Picks and Pans Review: I'm Breathless
Whatever kind of movie Dick Tracy turns out to be, this album—”music from and inspired by the film”—plays beautifully and ought to be an added incentive to the 18,000 or so Broadway composers who are at this minute no doubt trying to write a musical for Madonna.
Taking off from and with her role in the film as Breathless Mahoney, she has essentially switched eras, going from ’80s-’90s pop floozie to ’30s-’40s pop floozie. In doing so she displays the vocal resourcefulness that has always seemed to be milling around beneath her dance-hit posturing.
Some of her fans should be warned off. There are only two songs that qualify, by modern standards, as dance tunes. One is the second part of “Now I’m Following You,” which starts out as a syrupy ’30s romance tune and is ingeniously transposed into an infectious, disco-worthy track (by Madonna, her co-producer Patrick Leonard and programmer Kevin Gilbert). The other is the non-Tracy related “Vogue,” the Madonna-Shep Pettibone tune that encourages a freeze-frame, pantomime kind of dancing. (This is not exactly a revolutionary idea, having shown up in a 1937 record by the Tommy Dorsey band, “Posin’,” which was released in 1937 and sung by Edythe Wright, a tangy Swing Era vocalist.)
Most of this album, though, is period music, appealingly sung in variously swingy, bluesy, Kansas City and boogie-woogie inflections. Madonna even handles the typically convoluted (and fascinating) Stephen Sondheim tunes “Sooner or Later” and “More,” which includes the lines “More is better than nothing/ But nothing’s better than more.”
A third Sondheim song, “What Can You Lose,” is a quiet duet Madonna sings effectively with Mandy Patinkin. She holds back in another duet, on the first part of “Now I’m Following You,” the better to avoid drowning out wussy-voiced Warren Beatty.
Madonna and Leonard wrote most of the material Sondheim didn’t, including the paean to kink, “Hanky Panky”: “Better like hanky panky/ Nothin’ like a nice good spanky”; “Some guys like to sweet talk/ Some guys like to tease/ Tie my hands behind my back and I’m in ecstasy.” They also did the supercynical “Back in Business,” which includes a sax solo by Jeff Clayton that is surprisingly extended for a Madonna record. (The drummer on a few tracks, by the way, is listed as Jeffrey Porcaro, who seems to have promoted himself from the mere “Jeff” he uses as a member of Toto.)
Then again this isn’t a Madonna record by any normal standard. She has recorded plenty of splendid pop music before, along with the flouncy drivel, but this album is musically intriguing, intense and a lot of fun. It also gives Madonna, who has displayed almost everything else about herself, a chance to display a deeper, more versatile side to her talent. (Sire)