Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with Madonna today, back to her main studio albums and hopefully a return to form after the poor (in my mind) soundtrack album I’m Breathless. If you read my post on Like A Prayer you’ll know that I thought it was a fantastic album, brave, controlled, cultured, and most importantly packed with great music. Erotica was another well received album, and the first one where she began to focus more directly on sex from all directions. She had touched upon the subject frequently with previous albums, but with this one she takes sex and turns it into a concept album. It was at this time that she released her controversial Sex book, and presumably with this album she pushed a lot of boundaries for mainstream pop. Looking at the track list, I think I only know four of the fourteen songs, so I’ll be hoping once again for a few new gems. There’s no sense in waiting any further, lets strip off and get down to business.
‘Erotica‘ opens with record static, followed by quite tribal beats, heavy percussion and spoken lyrics. There’s a bit of Jungle Boogie in there, a heavily experimental sound unlike anything she had displayed before. The verse lyrics are good, lots of innuendo, but little melody – the chorus switches things by focusing on melody and dropping the lyrical intensity. I remember being not 100% fond of this one at the time, but I appreciate it more now. It does seem a little long, if only from a single perspective, but maybe the single version was cut down a bit.
‘Fever‘ is of course a cover. When I looked at this on the track list I couldn’t quite remember if this was a cover or one of her own which I couldn’t recall, but as soon as the song started I remembered hearing it. I’ve never been a huge fan of any version of this song, but I suppose this is as good as any, with a bit of New Jack, and a bit of club. There isn’t enough going on to warrant the five minute running time and it does feel dull and dated, even if the beat is infectious.
‘Bye Bye Baby‘ has similar drum beats to the previous songs, so there is a consistency. Unfortunately this sound feels dated now and reminds me of Vanilla Ice or PJ and Duncan or some such balls. Madonna does sound different, adopting a vicious Betty Boop persona and voice. Good production, lots going on, but it is dated. What excites me? The little pieces of synth which threaten to grow, but then they go away. Lyrics are okay, but melodically it’s poor and doesn’t grab the attention. Surprise end.
‘Deeper And Deeper‘ opens with a mix of synth and piano before dance beats come in to make us know where we stand. I was always a bit partial to this and even 9-10 year old me would have danced around the house to it like a weirdo, but again it has dated badly. A return to better hooks. An updated version of this one (there’s probably one out there) would presumably improve matters. It feels quite long, but there is some variance with the Spanish instruments joining the din. Vogue surprise.
‘Where Life Begins‘ starts a little differently – light on percussion, high on instrumental tinkering. This is momentary as a sultry beat soon takes over as Madonna whispers about her special area. It does manage to sound sexy and interesting, not tacky. Some of the lyrics are a bit on the nose (matron), others are funny, but I think I quite like this one. At least she’s being direct, most pop music now which deals with sex does so in a roundabout way or just dives in like cheap porn.
‘Bad Girl‘ has a slow beat and twinkling piano, before a heavier beat comes in over some delicate melodies and thoughtful, thought-provoking lyrics. I don’t remember ever hearing this one so it’s another surprise. Not the most memorable song but good enough on the first listen.
‘Waiting‘ is another song which tips past the 5 minute mark, and it’s another bass and drums laden track. I appreciate the length of the songs as this hints at ignoring the standard 3-4 pop single standard and doing whatever the hell she wants. Of course, sometimes songs need to be 3-4 minutes. This one tries to be sultry, has more spoken vocals and is low on melody aside from the chorus, so it feels like forgettable mid-album stuff. Again, there is a certain amount of variance, great production, but I’m not a huge fan of the drum and bass heavy stuff. This has good moments, not enough though.
‘Thief Of Hearts‘ has more Twin Peaks synths at the start before a series of faster beats take the lead. It’s another I haven’t heard, the drums are a little too weak here, there is some dated stuff, but I like the energy, the dark atmosphere which the synth brings, and the melodies. There’s another couple of R’n’B breakdown in the middle with something not quite rap emerging, leading to some comedy swearing and the final verse, chorus run which threatens to run out of steam.
‘Words‘ opens like a movie about an apocalyptic wasteland, the silence suddenly broken by a mass desert orgy/rave. It’s another which relies to heavily on the beat and that’s something I personally am not very interested in. Some of the sounds are annoying here, but again there are good moments – snippets of melody, a few lyrics here and there. This one is definitely overdone and almost 6 minutes long, not adding enough variance to justify that length.
‘Rain‘ has always been one of my favourite Madonna songs – I loved it upon release, and I’ve gone back to it several times over the years. Musically, it’s a massive departure from the rest of the album, but in terms of lyrics, tone, and atmosphere it retains the darkness, sadness, and anger. The opening begins in the same vein, with prominent beats before flowering into a luscious ballad. I’m listening now to the album version and wondering if the single was a little different. I must check on that. There are a few unnecessary instrument and sound choices which should have been dropped in favour of a more streamlined approach.
‘Why’s It So Hard‘ has a slight rock edge, with guitar parts deep in the mix, but again at the core is the percussion. The central beat is slow, contrasted by the speedy vocals, and the lyrics question the issues preventing unity among people. It has a few catchy moments but like quite a few of the songs on this album it lacks your standard immediate pop chorus. This one does feel stretched, again meandering past five minutes.
‘In This Life‘ is one which goes behind 6 minutes, so it better be good. An uppy downy line opens things, with some drunken piano playing simplistic, repetitive notes while Madonna sings melodies which don’t seem to sync with the music. It creates a hypnotic tone and once it comes together for the chorus it feels powerful. It’s obviously a personal lyric, I must say I prefer the vocal melody to the verse piano antics. It is overlong, but the spoken word parts do well, as they do for the most part on the rest of the album, and I usually don’t like spoken parts on songs.
‘Did You Do It‘ begins with some mumbled spoken parts, then the same old horns and percussive beat begins. Some guy begins rapping and this one for a change actually sounds quite modern. Madonna only comes in for the chorus (which seems to be a reprise), a lot of the lyrics are funny, explicit, and it feels like this could have been a single (if they’d been able to get away with the lyrics). It’s quite interesting to include this, as so much of the album is a woman’s perspective of sex and love while this is clearly from the man’s side. What does it mean with respect to the rest of the album – mocking the male approach to sex? Showing that men and women aren’t that different in terms of sex?
‘Secret Garden‘ opens with piano and some sort of throbbing beat. The drums come in which sound a little Beatles and a little Massive Attack. And she’s singing about her special area again. More whispered verse vocals, more melodic chorus. The vocals are a little too low so I can’t make everything out. Jazz interlude.
This was clearly groundbreaking stuff and there are some very good songs here, but much of it feels dated and I’m not a huge fan of the same beat and percussive style which is used on almost every track. Having said that, there are nods to a wide array of genres – jazz, rock, but at it’s core this is a thinking person’s dance record – introspective yet shamelessly extrovert, personal yet universal, and isn’t frightened to lay opinions bare or question taboo, or expose itself. With more musical variance in terms of production and instrumentation, I think I would have enjoyed this more – on several occasions the melody or idea is sacrificed for the sake of mood or beat, something which works best in small doses – here is as as unsubtle and all-pervading as someone walking into your room in a gimp suit. Even with it being dated musically, the ideas are fresh and challenging and it is clear that Madonna the artist was operating on a level apart from any of her supposed peers.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Madonna’s Erotica – were you there when it was released, what is your favourite song from the album, and where do you rank the album alongside her other releases?