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Analyse this: Madonna’s Die Another Day dissected

With all her incessant refreshing and rebooting you can’t help but ponder how much Madonna is like a commercial film franchise, and in particular how much the increasingly desperado has in common with the James Bond series. And as if by tragic, a certain “controversial” theme song has just turned twenty. I hope you’re sitting comfortably.

An exercise in pure blockbuster decadence, the twentieth James Bond film — Pierce Brosnan’s fourth and final outing as 007 — has become synonymous with a certain kind of overstuffed travesty. Die Another Day features an invisible car, an ice palace, a sun laser, and a cameo from Madonna.

It’s hard to know which of those things is more ridiculous. Yes, monstrous Madge appears in this movie, and yes, she really is a terrible actor, with the presence of a field mouse. But then again, she isn’t exactly convincing as a human being, let alone a thinly veiled version of her narcissistic self.

The most interesting Madonna film roles were the ones where her characters were informed by her overbearing public persona rather than just being a variation of it. But in DAD she’s so squeaky and creaky she makes Roger Moore look Oscar-worthy.

Luckily, M (the rubbish actress, obviously not boss woman Judi Dench) only appears for about two seconds as a rug-munching fencing instructor named Verity, gets one corny double entendre about “cockfights” and then mercifully disappears. You’d think having been in the ‘acting’ game for over 30 years, someone – anyone really – would have told this surprisingly self-conscious performer how to project her voice. 

What do you mean they wouldn’t dare? Is she that above constructive technical advice? Because who is it that suffers, the performer or the audience? In the Bond film Madge sounds like a little nine year-old let out to play. 

Compounding the horror of her cardboard cameo in this stinker of a picture, there was really only one way to prepare audiences for a 40th anniversary “celebration“. No, I don’t mean the henchman with diamonds encrusted into his face (but not forever), I’m talking about the attendant song and video from Robo-Madonna.

Less Imperial Shirl and more Venereal Girl, the Ciccone post-youth was riding the wave of a second flush of success with a huge soundtrack hit, Beautiful Stranger, from the 007 spoof Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. 

American Life — the folky psychobabbly one where she looked a lot like the bastard rebel child of Che Guevara and Patti Hearst on the cover — produced one of the most ridiculed Madonna singles in its latte-quoting title track. But its predecessor was at the very least a sonic triumph of sorts, creatively if not critically.

Despite little in the way of vocal range nor breath control, Madge has made an enduring “singing” career as a marketing genius: she gets in front of trends, waters them down, and serves them back up to her obliging masses.

Declaring that 007 needed “to get techno,” she and electronica producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï ushered the James Bond theme song into the new millennium with a glitchy and occasionally exhilarating electroclash of stuttered strings and interpolating synth swirls. With a humdinger doppelgänger of a promotional video, the track had the distinction of being the top selling dance song in the US for both 2002 and 2003

Easily the weirdest Bond theme ever recorded (even before android Madge offers that spoken-word interlude that name checks Freud), I still say fair play to Madge for not going gung-ho down the obvious Shirley Bassey/Tina Turner route, even if the much derided vocals were, like much of Madonna’s subsequent material, hideously auto-tuned that allowed audiences to experience a degree of the torture that a bearded 007 endures in the opening scene.

Madge‘s early adoption of the controversial tech fakery managed, against all odds, to reduce the quality of her vocals, and paired with lyrics such as: “Sigmund Freud, analyse this!” and “I guess I’ll die another day,” it all makes for a pretty goofy listening experience.

Yet there’s a strong groove nonetheless, and the production values are pristine. Die Another Day was a bold experiment in outrageousness, but didn’t really gel with Bond fans. Kinda like the movie then, because after the CGI stinker was unveiled film watchers regarded the ‘song’ as symptomatic of a franchise desperately trying to disguise the fact that it had sunk into self-parody.

Like John Cleese in his one-time turn as Q, Brosnan hung up his holster and was last seen belly dancing to ABBA songs on a Greek island. 

Steve Pafford

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