The Good: Decent duration, One or two good tracks
The Bad: Mundane dance sound, A number of ridiculous lyrics, Musically unimaginative, A lot of simplistic uses of Madonna’s vocals.
The Basics: Erotica is anything but musically sensual and it remains one of Madonna’s least impressive albums.
I remember when I was in high school and Madonna was making a huge publicity push. She was promoting her book Sex and in conjunction with that, her album Erotica, so it was a time when Madonna was pretty much putting it all out there. It has taken me more than twenty years, but as Madonna is my Artist Of The Month, it seemed appropriate to pick up and listen to Erotica. While Sex might have been shocking as a coffee table photography book with Madonna and Vanilla Ice exposing themselves in various places and situations, Erotica is a painfully dull album that is forgettable save, perhaps, two tracks.
Madonna created a concept album with Erotica, but instead of being something sensual or interesting, the album is a loosely-connected series of dance tracks and ballads connected by a canned, overproduced percussion line. While there are hints of vocal quality, Erotica does Madonna few services for displaying any real talent.
With thirteen tracks, clocking out 70:27, Erotica is mostly the work of Madonna and her producer Shep Pettibone. Madonna co-wrote each song on Erotica and she is a co-producer for that album. She provides the lead vocals on all of the songs, but she plays no musical instruments on the album.
Instrumentally, Erotica is a banal example of pop music. The songs are mostly dance tracks, though ballads like “Rain” and “Bad Girl” break up the album. There is a simplistic dance beat that connects many of the tracks and that makes the album seem like it has only two or three songs; the vacuous dance music is broken up only two or three times and that makes the album aurally uninteresting. Worse than that, outside “Rain,” there are no really distinctive melodies on Erotica. If one were to try to hum the tune to the radio hit “Deeper And Deeper” from Erotica, it is likely they would quickly get lost; the song does not have the memorability of “Like A Virgin” or “Ray Of Light.”
Vocally, Madonna is shockingly limited on Erotica. While “Rain” has her presenting her natural voice, “Erotica” has her voice produced over to be almost entirely unrecognizable. In fact, the vocals on Erotica are so dull that Madonna even includes a riff from “Vogue” in order to finish off one of the songs! As well, on an inordinate number of songs, Madonna simply degenerates into speaking while backed by a basic percussion track.
The unfortunate boredom of Erotica continues into the lyrics. The title track starts out the concept album with a Sex-promoting idea that is hardly as sexually-charged as the title might suggest. “Erotica” is a musical storysong that creates the concept of sexual exploration in a weird singsong way. With the lines “My name is Dita / I'll be your mistress tonight / I'd like to put you in a trance / If I take you from behind / Push myself into your mind / When you least expect it / Will you try and reject it / If I'm in charge and I treat you like a child / Will you let yourself go wild” (“Erotica”), the album opens feeling salacious, not sophisticated and not sexually relevatory.
The most emotional song on the album is “Rain.” Despite somewhat simplistic rhymes like “When your lips are burning mine / And you take the time to tell me how you feel / When you listen to my words / And I know you've heard, I know it's real / Rain is what this thunder brings / For the first time I can hear my heart sing / Call me a fool but I know I'm not / I'm gonna stand out here on the mountain top” (“Rain”), “Rain” still manages to capture a beautiful sense of loneliness and longing that is universal. While other songs might try to play with sexual themes that range from obscure to the offensive (for those who are offended by such things), “Rain” stands out as remarkably accessible.
But “Rain” is the exception to the rule, though. Instead, most of the songs have lines that rhyme the same word with itself and have little lasting value. So, when Madonna sings “You're a thief of hearts and now you'll have to pay / How many licks does it take? / You're a thief of hearts and now you'll have to pay / Which leg do you want me to break?” (“Thief Of Hearts”), the listener pretty much just groans and hopes the next track will be better (to be fair, “Words” is mildly better than “Thief Of Hearts”).
Erotica is one of the least-inspired concept albums to ever hit the racks and it is unsurprising that few songs from it appear on Madonna’s many compilation albums. It’s a generally poor album, easy to avoid.
The best song is “Rain,” the low point is the insipid “Bye Bye Baby.”
For other works by Madonna, please check out my reviews of:
“Nothing Really Matters” (single)
Confessions On A Dance Floor
For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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