Madonna, Santogold Make Dance Records Blender magazine's Lizzie Goodman tests out the week's biggest new albums, paying special attention to releases from Portishead, Madonna, Robyn, and Santogold.


Music Reviews

Madonna, Santogold Make Dance Records

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OK, we've been talking about it all hour. This is New Music Tuesday. It's a big day in new release land. How big you ask?


How big?

MARTIN: It is so big there are records we could not even fit into our segment! New albums from Blue Eyed Soul Crooner, Jamie Lidell, the debut from Kanye West collaborator, Estelle, brand new awesomeness from Def Leppard. That was the name of my soccer team in eighth grade, by the way.

PESCA: Def Leppard?

MARTIN: Yeah, I know. We were totally rocking.

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: And believe it or not, a new record from Philly's greatest, the Roots. It's kind of bitter sweet, to be honest. Well, maybe not so bitter. We're going to have the Roots in studio to talk about their record. It's called "Rising Down."

That'll happen in the next hour. What do we do now? We're going to talk about even more new releases with Lizzie Goodman, editor-at-large for Blender Magazine, who is here in studio. Hey, Lizzie.

Ms. LIZZIE GOODMAN (Editor-at-Large, Blender Magazine): Hey there.

MARTIN: Thanks for coming in.

Ms. GOODMAN: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Let's start with Portishead. Now, if one happened to have been the type to go to a certain kind of dinner party back in the '90s, you might have heard this band kind of being played on low, low volume with a little fondue pot, perhaps. They were part of the trip-hop scene, right?

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. I mean, I think sort of grudgingly, but yes, by default, they were part of the tri-hop scene. That's kind of - if you go on Wikipedia, Portishead are listed as trip-hop, so obviously that's the source to be reckoned with.

PESCA: I'm on Wikipedia, and I'll check that. Go ahead.

MARTIN: Yeah. So, but they took a major hiatus.

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah, I mean, you know, they're kind of one of those bands that never really...

PESCA: (Reading) Portishead, an English trip-hop group from...

Ms. GOODMAN: There you go! See, I'm glad that I'm being backed up here, because usually when I say things I have not researched them at all.

PESCA: Yeah.

Ms. GOODMAN: But this one instance was an occasion which I had, so good for me. Just kidding. Yeah, you know, they were always a group that kind of took breaks between - they were never super press - pressed into being rock stars, they were always kind of press shy.

So it's not really that surprising that it's taken them this long to record a third album, although it's still kind of surprising. I mean, they took several years between their first and second records, but certainly not 11 years, which is how long it's been before the third record.

MARTIN: OK. Let's get a little sample of what their offering us on this new album. The song is called "Machine Head."

(Soundbite of song "Machine Gun")

PORTISHEAD: (Singing) Saw a savior. A savior comes my way. I thought I'd see it At the cold light of day.

MARTIN: So, I stand corrected, I said "Machine Head." It's called "Machine Gun," and it sounds kind of like a machine gun.

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. They have, you know, what I like about this record is that in waiting as long as they have to release it, they've sort of evaded having to - avoided having to continue to release albums that sound like their first two records. It's much more industrial and sort of haunted than trip-hoppy.

I don't really feel like putting on a minimalist party and going to a fondue party. It's sort of more - it's darker and weirder, and yeah, a little more industrial than trippy. So, it's good. They've kind of avoided having to stick with what everyone knew them for by waiting this long to record a third record.

PESCA: By the way,, evade, to avoid. So, both...

Ms. GOODMAN: Do you want to just follow me around in life?

MARTIN: Poor Lizzie! Poor, poor Lizzie!

PESCA: We'll catch you in a lie once.

Ms. GOODMAN: One of these days I'm going to mess up and you're going to be there to catch it and I'm going to be looking forward to that day.

MARTIN: Yeah. Welcome to my world, Lizzie Goodman. OK. We are going to swiftly move to Madonna. Madonna.


MARTIN: And I'm so into this album.

Ms. GOODMAN: Me, too!

MARTIN: Yeah. Not to reveal the punch line. So, new album.

Ms. GOODMAN: Just kidding. It sucks. No.

MARTIN: Let's get right into it. It's called "Hard Candy." She's pretty much putting it out there. The title itself is illustrative of what's going on with this album, right?

Ms. GOODMAN: Well said. Very well said.

MARTIN: That's it. That's all you got to say.

PESCA: Lizzie Goodman. Lizzie Goodman writes for Blender Magazine.

Ms. GOODMAN: And that's it. No, I mean, she keeps saying, "my sugar is raw" all over the first intro song, so, you know, I think that she's getting right to point there and that this is - Madonna's released another dance album.

We thought "Confessions," her last record, was going to be a dance record, but it was really more of a disco album - this is, which, of course, is a kind of dance, just to preempt any corrections that may be coming my way in a few moments.

PESCA: They're not corrections. I'm confirming you!

Ms. GOODMAN: Additions - yeah, there you go. Thank you. Confirmations.

PESCA: That's all I do. That's right.

Ms. GOODMAN: I like it.

PESCA: Confirmations.

Ms. GOODMAN: Well, I'm going to confirm myself.


Ms. GOODMAN: But you know, this album is sort of much more traditional '80s-club Madonna. This is "Desperately Seeking Susan" Madonna. This is early, early, you know - she's there with the 400 plastic arm bracelets, and you know, like wearing boxer shorts and suspenders. That's this Madonna.

MARTIN: Except this time she's wearing like this leotard and her body is ridiculous.

Ms. GOODMAN: Her body is ridiculous.

MARTIN: She's 49!

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. I think she's showing off for the 50th birthday.

MARTIN: She's totally showing off. She's totally showing off. Let's get a sense of what's going on on this album. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of song "Give It to Me")

MADONNA: (Singing) Give me brace line and I'll shake it. Give me a record and I'll break it. There's no begging and no ending. Give me a chance to go and I'll take it.

Don't stop me now. Don't need to catch my breath. I can go on and on and on. When the lights go down and there's no one left I can go on and on.

Give it to me. Yeah. No one's going to show me.

MARTIN: So, the song's called "Give It to Me." She's got a lot of big name producers on this album, right?

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. She hired everyone. I guess that's the major difference between '80s-club Madonna and today's Madonna is she can get anyone she wants to show up in the studio for her. So yeah, she's got everyone from Farrell to Justin Timberlake to Timbaland. Kanye West has a guest appearance on the album.

She basically just showed up at a studio and opened up her little black book and called everyone up. But what's great about that again is that even though there's incredible production on this record, and really high-end production, it still sounds sort of old-school '80s Madonna. And so, it's the perfect marriage of her two identities, I think.

PESCA: If you buy this album, will the songs that aren't released as singles, will those still satisfy you?

Ms. GOODMAN: You know, I - yeah. And I think that's actually a really good point ,and a really good distinction between this and some of her most recent records released this decade, is that for me - yeah, I mean, when I talked to Farrell about this record right before it came out and he was like, oh, you're going to love it. It's a workout album.

You put it on. You're going to be able to work out for the whole duration of the album. And I was like, oh, that's so such a lie, and I don't believe you for a second, and then I put it on and it's - I mean, you know, we're moving here in the studio just hearing it, so I think, actually, yeah, it is very strong pretty much all the way through.

PESCA: Right. The lie is, even if you do work out, you'll never look like Madonna. That's the lie.

Ms. GOODMAN: That is the lie, yes. Yes.

MARTIN: Let's move now to another totally rocking chick. This woman's name is Robyn. She is from Sweden.

Ms. GOODMAN: She sure is.

MARTIN: And she has been a big deal in Europe and other places for a very long time. American's kind of coming to her late in the game, right?

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. It's - she's really had resurgence. I mean, internationally, her career sort of fell off, I think, pretty much across the board in the last couple of years, and so this is a big comeback for her across the board, but additionally here. She's getting all this attention. And honestly, this is one of those things where you just go, I don't know why this is suddenly becoming such a big deal, why she's suddenly sort of penetrating here in America.

But she is, and hallelujah! And it's to be celebrated because she is just hilarious. She's sassy. She's confident. She is the sort of strong, powerful, pop-female presence. But she's very, very witty. So, to have that combination up there, like a blonde Swedish chick who's hot and also really cool is a really good combination.

MARTIN: And this is a release in the States. This is something that's been out for at least a year, right? Or something?

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. She's had - and some of, you know, because her career is so varied and she's had so much material behind her, I think some of the songs have appeared in different forms in previous places, but this is the release, "Robyn." It's called "Robyn." It's self-titled. That's the album that's coming out here and it's fantastic.

MARTIN: Let's listen to "Who's That Girl?"

(Soundbite of song "Who's That Girl?")

ROBYN: (Singing) Yay. Good girls are happy and satisfied. I won't stop asking until I die. No. I just can't deal with the rules. I can't take the pressure. It's got me thinking, oh, yeah.

Who's that girl that you dream of? Who's that girl that you beg you love? Who's that girl? That I'm nothing like her. I know there's no such girl.

MARTIN: Speaking of "Desperately Seeking Susan," I can't stop thinking...

Ms. GOODMAN: I know.

MARTIN: "Who's That Girl" by Madonna. At the same time, I can't stop thinking about Cindy Lauper when I hear that tune, too.

Ms. GOODMAN: Those are good thoughts. I think all those thoughts are good thoughts.

PESCA: Well, you know, Swedes just want to have fun.

Ms. GOODMAN: There you go. Oh, nice.

PESCA: But, I was wondering, do we get the best of Swedish music or just the best of Swedish music that speaks English?

MARTIN: All the Swedes speak English.

Ms. GOODMAN: They all speak English.

PESCA: They do.

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: Like, better than you, Mike Pesca.

PESCA: Yeah. Tough, tough bar.

MARTIN: It's true. It's true. They really do.

PESCA: Sweden has a population of nine million. And with all these acts coming out it just seems like very ripe for musical success. I don't know how they do it.

MARTIN: They...

Ms. GOODMAN: They work really hard.

MARTIN: Do they?

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. I mean, if you talk to the Hives or one of the sort of early 2000 Swedish rock bands came out, they're like oh, yes, they treat it like a job, you know, it's just very sort of regimented.

But I think there is a big tradition of as across Europe, that there's a big tradition of kind of incorporating American music ideals into this sort of very specific Swedish thing, which is why they have all these great garage rock bands there. That's why they sing in English, you know?

MARTIN: Yeah. And she also, specifically, she's worked with some pretty big names herself, right? Like, people who've done with work Britney and the Backstreet Boys...

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. Again, she's sort of - like, I hate to make this comparison because her music is so much wittier and more intellectual, but she's kind of like Kylie Minogue that way in that she's this huge star and she's very well-known outside of America.

And she's, like you said, had many opportunity - many sort of big name people behind her and yet still hasn't kind of managed to make a mark here, which seems weird considering how famous she is and how many other big names have worked beside her. So, maybe this is her time.

MARTIN: Why do you think now? Why now?

Ms. GOODMAN: Go Robyn! I have no idea. This is one of those things. This is seriously one of those records that makes me say OK, I can't work for a record label. I can't work for A&R because I would have thought that if this hadn't hit already here that she just had something good. She was too - not mainstream enough, because her music as you can hear is very pop, but it's also very weird. So that combination seems like it wasn't working, but...

MARTIN: Didn't she also make references to Nazis and that kind of name people put on this kind of thing?

Ms. GOODMAN: You know, I don't know all the details of that, but I've heard that as well. I mean, she's very outspoken and she's really sassy, to an extent that's maybe not as sort of winking as someone like Madonna, maybe not as self-reverential.

She's kind of a little more out there, and doesn't give you the opportunity to kind of mishear her the way Madonna does. Madonna's a very good politician that way. So, that could have something to do with it, but just musically, I mean that song to me, I have no idea why that's not all over the radio, but...

MARTIN: We're doing our part getting it out there.

Ms. GOODMAN: Hallelujah! Go NPR!

MARTIN: So, onto another chick who totally rocks. I love this girl. Santogold.

Ms. GOODMAN: Oh. She's fantastic.

MARTIN: She has had at a very young age, she's had a lot of experience. She spent the last ten years first as an A&R rep for Epic Records, right? Then as an R&B producer and songwriter. Then a singer for a Philly-based punk band, and she now immerges from Brooklyn as her own kind of fully-formed, independent, art-dance-punk mix-up specialist. I didn't write that. Jacob did.

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. Wow. Good job, Jacob.

MARTIN: I know.

Ms. GOODMAN: That pretty much sums it up. Way to hyphenate, you know?

MARTIN: Tell me.

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. She's...

MARTIN: You've got nothing to add to that?

Ms. GOODMAN: I don't know how to add to that. I'm feeling kind of speechless, no, but, the thing that impresses me about her is everyone is comparing her to MIA because she sounds a little like MIA. Certain of her songs, some of her more well-known songs...

MARTIN: I thinks she's a way better singer than MIA.

Ms. GOODMAN: But she is that and she's also a rock girl, and she's had, I mean, MIA does - has a very specific distinct sound and she is able to kind of put that down on a record very consistently, but this album, I mean, Santogold's album is much more varied. The influences are all over the place.

So, yeah, there'll be - she studied West African drumming in college, so there's, you know there's some - she incorporates these international sounds - world music sounds, into very contemporary hip-hop, rock, pop, which is what MIA does, but she also has '80s ballads. She has these sorts of rock songs and she has these major vocal tracks as well so it's really - she's really doing a lot more.

MARTIN: Let's listen. New self-titled solo-debut of Santogold. Let's listen to a track.

(Soundbite of song "L.E.S. Artistes")

SANTOGOLD: (Singing) If you see me keep going be a pass by waver. Build me up, bring me down, Just leave me out, you name dropper. Stop trying to catch my eye, I see you good, you forced faker. ..TEXT: Just make it easy, I see you're my enemy, you fast talker. I can say I hope it will be worth what I give up. If I could stand up mean For all the things that I believe.

MARTIN: The song is called "L.E.S. Artistes" paying tribute to the Lower East Side here in Manhattan.

Ms. GOODMAN: Now, that song sounds a little like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to me. It sort of - because it has - I see how in the voice or I hear how in the voice it's a little MIA-ish, but the arrangement is kind of this rock ballad thing which reminds me of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which are also based in the Lower East Side.

So it's quite appropriate, but, yeah, I would really encourage people to check out this whole record because not one song sounds exactly like the next one and the majority of them are really interesting, so...

MARTIN: Well, Lizzie, thanks for coming. It was such a big week today, right?

Ms. GOODMAN: I know!

MARTIN: We could have talked about so many things.

Ms. GOODMAN: We got to a lot. You guys are having the Roots on.

MARTIN: Yeah, we're going to have the Roots on, so we'll ask them to give us their own review of things of their album, which - I don't know if that's the smartest thing to do.

Ms. GOODMAN: There you go.

MARTIN: Hey. And we're going to go out and listen to a little more of Santogold. Lizzie Goodman, editor-at-large for Blender Magazine, friend of the BPP. Thanks, Lizzie.

Ms. GOODMAN: Thank you, guys.

PESCA: Thanks, Lizzie.

Ms. GOODMAN: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: And that's it for this hour of the BPP. We are always online at I'm Rachel Martin.

PESCA: And I am Mike Pesca. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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