Just missed pop diva and historical footnote, Martika gets the 'best of' treatment, leaving everyone but her most sentimental fans wondering why...
The Best of Martika feels like a bit of a rush job. One can only imagine the scene at the Columbia offices. The instant the executives heard that Eminem would be prominently featuring a sample of Martika's 1988 chart-topping single "Toy Soldiers" on a single from his Encore album, plans were surely put into place for a slapdash best-of collection. The result is The Best of Martika.
One must ask, however, if Martika really warrants a best-of collection. After all, her career as a late-1980s pop chanteuse spanned all of two albums and four top-20 singles, led by "Toy Soldiers" and "Love . . . They Will Be Done." She is often compared to other 1980s female pop singers like Madonna, Tiffany, and Debbie Gibson, although she did not achieve the popularity level of any of those artists. Consequently, her name has faded from the scene.
Has it been an injustice to relegate her to the dustbin of history? Will Eminem's sampling of her eerie breakup anthem inspire a rediscovery of a diamond hidden in the rough of cultural amnesia? After all, the mega-star rapper thought enough of her music to build "Like Toy Soldiers" around her haunting chorus. And after Martika's successful debut album, none other than Prince was compelled to collaborate with her on her sophomore effort. These factors make it tempting to attach to her the critical currency associated with Eminem and Prince. Martika must have been more than just a 1980s pop singer, right?
Well, yes and no. Granted, she's got some soul. The children's choir that intones the chorus of "Toy Soldiers" is stately and strange, but when Martika belts along with them in the chorus, with her voice pushed to it's upper range on the "all" in "We all fall down," the listener is hit on a gut level. And her most successful collaboration with Prince, the quiet and intimate hymn "Love . . . They Will Be Done," sounds sincere and heartfelt. The moody and pulsing track continually gains steam until it explodes in a cacophony of piping and popping melodies and harmonies, bouncing and bounding over the rhythm track: "Even when there's no peace outside my window / there is peace inside / and that's why I can no longer run / no, your will be done be done be done be done!" The song is emotionally compelling, expertly crafted, and genuinely sincere in its sense of devotion and piety.
But that's only two songs. The rest of the album sounds like nothing more than sub-par 1980s dance music. Yes, a lot of it is reminiscent of Madonna's "Lucky Star," which is a good thing, because "Lucky Star" is infectiously wonderful. But the reason we remember Madonna is that she did more than just "Lucky Star." Martika does not deserve to be forgotten, but I can't help but feel like she doesn't deserve a best-of collection either. Columbia must have realized the same thing, since they were forced to pad the end of the disk with remixes and foreign-language versions of four different tracks.
In the liner notes, David Hemingway wonders whether Martika's silence, which has lasted more than a decade, might be broken due to the success of the Eminem song. Based on the bulk of The Best of Martika, however, I don't think there would be much of a place for her in today's music scene. She sounds like your standard 1980s pop singer, with tinges of quirkiness. She certainly doesn't sound like the mysterious pop genius Columbia would like us to think her. "Toy Soldiers" is good, sure, but it doesn't exactly make her Brian Wilson. At the end of the day, Eminem's appropriation of Martika is more compelling than most of the stuff on Martika's best-of.