As you read this, an articulated truck should be winding its way to Manchester, laden with glittering Victorian-style bustiers, hot pants, stockings, matching pairs of customised underpants which spell out the word “Freedom”, T-shirts proclaiming “Kabbalists do it better”, designer army fatigues and a range of somewhat self-defeating mini-burkhas, cut off at the buttocks.
The vehicle in question is Madonna’s wardrobe truck for her Reinvention world tour, which arrives this weekend for eight arena dates in Manchester and London.
The convoy also includes a 50-ton revolving stage and more than 100 personnel, including 12 dancers, one skateboarder, one bagpipe player, five musicians and an astonishing 56 security guards. I don’t know if she is expecting trouble, but, since the first batch of tickets sold out within two hours, it seems unlikely she will be facing a hostile crowd.
These are practically homecoming dates for the 45-year-old mother of two. Indeed, since the US leg of her tour wound up in Miami last month, Madonna has been spotted out and about in London, jogging in Hyde Park and, in cloth cap and tweeds, visiting The Punchbowl pub in Mayfair with British husband, Guy Ritchie.
As Madonna’s typically idiosyncratic take on English fashion suggests, the Michigan girl has embraced a quaint, Hollywood version of England, mixing working-class, salt-ofthe-earth aesthetics with aristocratic pretensions, as if Bertie Wooster had become landlord of the Queen Vic.
When not supping pints down her local, Madonna retreats to her stately pile on the Wiltshire/Dorset border, where she has recently been engaged in the time-honoured country house pursuit of trying to ban ramblers. Yet, for all her newly acquired aura of stately decorum and domestic harmony, one can never entirely shake the suspicion she might be entirely naked beneath her Barbour jacket.
After 20 years in the spotlight, Madonna carries a lot of baggage. Yet such is her propensity for image makeover that her past does not so much define as obscure her. Peculiarly for such a public figure, there is no consensus on what lies behind the ever-changing facade.
In her heyday, outraged publications regularly used to ask “Who does Madonna think she is?” These days, it is more germane to ask if anyone still cares.
Madonna’s last album, American Life, an attempt to weld polemical statements to fractured disco beats, failed miserably. Panned by critics and ignored by the public, it became her first major release to fail to break the million mark.
This greatest-hits tour has been widely viewed as an attempt to re-establish her place in the pop pantheon. Initially greeted with enormous scepticism in the US, the tour has become the sellout success story of the summer, and this despite ticket prices of more than $300 for the best seats.
“The tour was certainly deemed a commercial success but critically it got mixed responses,” according to Anthony De Curtis, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine. “I think that, after a long successful run, the lustre has gone off her in the US. But I don’t think anybody could quite make sense of what she was trying to do with her shows. Even the very title seems a little redundant.”
But she does seem to have assembled yet another stirring spectacle. The Washington Post called it “a new performance hybrid, one that lifts and blends elements of Broadway, Cirque du Soleil, Rock the Vote rallies, art installations, extreme sporting events, church sermons, disco dances and gun-spinning military drills. For a few songs, it even looked like a rock concert.”
However, critics seemed universally baffled about what exactly the Reinvention tour was all supposed to represent, with Madonna apparently finding no contradiction following the anthem of self-interest Material Girl with a hippie strumalong of John Lennon’s Imagine, all set to footage of war-ravaged children.
An anti-war theme runs through the show, but The Washington Post accused her of jumping on this particular band wagon long after it had trundled out of Iraq.
“Gutsy? Not at this point, now that it’s safe to stand against the administration. Madonna would earn points for courage if last year, at the time of the US invasion, she hadn’t yanked the video for American Life, which ridiculed Bush as a warmongering nincompoop.
“No doubt Madonna was worried she’d get Dixie Chicked – that country threesome paid dearly for criticising the president last year. Madonna’s finger-wagging felt like catch-up, and it was turned into a Miss Saigon-style dance number that trivialised its own point of view.”
But someone whose ventures into the world of publishing are as sharply contrasting as a book of erotica and a stern children’s morality tale is unlikely to be embarrassed by having her contradictions pointed out.
“There’s a lot of mixed messages,” Madonna said after the launch of her tour in LA. “It would take me hours to explain them. Come back and see the show again.”
The critics have also noticed that there is less sex on this tour than ever before: the bullet bra has been replaced by an age-appropriate corset and the bedroom bump and grind of earlier shows has given way to yoga demonstrations.
“The last time she really made an impact in the US was when she kissed Britney at the MTV awards and everyone got a chance to say how exploitative it was, just like the old days,” says De Curtis. “It’s sort of funny. For years, everybody complained that ‘Madonna’s shock obsessed’. Then on this tour everybody was saying, ‘Gee, where’s the sex?’ I think people were a little let down that she was kind of acting her age for once. That’s the last thing anyone expected.”
Madonna’s old infatuation with decadence has largely given way to an obsession with physical and spiritual health. Her concert rider demands 25 cases of Kabbalah blessed water backstage, and there are no shows on Fridays due to her observance of Shabbat.
But searching questions were asked by a senior recording industry executive and personal acquaintance of Madonna. “At the very heart of the Kabbalah is the idea that what you put out, you get back. So I wonder what she gets out of that, because she is not a generous person.
“She is the Margaret Thatcher of pop. Her entire philosophy is about self-belief and selfmotivation. She has never thanked anyone who ever worked for her. Her vibe is ‘You are lucky to work for me’. Which is great; she’s a tough woman and people love it, but I can’t figure out how that fits with this new hippie shtick, because I don’t think there’s a hippie bone in her body. She’s punk rock, all the way.”
The contrast between Madonna’s boy-toy past and new-found political idealism and religious conviction seem to be at the core of the sceptical response of US critics.
The question raised time and again is why should Madonna be taken seriously, just because she takes herself seriously?
As baffled or amused as the US critics might have been, they did concur with her loyal fans on one point: Madonna’s latest shows are never less than entertaining. “Here’s the weird part,” said The Washington Post. “It’s not a mess. It’s actually kind of amazing.”
Rolling Stone went further, proclaiming that her latest reinvention was perhaps the most surprising of all: “The 45-year-old, whom few have ever taken seriously as a musician has matured into a truly great pop singer.”
source : telegraph.co.uk