I’ve been a Madonna fan since 1990, but it’s taken me 26 years to include True Blue in my collection.
I probably wouldn’t have if I didn’t find a decent copy on vinyl at the Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Store selling for $6. That was a price point with which I could live, and it was for charity.
I can’t disentangle the heavy marketing of the album at the time of its release with its critical reputation over time. The album contained only nine tracks, but 2/3 of them were released as singles, all of them played to within an inch of their lives on radio.
“La Isla Bonita” is the only track that really caught my imagination, and it’s still a favorite. The synth strings of “Papa Don’t Preach” also put it in a class above the other tracks on the album. Otherwise, I’m not entirely convinced the songs which have become Madonna canon really deserve their spots.
“Live to Tell” shows up on numerous Madonna compilations, but the track has always left me underwhelmed. Music from the 80s was often accused of being cold and robotic because of its over-reliance on synthesizers and MIDI. “Live to Tell” would certainly be guilty of this accusation.
Bill Frisell did a tremendous job infusing humanity in the song, replacing the brief, ambient middle section of the original with an extended downtown New York freak-out.
The title track is something of an ear worm, but it’s not the strongest song on the album. It didn’t even make the cut on The Immaculate Collection. Does anyone even remember “Where’s the Party?” being a single?
Unlike Like a Virgin, the non-single tracks on True Blue don’t attempt to be anything other than filler. I’m pretty baffled by the gangster movie samples in “White Heat”. They made more sense on I’m Breathless.
Marketing muscle made True Blue a success, but without it, I’m not sure its excellent bits are enough to make up for its middling moments.