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.
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Great article! I too love the Erotic album. In fact, not only is it my favourite album by Madonna, it’s the only one by her that I really love. I guess you could say I’m a casual fan at best, but this album really knocked my socks off.
And I agree with the reviewer about the Justify My Love and Erotica links. I think JML could easily have been included on the album, perhaps as a bonus track. But Deeper and Deeper is the standout for me, which is saying a lot with other strong singles and album tracks.
How sad that even on THIS station you can’t get away from the pathetic, attention-seeking, highly suspect and ridiculously awful fake pop star that IS Madonna! Granted this highly derivative disc is it’s best attempt to make an all-round album and even then the wretched cover of ‘Fever’ (talk about the classless attempting to ape the classy) and Kim Wilde had already used a snippet of this song to introduce her 1983 ‘Love Blonde’ smash on her 1986 world tour, a Marilyn Monroe backdrop behind her, utterly forgettable ‘Deeper & Deeper’ and most of the other yawns were just this creature at its usual boring self, albeit just not so awful as on its other albums. But how convenient that the usual overblown fanfares don’t state this album only sounds halfway listenable because of the stolen Enigma sound, and particularly German singer Sandra’s songs on it. Two in particular from Sandra’s career-best “Close To Seven” album, released between Jan and Feb 1992 run all the way through ‘dogga’s best ever song-the sleazily autobiographical ‘Thief Of Hearts’. (Thief of Sounds more like, & Styles & Images, but as this approach was always rewarded from the appalling get-go, why stop now. Sandra’s 1st 1992 single the ultra-cool ‘Don’t Be Aggressive’ and near-to-end of CD song ‘Love Turns To Pain’ are so CLEARLY the living quilt of ‘Thief Of Hearts’-all it requires is stop air-kissing the hot-air Godzilla of all your lives and listen to something else. It’s very easy to STEAL from Euro-artists and others that don’t always get hits-this very factor is all the average person needs to bleat-“Oh wow she’s done something new again!” never even considering she’s been ripping off something they’ve never even heard of and wouldn’t listen to anyway!
Considering this being is the most OVERRATED person on the planet (the fact you have to pretend anything this one-woman media-circus/cum-dungeon madam does could EVER be the opposite says it all that this woman’s ‘career’ is the biggest lie that will live forever, but then anyone stupid enough to welcome it as a world-changing genius; an actual ‘artist’ decades ago, they’ll take it to the grave and likely beyond. How sad someone clearly desperate and lacking in anything musically worthwhile and fulfilling should fool so many and for so long and it’s not even a subtle takeover of a dumb, weak nation. Granted ‘Bad Girl’, ‘Rain’ & even ‘Erotica’ (for what it is) alongside the already mentioned ‘Thief Of Parts’ are, for this monster, good songs, with very little to embarrass. They’re almost grown up, almost mature, but this is the best and largest strike-rate she’ll ever have, and, oh the irony, ‘Thief’ not even a single, though of course I had to hear it on the radio when the album was coming out as it’s her so let’s shove her all over as usual. Guess lines like “she spins her web and gives you her poison” & “think she gets respect if she screws it” is so utterly her mantra to get anywhere, it even scared her off!
Underrated album?! SHE can EVER have something that 99.9% of the population don’t mindlessly fawn over just cos it’s got Jesus’s mother’s name on the cover? Please! Just cos this was the first one even the stat police don’t pretend to be No.1 for a decade, it still got to an artificially high placing that none of them deserve in a chart life none deserve. Granted her awful whiny Bo-peep sheep-in-pain squeal that alternates embarrassingly with a bulldog bark (first noticeably apparent in 1986) as the harlot forever dives (of course!) for a key it could never find has been hidden deeply beneath masses of programming to desperately give the impression of a club vocalist makes it more palatable than it’s ever going to be, but come on, so that “Sex” book actually harmed the album somewhat, her choice nobody else’s, how ELSE do you lampoon millions of morons to keep buying your junk? Well, for a no-talent, you need events and gimmicks & non-stop controversy, which for the eternally lucky antichrist of celebrity ALWAYS goes its way. No about of embarrassing soft drink sponsorships, lines about having sex in church with her dad, kissing 12 years old boys on the lips for videos, being sacrilegious to great swathes of the Universe with burning crosses just to drum up support for an ailing record, makes me think any move she makes for her so-called career is as artificial as what comes out of it. Tough, SOMEONE has to say it. Oh and that ‘Justify My Love’ chanting stuff it’s doing, she got that from Sandra anyway. One listen to a Sandra and certainly an Enigma record will tell you that.
So best record yes, (if you can call 4 over-long songs off an album of 6 other overlong horrors a whole album!) Can’t even enjoy the slight backlash of 40 years ago (i.e. a backlash usually reserved for normal artists when the press go off them the next year for snobby & fickle reasons of fashion only!) when everyone then takes it back. Just admit it, no one is EVER objective or real when it come to this tramp. If you could all 100 out of 10 EVERY wretched turd it’s ever made that passes as an album, you would. I’m surprised you don’t re-invent the laws of numeracy just FOR this reason. What IS it about this thing that the minute it appeared from the gutter it should never have left in 198whore, you all decided that clearly: HERE IS GOD!!??
You want Underrated Albums? I’ve got tonnes. Try EVERYTHING KIM WILDE ever made and continues to, SANDRA, ALPHAVILLE, SPARKS and CHINA CRISIS ditto. Hell, even DURAN DURAN are underrated-all of their records being FAR better than all the naysayers claim, people, incidentally, like the rest, who thinks Madonna invented music!!?? Much like you do yourselves. Just admit it, the DAY that thing makes a record that actually MISSES the Top 10 in just ONE COUNTRY, never mind misses the bloody charts, even THEN it wouldn’t be underrated. Do you not know what Underrated actually stands for? Look it up, it’ll be for things treated lousily on-release that either charted badly, if at all, or though sold, was universally hated at the time, and likely still is. Most underrated things remains so cos (a) the artist they’re from IS already underrated and misunderstood and (b) their albums are quickly & deliberately forgotten over time and remains so. Wow, I haven’t been on this site for ages, though on Kim Wilde’s ‘Birthday’ (who IS the best female EVER by the way) thought I’d just come on here and scroll down to see what was featured and BANG if you can’t GET AWAY from the antichrist on here. Jesus, if that miserable excuse for an artist actually was known for supporting terrorism and laughed at the damage done via Covid-19, you’d all be calling for her to replace Joe Biden in the White House! Why haven’t you already? You really do believe this creature IS the Madonna, don’t you, you know the one who raised Jesus. Great, only instead of raising Jesus, this one erased all your brains and then razed your empire, and you THANK IT??!!