[13 February 2007]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005) was Madonna’s heralded return to club music. Not only did the album resuscitate her record sales, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 and topping charts worldwide, its singles (“Hung Up”, “Jump”, “Sorry”, and “Get Together”) were among the most infections club hits of Madonna’s 25-year career. Altogether, Confessions on a Dance Floor proved that Madonna, approaching 50 years-old, is a vital force in the ever-expansive landscape of popular music. Buy that album. Her latest release, however…
The Confessions Tour follows on the release of I’m Going to Tell You a Secret (2006), which was a documentary about Madonna’s “Re-Invention” tour. Like its predecessor, The Confessions Tour is a lavish CD/DVD package. Instead of a documentary, the DVD on this set presents a full-length concert directed by Jamie King from Madonna’s Wembley Arena date. The CD contains 13 highlights from the show. Aside from over-saturating the market with three Madonna releases in two years, there’s a fundamental problem with the release of The Confessions Tour.
Experiencing recorded dance music in a club and hearing it rendered live in concert on a CD constitutes two very different experiences. The 4/4 beat that stimulates the body to dance sounds less dense in such a massive space like Wembley. This works against the The Confessions Tour since most tracks have a fast beats-per-minute count. If the beat is a bone, so to speak, there isn’t a lot of muscle cushioning it. The aural clarity and seamlessness of the songs on Confessions on a Dance Floor are also butchered on The Confessions Tour by zealous audience reactions. Enjoying propulsive tracks like “Hung Up” and “I Love New York” is difficult because of interminable vamps that are dotted by annoying hoots and hollers. Just what is everyone yelling about at the 00:42 mark during “Sorry”?
Such curiosities are answered on the DVD of The Confessions Tour. Whereas the CD is a superfluous “value add”, the DVD is thrilling entertainment, particularly for Madonna fans. Since Madonna is among the few artists to successfully and consistently exploit the visual medium to her benefit, it should surprise no one that The Confessions Tour is a stellar visual experience. Each song is dramatized and choreographed to within an inch of its life; therein lies Madonna’s most indispensable and enduring talent—dancing. The limbs that gave birth to a million “Madonna Wannabe’s” are stronger and more sinewy than ever. On The Confessions Tour Madonna is joined by a dozen or so dancers who narrowly escape injury during remarkable acrobatic dance sequences. Even more amazing is that Madonna breathlessly keeps pace with every one of them.
The stage design of The Confessions Tour gives Madonna and her “children” a decadent playground to frolic about. The moment she enters the stage inside a gargantuan mirror ball, understatement ceases to exist. Most notorious among Madonna’s grandiose gestures is her entrance from the stage floor cuffed to a gigantic crucifix posed like Jesus Christ, replete with a crown of thorns. After singing “Live to Tell”, Madonna descends the cross and warbles “Forbidden Love”. Accompanying her are male dancers who stand side-by-side in two’s, intertwining their arms and hands in obvious defiance to the cross. It’s an effective tableau.
Following a static-fueled montage of vintage Madonna videos, a DJ announces, “All right boys and girls, it’s time to get your dance shoes on. You’re listening to K UNT. (Get it?) It’s all Madonna, all the time”. The familiar bass line of “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps explodes with a chorus-line’s worth of disco dancers and roller skaters. Madonna emerges in a three-piece white suite à la John Travolta and sings “Music” over the sampled track. It’s gloriously fun, feckless, and tacky.
Less so are Madonna’s cold rearrangements of “Like a Virgin” and “Lucky Star”. The soulless Eurodisco beat fails to match the charm of the originals. The melodies are basically sung over chord progressions that bear little resemblance to the original arrangements. “Lucky Star”, for example, is paired with the track to “Hung Up”, itself a sampling of ABBA’s “Gimmie! Gimmie! Gimmie! (A Man After Midnight)”. The match is not made in heaven, though Madonna’s skin-tight, ABBA-esque jump suit is an amusing intertextualization.
But even the most rabid anti-Madonna listener or cynical music lover would find elements of The Confessions Tour impressive, whether the jaw-dropping talent of Madonna’s B-boys and girls, the awe-inspiring diligence of her lighting and sound crew, her rock-chick pose on “I Love New York”, or the audacity of her massive “fuck you” to George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Osama Bin Laden, and Condoleezza Rice on “Sorry”.
The oversaturation of recent Madonna product is ultimately what precludes The Confessions Tour from being wholly satisfying to anyone but the die-hard Madonna fan. How many people actually care to hear Madonna lead the audience in a three-minute call-and-response contest to the “Time goes by so slowly” refrain from “Hung Up”? Clocking in just under four hours, Madonna might as well be referencing the The Confessions Tour package.