper’ “for sale in the UK only” release number, and you should actually find that only CD pressings exist in the UK with this number - meaning no official tape release at all. If anybody can shed a bit more light on the MC pressings of "GHV2" and "American Life", please get in touch, or add your comments below.
The US special edition came in a bigger-than-a-CD sized box. It included a poster and a set of Madonna stamps (possibly not legal tender). The front cover design differed slightly from the normal editions, as neither Madonna’s name, nor the LP title, were shown. Copies were originally sealed, but if you opened it, you found that the bit of card that was on the back of the box was not glued to said box, and just came away in your hands. However, it did reveal a “Parental Guidance” marking underneath, which for some reason, I like. So go on, if you get a sealed one, open it - the poster is quite nice, and is of a better design than the album cover, IMO.
American Life (LP, Maverick 9362 48439-1, all originally sealed)
American Life (CD, Maverick 9362 48454-2, enhanced CD including weblink)
American Life (US CD, Maverick 48440-2, enhanced CD in box with poster and stamps, all originally sealed with track listing on rear card insert)