I recently got into a facebook conversation about the album and decided to try to articulate my fondness for the album as best I could:
I often feel that American Life is the last time in her career that the music genuinely evidences an artist's passion for the work she is making. At times it results in clumsy lyrics (like rhyming 'circle' with 'circle') or in statements that may appear naive to more cynical, less privileged listeners, but viewing that as a consequence of what I feel is a real urgency and honesty to the message she is delivering, coupled with a real willingness to experiment sonically, to me it becomes part of the record's charm. The album has been criticised as self-indulgent, but that's exactly what I love about it: even if at times naive, it is a portrait of an artist looking for meaning, an amazing window into the mind of a super-celebrity without peer, an icon entering a new millennium. Sonically and thematically it's one of the most coherent albums she's ever produced, something which usually only comes out a of the kind of special artistic bond she appears to have shared with Mirwais, with whom she seemed genuinely excited to be stretching the boundaries of contemporary music. In many ways it seems like a very personal project, with less attention paid to commercial demands (according to rumours Warner had her re-record the whole album after hearing more experimental demos of the songs which, according to some reports were closer in sound to the harder Headcleanr remixes later released on the Remixed and Revisited EP). I have to admit to having been somewhat disappointed at the time of its release with the apparent lack of aural evolution from the predecessor, Music, but have since come to appreciate what I now view as a maturing of the sound developed with Mirwais, a collaboration which, to a perhaps greater extent than any of her others, allowed her the joy and pleasure of re-discovering and pushing herself as a musician. Whilst I have enjoyed her albums since to varying degrees, it's this sort of passionate engagement with the outside world and reflection on her place therein that keeps drawing me back to the American Life album and which I feel her music has for the most part been lacking ever since.