Madonna’s fifth studio album, “Erotica” was released all the way back in 1992 on Warner Brothers Records, who were also distributing a new label which she founded at the time called Maverick Records. Its release coincided with a black-and-white coffee table book, quite simply (and bluntly) titled, “SEX.” Quite naturally, this project caused a lot of controversy, as it depicted images of bondage and threesomes with such celebrities as rappers Big Daddy Kane, Vanilla Ice and Supermodel Naomi Campbell. The album itself was also deemed quite controversial, thanks to its explicit sexual references.… which, of course, was nothing compared to the overtly profanity-laced TV appearance she made two years later on David Letterman’s late-night talk-show. At the time of writing, the “Erotica” album has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, so Madonna must have been doing something right after all. At any rate, what better time to look back on this album? Here are some thoughts on each song:
Erotica: Madonna’s first foray into much more of a Hip-Hop type of sound is dominated (no pun intended) by a big heavy beat along with the sounds of an old vinyl record crackling and a sample of Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” while Madonna plays the role of a Dominatrix called Dita who wants to take her partner from behind so she can hit them like a truck and teach them how to…. well, you know! But “the F word” is never actually used, even though it’s clearly printed in the accompanying “Sex” book. Why that was omitted is anyone’s guess as the lyrics are explicit enough as it is.
Fever: As everyone knows, this song was made popular by a singer named Peggy Lee. Madonna has decided to put her own personal spin on it by giving it much more of a house type of sound. Although it wasn’t originally intended to be on the album, it was a last minute addition, as one of the other songs was not working out for her. Still you could argue that she decided to cover a sexy song for a “sexy” album. And in the video, she was looking all metallic with her hair slicked forward.
Bye Bye Baby: Madonna makes it clear from the very beginning that “this is not a love song.” In fact, she’s caught somewhere in between both love and hatred at the very same time. So, it’s clearly a break-up song, which sounds as though it was recorded through an answering machine, implying the person is being dumped by phone. Madonna’s live performances of this song seem to suggest that it was written for a female lover, as and she and her dancers have performed it dressed in full-on male drag while grabbing their crotches and receiving lap dances from three other women decked out in Burlesque-styled lingerie, which may have been done for the sake of entertainment and titillation. This song concludes with Madonna saying, “You fucked it up,” but the so-called “F word” is literally bleeped out for some strange reason.
Deeper And Deeper: One of the most radio friendly songs on the “Erotica” album, hence it became the biggest hit. It’s another house song with a Spanish Flamenco guitar break down, which is pretty cool. The chorus says, “I can’t help falling in love, I fall deeper and deeper.” But it was probably just lust. Other than that, she’s talking about being encouraged by her parents growing up, knowing which notes to sing. Yeah, that’s why back in the eighties she had a big hit with “Daughter Don’t Sing.” AHEM! “Papa Don’t Preach.”
Where Life Begins: Back to the jazzy hip-hop sound on this next one, which, much like the title track, is very heavily based on a spoken word piece along with actual singing. Madonna compares eating a home-cooked meal to oral sex and she later uses the world-famous Colonel Sanders catchphrase, “Finger licking good.” LICKING is the keyword here, which begs the question: Was this song recorded for mere shock value? Or was she just encouraging a lot of young girls to experiment with their sexuality? Still, it makes sense that she would call this song “Where Life Begins.”
Bad Girl: The first ballad on the album is seemingly quite introspective, as Madonna sings about being “drunk by six,” smoking too many cigarettes and sleeping around with a whole bunch of different men. It was most likely written from a fictional standpoint and it featured Christopher Walken in the video. Ugh! Madonna’s voice is very annoying and it makes you wanna hurt somebody. NEXT!
Waiting: Essentially this is another version of “Justify My Love,” as it uses the same phrasing, in particular, “I’m waiting for you,” but in this case it’s heartbreak she’s waiting on, rather than sex. The credits say she wrote this one, but she had nothing to do with writing “Justify My Love.” She was trying to be sexy, but it sounds more like had a cold when she recorded it.
Thief Of Hearts: Straight up: This is Madonna being extremely bitchy because another woman has stolen her boyfriend, so you get lines like: “Here she comes, little miss think she can have. Here she comes, acting all dejected.” It’s a little too flamboyant for this here reviewer, put it that way. She decides to slip back into Dominatrix mode at the end of the song: “Stop, bitch.. now sit your ass down.”
Words: This one was co-written by Shep Pettibone, who did a lot of her remixes back in the day. So it would make sense for them to do a very dance orientated type of tune. Actually he wrote a few songs on this album, but this one is quite reminiscent of “Vogue.” She’s talking about somebody using words to hurt her feelings, so she doesn’t want to have anything to do with that. Yeah, onto the next one.
Rain: Another ballad and another huge hit from the “Erotica” album. Maybe it’s a little overplayed. The rain is obviously a metaphor for feeling love…. not a bad track. Around the same time, Madonna also had a hit with another song called “This Used To Be My Playground” from the movie “A League Of Their Own,” which probably would’ve been out-of-place here, so you get this one instead.
Why’s It So Hard?: Yes, this is Madonna’s “Sex” album, but get your mind out of the gutter, because the question she is asking is: “Why is it so hard to love one another?” It was 1992 when this album came out, but that question is still relevant today and probably always will be. It has that very slick early ‘90s hip-hop sound behind it. George Michael used the same kind of beat for a B-Side of his at the time called “Crazy Man Dance.”
In This Life: Back in 1992, people were starting to become a lot more aware of HIV/AIDS and this is song is quite obviously a dedication to two different men who passed away from the illness. Not really my thing but it’s understandable why the song would be included on the album.
Did You Do It?: Madonna’s bass player decided to mess around in the studio while she stepped out for a break and she ended up liking his rapping, so she included it on the album. Slightly reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It” and… definitely very rude. At one point, Andre’s friend asks if the girl he “did” sat on his face. It’s certainly quite a playful type of rap, though… he even imitates a Jamaican accent at one point and starts dance hall toasting. If he was an MC I would’ve bought his album!
Secret Garden: The closing song of the “Erotica” album features Madonna speaking each verse and then actually singing the chorus. It’s another metaphoric tune, which is actually about her vagina believe it or not. That’s what the secret garden is. Given the way that this song is delivered it makes you wonder if she was listening to the one and only album by Prince’s protege, Ingrid Chavez, who actually wrote “Justify My Love.” Because it sounds very much like what she was doing.
Verdict: Evidently there were other topics being discussed on this album, as opposed to just sex and in all honesty, I was all of 10 when it first came out, so I didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about, but now that I’m grown, I almost seem impatient with this album, like it’s old news…. probably because I’ve heard it so many times that it’s unbearable! Furthermore, there was a time where I felt as though I outgrew Madonna’s music, especially when all she does is purposely shock her audience to the point where it’s incredibly played out now. So, with that in mind, I’m going to leave the “Erotica” album back in 1992 and carry on. It’s time we all reached out 4 something new and that means U, 2… but not the band.