Another entry in Madonna’s formidable canon now, a massive jump from where we left off, though I suppose anything would be a massive jump after “I’m Breathless”. Even so, after “Like a Prayer” there is a NOT-SO-SUBTLE change in tone with this album.
I mean, it’s called Erotica, released at the same time as the Sex book, it looks like she’s sucking a cock on the back cover, and most (probably all) of the songs are about sex. And yet it remains accessible to someone like me who NEVER GETS ANY.
I was a little worried this would be style over substance, but it really is a solid album. Not without its clunkers, but certainly a lot of fun to listen to.
10 Erotica – OMG that bassline is amazing, my favourite part of it. The more commercial(!) sister of Justify My Love, or at least in my eyes/ears. It’s about 5x more sexy than that track, complete with porny UHHH noises, an unforgettable chorus and that wonderful middle 8. EROTIC.
06 Fever – Now I never really GOT this, a rather soulless dancey cover of the classic song by… no, I don’t know. Not that I loved the original but this just has nothing to it, feels like she’s singing it in a toilet or something. For someone who rarely records covers, it’s a real misfire in my opinion.
06 Bye bye baby – Another dud for me, a marginal improvement maybe, but the spoken bits are just alternately smug/boring by this point. When she’s actually singing it’s OK but it’s all a bit cliche with Madonna cast as a wronged woman sticking it to the bastard man, YOU GO GIRL (or not). You fucked it up.
09 Deeper and Deeper – One of my first discoveries when I got Erotica back at the start of the decade, this is amazing. I don’t remember this as a single, and it feels like a bit of a lost classic (aside from an appearance on GHV2). I think I might have overdone this one though, I still think it’s a very strong song and a great single, but I’ve just overplayed it. I love that little middle-eight of “Someone said that romance was dead”, it’s just a wonderful pacey dancepop song.
08 Where life begins – Right, this is about her vagina right? I’m a bit dense with metaphors but luckily she’s being amazingly blunt on this album. Again, a great bassline, not much to the verses but it’s pretty simple and effective. The chorus is memorable, as are the several rather ropey sex talk moments (“Finger lickin good” ugh), but it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Almost listening just for the brazenly dirty lyrics.
09 Bad Girl – Oh now we are talking. The first video on the 93:99 collection which is pretty significant to me, that really opened me up to 90s Madonna and set this whole thing in motion. I think the video really gives this a boost but the song is pretty special on its own. I know it’s not a famous one, or a big hit, and probably not even a fan fave but I have always loved this. Just hits the right balance for me. Doesn’t feel like it’s got a sex agenda for once, it’s just a nice laid-back ballad with a decent melody.
09 Waiting – Again the production is spot on, that really makes this track. Doesn’t start off very promisingly but the bridge and chorus just give me goosebumps every time. The spoken bits are back but they don’t totally poop the party. I love how the bassline builds up when the chorus is coming, just really works for me. This laconic delivery should probably get boring, but it’s broken up enough with the singing bits.
08 Thief of hearts – I’m a little conscious that this is a bit of a fan fave. I don’t love it as much as that, but it is pretty good. I see similarities between this and “Rescue Me”, I prefer this definitely. BITCH *smashes glass*. It improves the more I listen to it, but it struggled to distinguish itself from generic early 90s dance, though that chorus is pretty hot. These songs are very long though aren’t they?
07 Words – Like the intro, but that sort of ethnic dancey beat through the rest of the track it is a bit too much, maybe coming so soon after “Thief of Hearts”. I like it, it’s very distinctive but the vocals seem rather drowned-out against all that production. By this point it feels like I’m going round in circles, maybe it’s the tempo or something but it’s feels a bit unoriginal after the tracks we’ve had so far. It’s ALRIGHT.
10 Rain – Now I KNOW this was a fan fave, and one of her more accessible early 90s tracks, not overtly sexual (though it’s about cum right?). That video too, really era-defining for her in terms of visuals, amazing. That’s probably because it’s about the only video they were allowed to show after “Erotica”. After all the hype I felt just on the right side of indifference to start with, but it has really been growing on me, those harmonies really are amazing. It’s quickly grown into a – maybe not undiscovered, just mislaid – classic.
08 Why’s it so hard? – I really like this, a protest song at heart I suppose, but it doesn’t feel preachy or awful. With lyrical content like this, it feels like she pre-empted the backlash she’d get from this album. I keep getting this mixed up with the “In this life” in their messages, it’s difficult to tell if this is about her personal struggles, or just the struggles of … minorities? But it has a great rhythm to it, that counts for something, right?
08 In this life – That rather dizzying piano intro always makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, it’s all a bit creepy and unsettling, I imagine that was the idea. I guess this an anti-AIDS song, which I think it accomplishes well without sounding too blunt. An orchestra too, amazing, and after all that it even works well as a song. Who knew?
06 Secret Garden – Ugh, talk about going out with a whimper, breaking a great run of songs, we are back to the rather cringey smut metaphors again. Leaves me a bit cold really, I hate the chorus too.
08 Did you do it – Now an odd one, essentially some sort of answer track to Waiting (using the same backing track), with some guy bragging about shagging Madonna in very graphic detail. Again I love the bassline and all the backing, and while I’m not usually one for rap this is really good. The blunt language always gives me a little smile too, “I thought I SPLIT IT!”, really vile! An interesting end to the album, and a surprise hit.
It was a bit of a PR misfire, and if the basis of that backlash was because of openly sexual content then I guess that’s just down to the timing, perhaps the mass market wasn’t quite ready for this from the biggest female star at that time. The shame is that the backlash came at the cost of the appreciation of a very solid album that tackle the subjects with subtlety and still feels sexy.
It’s only really the times when she’s trying too hard with slutty spoken-word segments that it falls down. The album seems to be getting some appreciation now, which is great as I think this is perhaps one of her stronger albums without trying to be overly commercial, in fact quite the contrary in places.
Keepers for the iPod: Erotica, Deeper and Deeper, Bad Girl, Rain, Waiting, Did you do it, Thief of hearts, In this life, Why’s it so hard?