I think I find Madonna fascinating simply because of her success and that she was unrivaled at doing what she did in the 80’s and for most of the 90’s.
In the 1980’s the big hitters were Michael Jackson, Prince and Lionel Richie yet Madonna was the only female who could break into this group and produce a large output of successful music whilst changing musically as the albums progressed.
“Erotica” in 1992 was by far her most audacious project yet and the sound and style from her previous studio album Like A Prayer (1989) had greatly changed.
This album was released alongside a booked called “Sex” where Madonna would pose nude in this ‘coffee table book’ as she looked to push the boundaries of sexuality and was quite happy to visually represent this as well as musically.
I can’t help but think that some of the songs on “Erotica” are there for shock value only and offer little else but an attempt to get a rise (excuse the pun) out of a more conservative listener. If you were a fan of Madonna in 1992 I doubt this album would off too much in the way of surprises for you as she had been building up to this type of project in intermittent moments throughout her albums.
The title track “Erotica” opens the album. Madonna takes on an alter ego “Dita” and introduces herself on a track that is largely spoken word during the verses. This song sets the tone for the album and works really well with the production being very current of the time with programmed drums, bass and some skeletal keyboards making up the instrumental.
This song is as direct as it intends to be and is an ode to S&M. It is highly sexually charged and the vocal style matches the dirty beat that backs the track. I think this is one of Madonna’s most clever tracks and once you get past the brashness of what she is talking about I believe it to be one of her best singles.
The more dance-pop angle is found on the next track “Fever” which is a cover of the song from 1956 which was made famous most notably by Peggy Lee in 1958. The original itself for me is raunchy enough with it’s lyrics not being up for interpretation and perhaps this is why Madonna wanted to cover such a track. The production sounds very much of the time and Madonna doesn’t really have the vocal prowess to add anything to the song which could have been sung by anyone.
“Bye Bye Baby” continues the lighter sounding pop style that “Fever” greeted us with. The hip hop inspired sample has Madonna’s vocal filtered as if she is speaking over a tannoy system or on the radio. Again the vocal is just a bit thin and the filter makes it sound a little too skeletal and without enough depth to make the lyrics mean anything.
The album needed a real radio friendly hit and “Deeper and Deeper” I believe provides this. It really does sound like any early 90s dance pop song and again I am not sure Madonna has a distinct enough vocal to pull this off with any uniqueness but all in all this is one of my favourite tracks on the album because melodically it is just a fun song.
When Madonna gets onto a disco/pop track she often pulls it out of the back as we have seen on tracks like “Express Yourself” (which I think is the same area this song is coming from). The embracing of the modern day sound (at the time) is not a surprise for such a big artist and Madonna is able to have producers that can give her something that surpasses the rest of the competition.
Considering I knew this was released with a book of nude Madonna photos, it was called “Erotica” and the opening track was dark and unashamedly forward the following three tracks had not really ventured into anything as extreme but on the 5th track we get a song that when I listen to you could easily laugh a little at the lyrics.
“Where Life Begins” is about the female anatomy and oral sex.
“A lot of people talk about
Dining in and eating out
I guess that’s what this song’s about”
I love the beat on this song. The entire instrumental is really groovy and just on it’s own its a winner. I don’t dislike this song if I am being totally honest and even though it is a little crass at points it really all works. The production from Andre Betts really stands out with the drum programming sounding absolutly gorgeous.
The funniest lyric though has to be:
Colonel Sanders says it best
“Finger lickin’ good”
“Bad Girl” takes a slightly different direction lyrically as whilst most of the album is about sex and using sex as power this song is more vulnerable with Madonna finding it hard to get over a break up as she reacts by smoking and drinking more as she finds it hard to move forward. The sex she is having during this song is reckless and she is doing so to forget.
This pop/r&b track is a sound Madonna would take on during future albums and whilst it is her vocal that will always be an issue for her in this genre I think “Bad Girl” is a really solid track.
The hip hop beats are back on the 7th track “Waiting”. This song addresses unrequited love with Madonna using this spoken word style on the verses. I think this is a fantastic track and again the production is really spot on. It is on this track that I really forgot I was listening to Madonna because this is so far removed from her big hits like “Holiday” or “Material Girl”.
“Thief Of Hearts” follows a similar pattern to many of the other tracks but it isn’t nearly as interesting and after 2 minutes the song really struggles to move itself forward. This is one to miss.
In term of track listing I found the decision to put the next track “Words” alongside “Thief Of Hearts” as a bit of an error because they are almost identically instrumentally. I believe this to be the better of the two but they are really just there for album filler and really lack the depth as some of the other tracks.
“Rain” is certainly one of the most interesting tracks on “Erotica” as it is simply about having an orgasm. Okay maybe its not ‘simply’ about that as Madonna does really press upon the metaphoric notion of Rain being akin to this pleasurable moment.
This song is more radio friendly than any of the others and you might have been able to slip it onto the “True Blue” album without too much of a fuss. The song is interesting because it’s a bit of a change of direction when listening to the album but it’s not what I would call a great song and it is far too long to keep you engaged.
“Why’s It So Hard” brings some watered down reggae onto the album. It sounds a little odd but not entirely out of place. It is written in a reggae style as it talks about the world and why we essentially just all can’t just all get along. I wanted to dislike this song but after a few listens I actually quite like it. Madonna doesn’t sound exactly great on the song but distinctive enough (just) that I know it’s her. This song is worth a listen because it’s something different and will spark opinions I am sure.
“In This Life” gives Madonna more of a chance to show her vocal range and some topical lyrics as this song is about two friends she lost to the AIDS epidemic.
This song is extremely personal and this is why I think the instrumentation is so bare as it is really here to put forward Madonna’s feeling and emotions about what she has seen and lost during this period in her life.
A well written and poignant track where Madonna has shown her song writing skills can display more substance than just a pop hit.
As the album nears it’s end the penultimate track “Did You Do It?” fires some hip hop beats and a rap from writer and producer Andre Betts. The history of the song explains that whilst mixing the track “Waiting” they were messing about and had Betts rap over the beat which Madonna liked and it ended up on the album.
“Erotica” concludes with “Secret Garden” which incorporates a Jazz/House influence in almost a trip hoppy way which has Madonna again in full metaphor mode with the vagina being compared to flowers which of course has been done many times since.
This is a really good track and the fact Madonna was open to such a change in style and direction to her music makes it all the more fascinating to me. Tracks like this are so slept on when people look back on Madonna’s career when some of her most experimental work both lyrically and musically are all on this project.
I think “Erotica” is Madonna’s most bold album out of the 5 I have listened to and reviewed. This has some really chilled out and well produced music and although there are about 4 tracks that could have been cut I don’t think this damages the quality of the album too much.
I suspect many will dislike this album because it isn’t what they expect or want from a Madonna set but I think it is bold, modern and even today in 2018 it sounds fresh and engaging.