This, her third record, was the album Madonna dedicated to her (then) husband, actor Sean Penn, who she called “the coolest guy in the universe” within this LP’s liner notes. It’s also the album some have been known to say is the record which helped cement Madonna as a pop force to be reckoned with. Interestingly, looking back at True Blue now, it’s about 80% hit, 20% miss, with those miss moments aging rather poorly. Thankfully, the 80% hit portion of this long player really made up for what was lacking in that other 20.
Five near-perfect singles would come from this, Madonna’s 1986 follow up to Like A Virgin, True Blue. The first, one of the greatest pop ballads of all time, Live To Tell, came complete with a new look Madonna; fresh faced and recently married, Ciccone traded in her crucifixes and bracelets for a classic, cleaner look, paying homage to the blonde starlets of the 1950′s silverscreen. Singing of deceit and betrayal, Madonna, deeper than ever before, coos the words: “A man can tell a thousand lies, I’ve learned my lesson well, hope I live to tell the secret I knew then…/The truth is never far behind, you kept it hidden well… But perhaps the strongest lyrics in the song belong to The light that you could never see, it shines inside you can’t take that from me.” It would be 18 years before she would indirectly pay homage to that very lyric, in the final few seconds of American Life‘s X-Static Process. Live To Tell was the worlds first glimpse into a maturing Madonna – at the age of 27, the Material Girl had turned into a Modern Woman.
And then, just to show she really meant business, Madonna went and chopped all her hair off…
Papa Don’t Preach, whose video clip was the second time Madonna would completely reinvent her image in the public eye, serves as a particularly memorable moment from not only True Blue, but also Madonna’s career. The track, dealing with the sordid topic of Teenage Pregnancy (it was 1986, let’s not forget that), coupled with its subtle pro-life message took Madonna into new levels of controversy. She was older, wiser, and had more to say than she had before; True Blue didn’t just do a good job of making Madonna look mature, it completely re-evaluated the public opinion of her as a singer; she finally sounded mature. No more Minnie-Mouse-on-helium vocal strains, but a more natural and comfortable sounding Madonna whose voice, at the time, was at its absolute best.
Would you believe that it wasn’t up until recently (literally about 3 weeks ago) that I developed an appreciation for Open Your Heart, a song which I’d always thought was a bit of a bore? But listen to those lyrics… maybe I didn’t understand or could identify with what she was banging on about in 1986, but I certainly do now; “Open your heart to me, baby, I’ll hold the lock and you hold the key/I’ll give you love if you, you turn the key/One is such a lonely number.”
That said, my two favourite moments on the record lie with La Isla Bonita [watch the AMAZING Drowned World Tour performance of it here] (the first time Madonna would implement her obsession with all things Spanish into not just ANY pop song, but one of THE best in history), and the adorable True Blue. The latter, a dance-pop hybrid which paid homage to the influential girl groups of the 1960′s (and was written by Madonna with her hubby Penn in mind), saw the popster sing about there being “No more sadness, I kiss it goodbye, the sun is bursting right out of the sky, I’ve searched the whole world for someone like you… don’t you know, don’t know baby/This time I know it’s true love, you’re the one I’m dreaming of, love fits just like a glove/and I’m gonna be, True Blue, baby I love you.”
Album tracks such as White Heat and Where’s The Party have (surprisingly) aged incredibly well, but the album closers; Jimmy Jimmy and Love Makes The World Go Round, two of my favourites when the album actually came out, sound about as exciting and listenable as a Bullet For My Valentine record. Jimmy Jimmy, although playful, sounds somewhat embarassing, and although the message in Love Makes The World Go Round is something you could applaud, the cracks in production certainly prevent anything of the sort. And to think, that was supposed to be the records first single!
Obviously love played a major part in the creation of True Blue. Named after her hubby, dedicated to him, songs spilling with themes of romance… almost picture perfect. But the music depicted the opposite of what would occur. Penn’s temper would get the best of him, and eventually, the Poison Penn’s (as Madonna and Sean were dubbed by the press), were to call it a day. True Blue? No more.
One failed marriage down the gurgler. What would become of Madonna’s art, particularly now that she had portrayed an older, wiser approach to her songs and lyrics?
At this point, no one had any idea what was to come next, or how forceful Madonna’s next move was going to be…