Liz Smith: Madonna's New Album: Divorce, Rage, Regret — And You Can Dance to It, Too!

And more from our Gossip Girl: Maggie Vessey, running to stardom? … Johnny Depp’s “Dark Shadows” … George Clooney for President!

“THERE’S SOMETHING remarkable about Madonna’s decision to share her suffering the way she once shared her pleasure. Her music has always been about liberation from oppression, but for the first time the oppression is internal: loss and sadness. Stars — they really are just like us.” That is Rolling Stone’s Joe Levy reviewing Madonna’s upon-us-any minute album “MDNA.”

This record is dance-driven, revenge-driven, regret-driven and self-referential to the max. It has already received a batch of impressive reviews; those who have heard it agree it is disconcertingly dark, eminently danceable, and delicately mournful. A wild mash-up.

Madonna, who is only 53, is not going quietly into that good night of ballads and a single spotlight. (Although “MDNA” does contain three ballads — one of which, “Falling Free” is among the most intimate and well-sung of her career.)

But the beat goes on for M. The album is chock full of 21st century in-your-face techo — it thumps relentlessly, the bass booms, and they do odd, computerized things with her voice. Yet it often recalls her earlier efforts, during the halcyon days of her recording career. Her pure, unaltered voice is heard enough to reassure the fans who loved her in the 80s or in 1997’s “Evita.”

“MDNA” is not my kind of music, necessarily. But it is impressive. Impressive in that Madonna does what she wants to do, and says what she wants to say (Guy Ritchie, when you hear “Gang Bang,” duck for cover!) And she says it — haters be damned — against throbbing dance beats.

Listen, Marlene Dietrich spent her entire career — well into her seventies — attempting to maintain the illusion of the fabulous femme fatale image created for her by Josef von Sternberg in the 1930s. At Madonna’s age, she was wearing semi-transparent gowns and singing the same old songs on stages around the world. And looking increasingly bored doing it, too.

Madonna was the sexy, controversial pop star. So she’s still doing what she knows how to do. Difference? She doesn’t seem bored. In fact, “MDNA” announces her revitalization.

She’s always supposed to be over, but somehow she never is. And I abhor the ageism and sexism so resonant in criticism of her.

* * *

OUR PR friend in L.A. Hal Lifson reports that his new client, Maggie Vessey, a world-class runner now training for the London Olympics, has real “crossover” possibilities. She’s blonde, sexy and clever. She runs like the wind and wants to win some gold or silver for the sport she loves. But an athlete’s life is short. There are possibilities beyond the track. Especially these days, with reality TV still dominating the airwaves. Hal says, “Maggie is a stallion. But she needs to be a show pony as well as a runner to get into the mainstream media!”

Lifson, who also promotes Kara Goucher — known as “the Julia Roberts of runners” — feels certain Miss Vessey will soon earn similar nicknames. Aside from his repping duties and his historical interest in all things 1960s, Mr. Lifson is also a runner.

* * *

ELLEN DEGENERES showed a bit of Tim Burton’s upcoming film “Dark Shadows” the other day. This is Burton’s take on the cult TV series that ran from 1966-71. It starred Jonathan Frid as the vampire Barnabas Collins. 1940s screen star Joan Bennett was also on hand as the usually bewildered matriarch of a gloomy old mansion. The TV series was Gothic horror soap opera. (Another cast member, Alexandra Isles, would later star in a real-life Gothic soap opera as the mistress of Claus Von Bulow, who was accused of attempting to murder his rich wife.)

Mr. Burton’s version of “Dark Shadows” looks to be high-camp weird. Quite like “The Munsters” or “The Addams Family.”

Johnny Depp stars as Barnabas in Burton’s movie, and Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter and Christopher Lee are also on hand. So how does Johnny look as a vampire? Much as he does in everyday life, really. (No sexy Frank Langella here!) Instead of that weird greasy hair hanging annoyingly down his face, as Barnabas Johnny has weird greasy hair hanging down in spears all over his forehead.

He looks equally strange in the first photos released for “The Lone Ranger,” in which he plays Tonto, opposite Armie Hammer as the masked hero. Johnny’s Tonto has a dead white face, dark stripes running from brow to chin, and wears a black bird on his head. His hair is long and greasy. Of course his physical interpretation of Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates” movies is famously over the top.

I yearn for Johnny to play a Marine. Just for the scrubbed face and a buzz cut!

* * *

ENDQUOTE: “I’m thinking … the dance. Perhaps a musical!” That was George Clooney answering David Gregory’s “one career question” during Clooney’s “Meet The Press” sitdown on Sunday. Clooney was there — and everyplace else! — talking up his efforts in the violence-riddled Sudan.

Of course, George was only kidding about “the dance.” But he was so wonderfully composed and intelligent making his points on this cause; not at all egotistical, not in-your-face ranting and criticizing. He is somebody who puts his money where his mouth is, but doesn’t rub your face in it.

He was a gent even as he and his father, Nick Clooney, were arrested outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. Clooney has often said he would never run for office, citing his movie-star life and experiences being deal-breakers. Too bad. At least his carousing and la dolce vita wouldn’t come as a surprise to voters.

6 Responses so far.

  1. avatar rick gould says:

    I used to run home from school as a wee lad to not miss a minute of “Dark Shadows.”
    Saw the trailer and had no idea it was going to be played for laughs.
    Not sure if I am gonna run to theater for this one.

    I saw a picture of Johnny, cleaned up and duded up for the recent “Rum Diaries.”
    He’s still a handsome devil under all that exotic makeup and wigs and costumes.

  2. avatar LandofLove says:

    I’m a native of the Cincinnati area, where George Clooney grew up and his parents still live. The Clooneys are very well liked and highly regarded around here as a class act.

  3. avatar O E says:

    Johnny Depp in the “The Rum Diary” (or is it Diaries?) was clean cut and shaved. His gorgeous face bare for all to see. The movie didn’t do well in theaters, but for Depp fans like me, it was eye candy. I don’t know why he hides behind outlandish dress up and greasy-looking hair. Maybe he wants to be taken seriously as an actor by being the character, rather than the pretty face.

    George Clooney for president? Never happen. He’s too smart, too dedicated to serving humanity, and (as far as I know) too principled to compromise for campaign money. As for his carousing, the ladies know the limits of his commitment before they take his arm and dip their toes into fame, however ephemeral it may be. George and his dad are a classy pair in every way.

  4. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Why must everyone who is not a sycophant of Madonna be accused of “sexism and ageism”? My difficulty with her isn’t that her behavior is somehow inappropriate for her age (I am one year younger, and my buzz-cut is currently indigo highlighted with emerald, I play table-top RPG’s, wear purple-framed glasses with crystalline hearts and have recently consulted a tattoo artist regarding my full-sleeve, and side of my head octopus dream tattoos…and I’m not doing these things to “pretend I’m still 20-something”). It isn’t her sex either. I think that the Mick Jaggers (ugh) and Iggie Pops of the music industry are a joke and somewhat revolting. Madonna is much younger and more attractive than they are…but she does share something in common with them…she has never evolved past her immature, look-at-me phase. The only difference is that hers is nothing more than a manufactured image…there is nothing wild, particularly sexual, passionate or even feral about her in her real life. At least some of the “wildmen” (and some of the other women of music, such as Debbie Harry) truly did, and some still do, live actual alternative lifestyles (and that doesn’t necessarily mean drugs and alcohol…which are actually somewhat droll in that world) and have truly different ideas, intellects and imaginations. Madonna is dull as dishwater. A toy-boy, two divorces and millions don’t count. It’s the personality, and the person…and I have to say, there is nothing terribly unusual or diverting about Ms. Ciccone other than a drive for money and power.

    It’s been mentioned before on this site, so I must ask this question: How does having a boyfriend who is less than half your age automatically qualify a woman for congratulations? I’ve noticed that Madonna has gotten inordinate praise for her toy-boy, as has Jennifer Lopez (he’s not less than half her age…but he is a baby toy). Before I get slapped down, let me remind you that Rusty is a full ten years younger than I…but that is not why I married him. We are extremely compatible, belonging to a personality type shared by less than 1% of the world’s population, and we were friends for 8 years before we became in any way romantically involved. My sister’s husband is 12 years younger than she, and that is not the reason that they are together either. I have no problem with age disparate relationships.

    But why does having a baby-boy cause a woman to receive praise and congratulations and respect…while a man having the same sort of age-disparate relationship with a girl receives sneers, contempt, disgust and rejection? Demi Moore was lauded for it too…but there were plenty of sneers about Bruce Willis and his wife. Yet Ms. Moore’s marriage, and career, have come to a screeching halt, while his marriage seems solid, he and his wife either have a new baby, or are expecting, and they seem content. Was Ashton Kutcher in it for the money and fame? Doubtful…he was making more money than she, and doing much better professionally…and hardly riding on her coat-tails. Mr. Willis’ wife seems very content to be Mrs. Willis, to have had his baby, and to be on his arm…and she seems to have a sense of humor about the whole thing…not your typical gold-digger. eh? So, why did Kutcher/Moore dissolve (it wasn’t merely his infidelity, even according to HER friends her frantic, even irrational insecurity, envy and fear of aging was an enormous factor) if all such unions are to be lauded, and why is Bruce Willis’ marriage apparently stable if those sorts of couples are to be despised?

    In the end, why not let people have their opinions, and not attempt to pigeon-hole them as sexists, ageists, racists, etc., because you don’t like the nature of said opinions. Some of us have the intellect to think outside the box, and would appreciate some credit for doing so on occasion.

    I listened to some cuts from the new CD. Same old Madonna, with a little angst thrown in for pity’s sake. She needn’t go “single spotlight”…but the hi-jinks and electronic effects applied to her voice are clearly there to hide the fact that what mediocre vocal ability she had is fading. Her performance in “Evita” was an insult to Andrew Loyd Webber’s beautiful, poignant score. She didn’t have the range or ability, and it was a travesty. She does the same old thing because she can’t do anything else…not because she’s not bored with herself. And Madonna will always be a legend in her own mind.

    • avatar rick gould says:

      Aside from the fact that I totally agree with you Briana, all I’m gonna say is that I predict Madonna’s gonna be unpleasantly surprised with the sales of her upcoming album.
      After the initial flush of sales…it’s gonna go the way of her first single that she totally marketed to the Superbowl. If an audience of 150 million and untold publicity gets your song briefly to #10, not a good sign for a performer so obviously anxious to show everyone that she’s still got it.
      It’s not fair, but pop music has always been a young person’s game. And the focus is on younger to an even more absurd degree today. But when you’re 53, you shouldn’t be trying to compete with Katie Perry.
      Madonna will always tour big, but unless she keeps sidling up to the young folks in the biz…I don’t see a string of hits anymore.
      Realistic, not ageist, as I am the same age as Madge.

  5. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Mr. Burton’s version of “Dark Shadows” looks to be high-camp weird.


    The original was also camp and weird. Perhaps low-camp?