Well, this took some balls. A persistent criticism leveled against Madonna was that she was more image, controversy, and dominating personality than a strong singer. It is a fair criticism, to be quite honest, as her vocal range is limited, her tone can waver in live performance, and she can sound strained going for big glory notes at this point of her career. Yet pop music, the type of disco-ready grooves she traffics in, is heavily dependent on image, persona, and controversy, so it has always been, so it shall always be.
She was just smart enough to manipulate it to her advantage, and canny enough to seek out great collaborators to help her express her vision and develop her skills. She rewrote the pop rulebook to suit her needs, and nearly every female with a penchant for outrageous costuming and dance beats has followed her template. This still doesn’t mean the world needed a collection of her ballads.
Something to Remember is a pleasant if disposable collection of her material. Ballads have long been a hit-and-miss proposition from her. For every mind-blowingly gorgeous “Take a Bow” or nakedly emotional “Oh Father” there are songs that demonstrate the limits of her vocal abilities like “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” or maudlin “This Used to Be My Playground.” It levels out to making Something to Remember a slight but mostly enjoyable listen by sustaining a relaxed atmosphere of quiet grooves and restrained emotional outbursts.
Many of these songs were already easily available either through studio albums or prior compilations so it’s the new material that sticks out the most. I mean, not just the newly recorded material but the songs that make their first official appearance on something attributed directly to Madonna. “I’ll Remember” is a nice slice of feathery AOR while her Marvin Gaye cover is a hidden jewel in her vast catalog. “I Want You” was recorded with Massive Attack for a tribute album, and the collaboration creates a claustrophobic sonic atmosphere that creates glorious friction with her warm, passionate vocals. Never a great vocalist, she still manages to sing with tremendous soul and really sell the desperation in the lyrics.
The two new songs with David Foster are strictly from his school of bombastic balladry. “You’ll See” is charmingly defiant and given a distinct flavor with its Spanish guitar and percussion. Ever the smart businesswoman, she knew a hard-left was necessary after the public nearly abandoned her completely after the sexual provocations and temper tantrums of Erotica and Bedtime Stories. “You’ll See” found her putting her clothes back on, bottling up the theatrics, and giving the world a solid piece of acoustic pop. She even recorded a Spanish language version, just to cover all her bases. Then there’s “One More Chance,” bittersweet and yearning but ultimately forgettable. Despite releasing it as a single, she couldn’t even be bothered to film a video for the song. Too busy running off to shoot Evita I suppose.
So why should you get this? Well, it beats me. In the age of iTunes it’d probably be better to just download a few of the songs offered here that aren’t available anywhere else. It works as an argument for Madonna’s artistry and strengths as an interpretive singer, but it somehow feels inconsequential. As if a piece of the personality has been shackled and quarantined away. Hell, swapping out “Something to Remember” for “Sooner or Later” would improve things dramatically. We’re missing her sass and quirks by and large.
DOWNLOAD: “I Want You”