So while we all know that dogma has no place on the dance floor, Madonna gets away with it here, blending mild social commentary ("This world is not so kind") with lots of rump-shaking. And it works well, for half an album. With its stuttering rhythms and radiant programming, opener "American Life" sets a brusque tone, followed well by the brooding "Hollywood," which intermingles baby-doll vocals with pneumatic beats. That's followed by a trifecta of moody disco, from the Pentium pop of "Nobody Knows Me" to the blithe, breathy whir of "Love Profusion."
But the album is derailed midway by a trio of mawkish electro-acoustic ballads. As if Madonna's overemoting weren't enough, she saddles a ridiculous gospel choir onto the otherwise austere "Nothing Fails" and damns the buoyant "Mother and Father" with more goofy rapping. Madonna herself seems aware of her flaws: "I tried to be a mess/I tried to be the best," she sings early on, en route to succeeding on both counts.