Tuesday, 14 June 2016
Here we go again. Another Madonna LP blog, this time looking at what Madonna did during the second half of the noughties. In keeping with the last blog, we shall make mention of the special edition releases that appeared in the USA for the two studio albums from this period, and the discography at the end lists the official UK editions. In comparison to earlier albums, overall, the choice is limited - as Cassette pressings had more or less died a death, and the Compact Disc was normally the format of choice.
But this was also a period in which Madonna ventured into the world of the live album - all previous efforts having been concert films, videos and DVD’s. It’s not been the most brilliant decision, and we shall see why later. Note, that the discography is for ‘album’ releases only - DVD releases without an audio element were also issued for some of these live releases, but we shall detail them another time.
We begin with a career highlight. 2005’s “Confessions On A Dancefloor” was, like “Ray Of Light” before it, a reminder that nobody does pop music like Madonna does. Heralded by the incendiary Abba-sampling first single “Hung Up”, this was a return to the joyous, bouncy, disco that Madonna had partly sidestepped on the overtly political “American Life”. Whereas that record had an air of sadness and anger, driven by a post 9/11 attitude, this LP was mostly high energy, straight to the point, future pop of the highest order.
It was, kind of, a follow up to 1987’s “You Can Dance”, a record which had been designed to acknowledge the club scene, by featuring one long continuous mix on each side of the album. With “Confessions” being issued in the CD era, the decision was taken to mix everything on the album into one, 56 minute long, mix. It helped to create an exhilarating and often euphoric sound, and it’s modern influences meant that the album didn’t just take on the youngsters of this world, like Britney and Girls Aloud, but essentially reminded them how it was supposed to be done in the first place.
Whereas the promo campaign for “American Life” petered out after three singles, the critical acclaim afforded “Confessions” seemed to give it legs, and Warners issued one hit single after another. In the UK, multiple formats, picture discs and a wave of remixes due to another change in UK formatting rules, helped to produce a series of quite exciting releases. The Pet Shop Boys were invited to remix “Sorry”, whilst “Jump” featured that rare occurrence - an actual B-side in the form of “History”. And then there was the US only triple-12” set, “Confessions Remixed”, a 6 track release consisting of revamps of “Hung Up”, “Sorry”, “Get Together”, “I Love New York” and “Let It Will Be”.
Although the album’s big selling point was it’s continuous mix approach, the two most interesting releases were actually those that messed with this design. First, a limited edition boxset edition of the album featured a bonus track, “Fighting Spirit”, which simply appeared as an isolated track after the 56 minute mix had ended. My copy is from the US, but I am told there was a European pressed edition. Then there was the vinyl edition, which, realising that it was going to be impossible to do anything with the continuous mix situation, instead opted to include unique, unedited mixes of all the tracks. UK copies were also pressed on pink vinyl, so, if you only buy one UK edition of this LP, this really should be it - probably. Might be hard to find a copy cheaply nowadays though.
Whilst Madonna headed back out on tour in the summer of 2006, there was then the slightly confusing issue of a new live release from her previous tour. “I’m Going To Tell You A Secret” was a ‘Truth Or Dare’ style documentary, documenting Madonna’s 2004 “Reinvention” tour - itself a slightly delayed promo plug for the “American Life” album from the year before. As you’d expect, the concert film was issued as a DVD - but came with a free CD. No previous Madonna concert release had headed down this route.
One reason for this change of approach may possibly have been that, being a documentary, the amount of actual music in the film amounted to just over an hour’s worth of material only - something which could be squeezed onto a CD quite easily. And so, it was issued as a sort of “live album with free movie” release. Essentially, the songs that were included in the film were thus utilised for the audio disc, along with a couple of audio only exclusive extras - but this still meant that a big chunk of the gig was completely AWOL. In some instances, the performances in the film were fairly complete, and were thus near DVD to CD transfers, but most of the songs had been subjected to some form of editing, and the CD featured these songs in “unbutchered” form. The CD also ended with a quite brilliant demo of “I Love New York”, wildly different to the finished version on “Confessions”.
For reasons that are not totally clear, the album was issued as a CD+DVD set, and a DVD+CD set. “What’s the difference” you ask. Well, I am guessing the CD+DVD set was aimed at the album charts, the DVD+CD at the video charts, and each release came in packaging ’tailored’ for the format. So the CD+DVD release came in a CD sized box, with a catalogue number based on typical Warners albums, and the DVD+CD came in a DVD sized box, with a catalogue number based on typical Warners video releases. The cat number listed down below is for the CD+DVD release only, just to make it a bit clearer in the context of this article, but it all actually gets more confusing later on. We shall come to that soon enough. We shall leave the DVD+CD release for now for my future “Madonna Live Videos” blog, which is in it‘s very early stages of production.
Whilst all this was going on, the cameras had been carted off to Wembley Arena to film several of Madonna’s shows for her next concert DVD. The not brilliantly titled “The Confessions Tour” was originally a TV broadcast, issued officially in the early part of 2007 - making it three new bits of Madonna product in 18 months.
Aside from the expected DVD release, there was also a CD+DVD set in a CD sized digipack, but whereas the audio element of “Secret” did seem to have an air of usefulness about it, the audio element of “TCT” didn’t. The DVD ticked all the boxes, featuring a typical full length Madonna show in glorious technicolor, thus bettering “Secret” in terms of “concert tour documentation”, but the accompanying CD this time around was obviously restricted to whatever could be squeezed onto an 80 minute long audio disc, so all you got were edited highlights lifted straight from the DVD. Pointless, really. But slightly more strange was the fact that, at the time of writing, this was the beginning of a series of live albums that would be issued to document every tour Madonna subsequently conducted, with the soundtrack of said CD being lifted from the accompanying DVD. And given that this sudden obsession with live albums coincided with Madonna facing increasing accusations of miming, makes the idea of a “live album” even more confusing.
2008’s “Hard Candy” was always going to struggle to shine whilst it remained in the shadow of the “Confessions” long player, and despite arriving with the usual hype and excitement that surrounded all previous Madonna albums - remember the now famous mini gig in Maidstone as part of the Radio 1 “Big Weekend“ ? - critical acclaim overall was a bit muted. It’s reference points of hip hop and modern R&B were always in danger of meaning that Madonna might be selling herself a bit short, and indeed, launching the album via a single featuring both the bland Justin Timberlake and the not-particularly-great Timbaland (“4 Minutes”) was not the sort of arrival akin to that that “Hung Up” had given the predecessor. To be fair, it’s not a bad album, and there were moments of glorious pop like “Heartbeat” and the thrilling follow up 45 “Give It To Me”, it‘s just it was given an impossible task.
There were two editions from the US that were of collectors interest. First up, was the boxset edition which used a slightly different sleeve (the Madonna image from the regular edition, but printed against a black, and not candy coloured, background) and featured a couple of bonus remixes of “4 Minutes”. It also came with a booklet, and, yep, a bag of ‘Starlite Mint Candies’ sweets in a cellophane bag. Suffice to say, any copies that get sold with the sweets missing are worthless. Probably one of the most ridiculous items I have in the collection. By all accounts, the copies that were imported into the UK were marketed as “semi UK” versions, as Discogs quotes a ‘UK release date’ for the box. Still a US release as far as I am concerned.
There was also a vinyl release on ’Candy Coloured’ vinyl. This was a quite elaborate affair, which in addition to having the album pressed as a double, also included a bonus black vinyl 12” with a couple of remixes of “4 Minutes” (different to those on the boxset edition), along with a CD of the regular 12 track album. There has been, in recent years, a real obsession not only with vinyl, but attempts to allow purchasers of said vinyl to not have to actually worry about playing it, with digital downloads and free CD’s often made available as part of the pack. I can both understand this, but also wonder exactly why this happens so often, as some vinyl experts will tell you they buy vinyl because of it’s warm sound, and so probably don’t want some free MP3’s to go alongside it.
I have already mentioned on an earlier blog the head scratching “random” order in which Madonna’s 2009 “Celebration” best-of followed. Madonna’s third hits set, it marked the end (sort of) of her lengthy association with Warners, and unlike the two previous comps which were designed to be listened to one after the other, this one covered her entire career.
It didn’t matter what format you went for - you would get an album full of decent songs, but shuffled around so that you had no idea of just how Madonna’s music had developed since 1982. The mix of production techniques and the pitch of Madonna’s voice going up and down, makes for a slightly incoherent listen - in my opinion.
The “basic” format was the double CD, where each disc concluded with a new song - “Revolver” on one, and “Celebration” on the other. In a slightly strange throwback to the days when record companies would issue cheap, edited highlights, versions of an album for the poorer music lovers, the album was also issued as an 18 track “short” single disc release, minus “Revolver” and multiple hits. It came in a slightly different cover, same image, but in a more ‘colourless’ sleeve. But it doesn’t include “Borderline” so really, what’s the point?
There was also a vinyl edition. Now, I don’t seem to have this. Either it was so limited I never saw it, or I discounted it as it wasn’t technically a UK edition (Madonna’s UK releases had all been pressed in Europe for many years by this point, and were then generically scattered around the EU, with no UK editions receiving their own catalogue numbers anymore), or it was too expensive. Copies, be they from the ‘UK’ or the US, seem to be fetching ridiculous prices on the market now, suggesting they were marked up quite highly to start with - I really can’t remember much about how I didn’t buy a copy! But if you want one, it’s a quadruple-LP utilising the track listing from the double-disc edition. In terms of “non album” singles, well, you get “Into The Groove”, “Justify My Love”, “Crazy For You”, “Who’s That Girl”, and “Beautiful Stranger”. No “Gambler” again for the second time, almost as if Madonna was continuing to hide this one away from the world, thus increasing it’s obscurity status.
Even though “Celebration” was touted as the final fling for Madonna‘s Warners career, that honour actually fell to 2010’s “Sticky And Sweet Tour”. Another concert film with free album, this show was taped way back during the first leg of the tour in Argentina in 2008, the gig first being shown on TV before eventually being issued “officially” well over a year later. In the UK, the album was issued, technically, on two formats with no “video only” releases, and thus both came with “9362” catalogue numbers, as per all Warners album releases as mentioned earlier. But whilst the DVD+CD edition came in a CD sized digipack sleeve, the BluRay+CD release was actually housed in a slightly oversized plastic, but standard for that format, BluRay case instead.
As per the “Confessions” release, the film was a full blown document of a typical Madonna show, although being filmed in Buenos Aires, this particular gig saw “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” shoehorned into the show as a bonus. The 2009 leg of the tour saw some alterations, but you will need to shop around on YouTube for anything from those dates. But the CD, again, being a CD, was restricted to 79 minutes of audio, so you just had a 13 song “edited highlights” set. I’ll be honest - it’s been a while since I listened to the CD, but I have a feeling at least one song may have been slightly edited for the audio side of the package, so if you get hold of a copy, you may want to give the audio disc a spin just to see if you can spot the differences.
And that was that. A slightly low key end to a lengthy, mostly brilliant, and highly successful, collaboration between artist and label. 28 years on from “Everybody”, and it was all over. Well, sort of. Warners were about to do an “RCA mining the pre-1981 Bowie catalogue” style bit of work on Madonna, but waited until she had a new studio album out until they did it. Madonna on LP in 2012 is coming soon.
Confessions On A Dance Floor (CD, Warner Bros 9362 49460 2)
Confessions On A Dance Floor (2 x Pink Vinyl LP, Warner Bros 9362 49460 1)
Confessions On A Dance Floor (Limited US CD, Warner Bros 2 49464 2, Boxset edition with 2 books and “Icon” fan club membership insert)
I’m Going To Tell You A Secret (CD+DVD, Warner Bros 9362 49990 2)
The Confessions Tour (CD+DVD, Warner Bros 9362 44489 2)
Hard Candy (CD, Warner Bros 9362 49884 9)
Hard Candy (Limited US CD, Warner Bros 2-440444 (#1))
Hard Candy (2 x US Coloured Vinyl LP + 12” + CD, Warner Bros 1-470972 (#1))
Celebration (2 x CD, Warner Bros 9362 49729 6)
Celebration (CD, Warner Bros 9362 49927 4)
Celebration (4 x LP, Warner Bros 9362 49729 3)
Sticky And Sweet Tour (CD+DVD, Warner Bros 9362 49728 4)
Sticky And Sweet Tour (CD+BluRay, Warner Bros 9362 49675 4)