Like a Prayer, Madonna’s fourth studio album, was released on March 21, 1989. A notable feature of the album is the fact that the liner notes are scented to simulate church incense. While the scent was very strong at the time the album was first released, it has definitely faded over time. Also included with the album is an insert about the danger of AIDS and how to avoid contracting the disease.
The album combined elements of pop, dance, soul, funk, and rock, but did it in such a way that the songs flow together on the album as a cohesive unit. Like a Prayer opens with the title song, which was also the lead-off single for the album. Even though the song got a lot of attention due to the controversy behind the music video, I’ve always thought it was a good song in its own right. I like how Madonna incorporated a gospel sound with pop and rock in this song.
The next song is “Express Yourself,” which was the second single from the album. It’s a song about expressing yourself, especially in the context of a relationship. The video for this song, which had a lot of inspiration from the 1920s silent film Metropolis, was the most expensive music video ever made at the time it was released. This is followed by “Love Song,” which is a duet between Madonna and Prince that incorporates some funk elements. I have to admit that at the time this album first came out, I really didn’t care much for this particular song; it simply didn’t grab me when I was first listening to the album. However, over the years, I have acquired a greater appreciation for it.
“Till Death Do Us Part” is a mid-tempo song about a wife in an abusive relationship, who tries to leave her husband but ultimately ends up coming back to him each time. It’s been suggested over the years that this song addresses Madonna’s failed marriage to Sean Penn. Regardless of whether or not that is true, it still is a very well-done song about a very serious issue.
The minimal ballad “Promise to Try” is a song Madonna wrote about her mother, who died when Madonna was young. You can hear a lot of sincerity in Madonna’s vocal delivery, and it’s this rawness and sincerity that make this one of the stand-out tracks on the album. This is followed by the uptempo song, “Cherish,” which was released as the third single from Like a Prayer. While this song may not be very deep lyrically, it’s a fun romp and a very enjoyable listen.
“Dear Jessie” is a sweet little song that is being sung to a young child. This is immediately followed by “Oh Father,” which is a dark song where the speaker has been abused by their father. The dichotomy of placing these two songs back-to-back has always struck a chord with me. “Oh Father” was the fourth single released from the album, and it had a haunting, yet fantastic music video to accompany it. “Oh Father” is one of my favorite songs from the album.
“Keep It Together,” a song about keeping it together in a family, immediately follows “Oh Father.” While there’s also a dichotomy here, it’s never hit me quite as hard as the “Dear Jessie” and “Oh Father” one. “Keep It Together” was the final single released from Like a Prayer, and it did not have a music video to accompany it. I like this song, especially the message that is contained within the song, but it just doesn’t sound as much like a “single” as the other singles released from the album. “Spanish Eyes” is a ballad that incorporates some of the Spanish sound that Madonna was really favoring at that point in her music career.
The final track, “Act of Contrition,” isn’t really a song. It takes the opening guitar riff from “Like a Prayer,” as well as some of the choir vocals from the song, and runs them backwards. Over the top of this, Madonna is talking. It’s never been a track I’ve cared for from the album, and always thought that the album would’ve been better if it had simply ended with “Spanish Eyes.”
Even with “Act of Contrition” being on it, Like a Prayer is still a strong album. Over twenty years later, the album really doesn’t sound overly dated, and the themes and sounds included on the album withstand the test of time.
I wrote this review after listening to a copy of Like a Prayer that my husband and I purchased.