By UK-based guest blogger Eric Generic

“I don’t think you know what day it is….”

Oh, we do. It’s Wednesday, October 14th, 1992 in the UK and the first all-new Madonna album since mid-1990 is upon us….

Madonna had taken a year off before, in 1988, after a one-two of soundtrack album followed by a compilation in the form of “Who’s That Girl” and “You Can Dance” which saw her through 1987. The trick was then repeated with “I’m Breathless” and “The Immaculate Collection“, as she wasted no time building on the momentum created by “Like A Prayer“‘s universally-positive reception.

Decisively taking the first year of the new decade and molding it in her own image, “Vogue” reaffirmed her dancefloor credentials before “Justify My Love” reaffirmed her desire….to court controversy while making bold creative decisions. The Immaculate Collection’s brilliant title played on obvious religious connotations, and the photoshoot included posing in a men’s urinal. It sold by the million, and at one point just before Christmas was racking up sales of over 300,000 copies in the UK during a single week. How on earth do you follow THAT? The answer, as far as Madonna was concerned, was to continue in the direction mapped out by “Justify My Love” and “Rescue Me” (the other new track on The Immaculate Collection) but it would be some time until this became clear. UK audiences would get nothing new during the whole of 1991, as Warner Music issued a mixture of re-releases (“Crazy For You“, “Holiday“) and a single version of “Rescue Me” with the now customary Top 10 results.

It seemed nothing could derail the Madonna juggernaut. A non-album 45, the gorgeously plaintive “This Used To Be My Playground“, from the film “A League Of Our Own” (in which she also had a major role) hit #1 in America (#3 in Britain) during the summer of 1992, but anyone anticipating more of the same for her next studio set would be in for a rude surprise – in more ways than one!

Can the “Erotica” album ever truly be separated from the infamous SEX book which emerged at roughly the same time? Did the reaction to the latter affect the former’s commercial prospects? Did so much explicit naughtiness simply create a sense of fatigue – oh god, here she goes again with the kinky stuff – which stopped the album being judged on its own merits?

What is undeniable is “Erotica” struggled like no Madonna record had struggled before. All things being comparable, of course. This was no Neither Fish Nor Flesh act of commercial suicide. All of its five UK singles reached the Top 10 as ever (albeit briefly, and in the case of “Bad Girl“, only just). In the final chart reckoning, the album made #2 on both sides of the Atlantic and lasted 38 weeks on the UK listings; far from a disaster for most artists but face it, She’s Madonna.

Erotica represented a comedown from the heights of “True Blue“, “Like A Prayer” and “The Immaculate Collection“. She had never been a stranger to controversy, and it’s fair to say that 1987 hadn’t been a vintage year for Madge with the handful of perfunctory “Who’s That Girl” songs and then the past-its-prime remix album, but the “Erotica” era felt like the first minor wobble of her career. The backlash was on all fronts; the book, the videos, the album artwork, the lyrics to several tracks. Had she overplayed her hand?

By 2022 standards, the more risque elements of “Erotica” are quite tame but 30 years ago it took some balls and bloody-mindedness to challenge the cultural taboos of the era in such a direct fashion. It’s also best done from a position of strength, so what better time for Madonna to push the envelope than in the afterglow of her multi-platinum greatest hits collection. Canny as ever? Maybe, but the lead single (and title cut) didn’t especially help her cause and probably gave people the wrong idea about the album itself. It’s a “Justify My Love” part deux, all glitchy sampled rhythms and S&M undertones (or overtones, as nothing is exactly subtle…she wants to hit us like a truck, remember). For the third time in her last four outings, Madonna is in breathy-spoken-vocal territory on the verses, with a rather facile refrain (Erotic, erotic, put your hands all over my body) for the chorus. In the context of the whole album, it works fine as an opening statement; priming the listener for the earthier, groove-based arrangements and probing, unapologetically candid lyrics. Whether it was the strongest or most suitable pick to lead the campaign is open to debate.

The reception given to Erotica (the album) upon release was decidedly mixed, polarizing critical opinion. Some couldn’t see past the NSFW content and Madonna’s refusal to censor herself, others recognized an album which stood defiantly apart from the mainstream and broke free from its expected (and accepted) constraints. Instead of producing straightforward dance-pop confections which would then find themselves remixed by the likes of Shep Pettibone, the Madonna of Erotica actually constructs the songs and the arrangements with Pettibone involved from the beginning. Those who listened without prejudice would be treated to arguably her most fascinating and rewarding album. I revisited Erotica for its 25th anniversary in 2017 with a brief summary of why it appealed to me in a way previous Madonna records had not, and how it had surprised me with its intelligence and humanity when I’d wrongly anticipated a tedious trawl through 70 minutes of S&M cliché.

Erotica also contradicts what I had grown to expect from a Madonna album; some killer singles peppered with a mixture of decent album cuts and perhaps a couple of fillers. There were no major hits this time (and in the US, only three of the singles made the Billboard Top 20) but “Deeper And Deeper” and a dancefloor deconstruction of the classic Fever should have fared better than they did. Yet the standout tracks were mostly to be found midway through; the sequence from “Bad Girl” (and its almost demo-quality charm) through “Waiting”, “Thief Of Hearts”, “Words”, “Rain” (the most commercial and old-school Madonna moment) and concluding with “In This Life” (surely her most sincere and effective ballad) is as varied as it is fantastic.

Madonna works through the entire spectrum of human emotions across these songs; guilt and addiction, desire and lust, anger and revenge, frustration and betrayal, joyous liberation and then confessional grief.

Perhaps, with hindsight, the lack of a defining song from “Erotica” has saved it from being overly associated with any particular track and allowed its rich qualities to be discovered by successive generations. What seemed out of place in 1992 now sounds like Madonna recognizing where the future lay, ignoring any potential hysteria and backlash to attempt something that has transcended the period it dates from.

Did she do it? You know she did it!

NOTE: If you liked this article, please be sure to check out our guest blogger’s fantastic music blog “Amazingly Few Discotheques Provide Jukeboxes“. Last, but not least, the singles from “Erotica” (especially “Bad Girl” and “Rain”) are still regular staples on the 24/7 global online radio broadcast tied to this blog.


Broadcasting Worldwide

In case you did not pick up on this earlier, the blog you are reading is affiliated with Radio Creme Brulee – an online radio station that features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. Alongside newer artists, we also play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s,90s, and the 00s. Noteworthy examples include Simply Red, Wet Wet Wet, a-ha, Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Dubstar, Tears For Fears, Duran Duran, Camouflage, Spandau Ballet, INXS, Depeche Mode, Suede, The Corrs, Jamiroquai, Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Culture Club.

Give us a spin when you get a chance.
We just might become your alternative of choice!