Thursday, March 12, 2009

When Madonna Was Hot - "Erotica"

Now perhaps the less said about "Sex" the better. But I want to look at the song "Erotica" on its own merits.

And it does have merits. For one, by this time Madonna was openly contradicting things that she would have done a mere few years before. Rolling Stone noticed the difference:

[The album] succeeds in a way the innocent post-punk diva of Madonna and the thoughtful songwriter of Like a Prayer could not have imagined. Its cold, remote sound systematically undoes every one of the singer's intimate promises.

Clinical enough on its own terms when compared with the lushness and romanticism of Madonna's past grooves, Erotica is stunningly reined in; even when it achieves disco greatness, it's never heady. Madonna, along with coproducers Andre Betts and Shep Pettibone, tamps down every opportunity to let loose – moments ripe for a crescendo, a soaring instrumental break, a chance for the listener to dance along, are over the instant they are heard. Erotica is Madonna's show (the music leaves no room for audience participation), and her production teases and then denies with the grim control of a dominatrix.

Against maraca beats and a shimmying horn riff, "Erotica" introduces Madonna as "Mistress Dita," whose husky invocations of "do as I say" promise a smorgasbord of sexual experimentation, like the one portrayed in the video for "Justify My Love." But the sensibility of "Erotica" is miles removed from the warm come-ons of "Justify," which got its heat from privacy and romance – the singer's exhortations to "tell me your dreams." The Madonna of "Erotica" is in no way interested in your dreams; she's after compliance, and not merely physical compliance either. The song demands the passivity of a listener, not a sexual partner. It's insistently self-absorbed – "Vogue" with a dirty mouth, where all the real action's on the dance floor....

Erotica is everything Madonna has been denounced for being – meticulous, calculated, domineering and artificial. It accepts those charges and answers with a brilliant record to prove them.

All Music Guide agreed:

"Erotica," and her album of the same name, bear witness to some of Madonna's most interesting and overlooked work. The single comes with seven mixes, most either house or hip-hop. The first is an edit of the album version; the second, a hip-hop mix by Kenlou B-Boy, features a different base line; while the sizzling third mix, courtesy of William Orbit, features alternate lyrics. The fourth and fifth mixes are house mixes (the fifth being a dub mix), while the sixth mix is a jeep beat instrumental, and the seventh, (the "Madonna's In My Jeep Mix"), lays the vocals over the jeep beats. This single packs a satisfying package, especially for fans of her more dance-oriented work, but don't overlook the original album version, which is one of her darkest, most sinister, and most interesting singles in her catalog.

Wilson, of Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews, disagrees about the song's merits, stating the following about the song:

Erotica (1992)

Released simultaneously with her pornographic coffee table book "Sex," the first single was the tuneless, surprisingly tame title track...

Incidentally, this series has been going on for a while, and since seven is a nice number, I'm only planning on doing one more post in this series. As a result, I'm going to skip over several 1990s Madonna songs, including "I'll Remember," "Secret," and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina."

If you read my 2003 post, you know where I want to go next. And you probably know what I'm going to say about reinvention of a persona.
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