Today in Madonna History: November 26, 1992

On November 26 1992, Rolling Stone magazine published their review of Madonna’s Erotica album, written by Arion Berger:

It took Madonna ten years, but she finally made the record everyone has accused her of making all along. Chilly, deliberate, relentlessly posturing. Erotica is a post-AIDS album about romance — it doesn’t so much evoke sex as provide a fetishistic abstraction of it. She may have intended to rattle America with hot talk about oral gratification and role switching, but sensuality is the last thing on the album’s mind. Moving claustrophobically within the schematic confines of dominance and submission, Erotica plays out its fantasies with astringent aloofness, unhumid and uninviting. The production choices suggest not a celebration of the physical but a critique of commercial representations of sex — whether Paul Verhoeven’s, Bruce Weber’s or Madonna’s — that by definition should not be mistaken for the real thing. It 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 co-producers 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 My Love, 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.

Look (or listen) but don’t touch sexuality isn’t the only peep-show aspect of this album; Erotica strives for anonymity the way True Blue strove for intimacy. With the exception of the riveting Bad Girl, in which the singer teases out shades of ambiguity in the mind of a girl who’d rather mess herself up than end a relationship she’s too neurotic to handle, the characters remain faceless. It’s as if Madonna recognizes the discomfort we feel when sensing the human character of a woman whose function is purely sexual. A sex symbol herself, she coolly removes the threat of her own personality.

Pure disco moments like the whirligig Deeper and Deeper don’t need emotional resonance to make them race. But the record sustains its icy tone throughout the yearning ballads (Rain, Waiting) and confessional moods (Secret Garden). Relieved of Madonna’s celebrity baggage, they’re abstract nearly to the point of nonexistence — ideas of love songs posing as the real thing. Even when Madonna draws from her own life, she’s all reaction, no feeling: The snippy Thief of Hearts takes swipes at a man stealer but not out of love or loyalty toward the purloined boyfriend, who isn’t even mentioned.

By depersonalizing herself to a mocking extreme, the Madonna of Erotica is sexy in only the most objectified terms, just as the album is only in the most literal sense what it claims to be. Like erotica, Erotica is a tool rather than an experience. Its stridency at once refutes and justifies what her detractors have always said: Every persona is a fake, the self-actualized amazon of Express Yourself no less than the breathless baby doll of Material Girl. Erotica continually subverts this posing to expose its function as pop playacting. The narrator of Bye Bye Baby ostensibly dumps the creep who’s been mistreating her, but Madonna’s infantile vocal and flat delivery are anything but assertive — she could be a drag queen toying with a pop hit of the past. 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.

 

 

Today in Madonna History: June 8, 1992

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On June 8 1992, Madonna began recording sessions for the Erotica album at Soundworks, in New York.

While the writing and recording of Madonna’s previous albums had typically unfolded rather quickly, Erotica marked a change of pace in the creation of a Madonna record. Songwriting sessions for the set had occurred sporadically throughout the previous year with Shep Pettibone, Tony Shimkin and Andre Betts, in between movie projects and photo shoots for her upcoming coffee table book, Sex.

In contrast to the slick production qualities of the albums that preceded it, Madonna wanted Erotica to feature a darker, more gritty and less polished sound. This led to the decision to carry over many of the original demo vocals recorded during the songwriting process at Shep’s home studio to the final versions, with mainly lyrical additions/changes, musical overdubs, background vocals and final mixing taking place during the sessions at Soundworks.

One notable change that did occur in these final recording sessions was Madonna’s decision to swap her original lyrics for the song Goodbye To Innocence (which had gone through various incarnations in an attempt to keep the track off the cutting room floor) with the lyrics of the torch classic, Fever.  An earlier arrangement of Goodbye To Innocence with lyrics intact was later featured on the pro-choice compilation album, Just Say Roe, while a dub version of the same arrangement was retitled Up Down Suite when it appeared as a b-side on the Rain maxi-single. Another rough demo of the same track (streaming above), which is referred to as the “Straight Pass” mix on its original submission for copyright registration (which indicates that mixing of the track had not been finalized and that it is not mastered), leaked to file sharing services in February, 2008.

The “Straight Pass” mix bears some similarity to another unreleased track that was discarded early in the recording sessions, You Are The One. Aside from the lyrical paradox (with “You are the one” flipped to “I am the one”), both feature samples from Arabic singer Fairuz that would be reworked into the released version of the Erotica album’s title track and lead single.

Today in Madonna History: May 15, 1993

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On May 15 1993, Madonna’s Fever hit number-one on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Club chart in the USA. Fever was the fourth single from the Erotica album and was the b-side to Bad Girl in North America.

Today in Madonna History: April 3, 1993

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On April 3 1993, Fever entered the UK Singles Chart at its peak position of number-six. Without the support of a proper music video at the time of its release (Warner UK instead issued a rarely seen compilation video of previous clips), the single spent only six weeks on the UK charts, dropping to number-seven the following week.

Strangely, Madonna did eventually decide to film a video for the song in late April  – nearly a month after its release in Europe. By the time the video premiered during the second week of May, Fever was spending its final week on the UK Singles Chart.

In North America the remixes for Fever had been issued commercially on Madonna’s previous international single, Bad Girl. Fever was also serviced to clubs as a promotional single in its own right, but it was not promoted to radio despite the video being added to into rotation on MTV and MuchMusic. While the release of the music video managed to coincide with Fever’s single week atop the Hot Dance/Club Play chart, its number-one status had already been confirmed several days prior to the clip’s debut, making the video’s intended purpose and the timing of its release all the more puzzling.

Today in Madonna History: March 27, 1993

On March 27 1993, Bad Girl peaked at #20 on the Canadian Top 100 Singles chart (RPM).

Although the single fared better in Canada than it did south of the border (it peaked at #36 on the Hot 100), Bad Girl nevertheless earned the undesirable distinction of being Madonna’s lowest charting Canadian single since Borderline at the time, which had peaked at #25 in September, 1984.

The Bad Girl single was backed with the album version of Fever in North America (both songs were released separately in Europe), while the Bad Girl maxi-single focused primarily on remixes of Fever along with an extended version of Bad Girl. Strangely, a music video for Fever was produced only after the single had run its course on the European charts, set to a remix that was not issued was not included on the North American maxi-single of Bad Girl or the Fever 12-inch promo set that was serviced to DJ’s in the U.S.

Despite the unusual promotion, Fever managed to top the U.S. Club chart and the video was put into regular rotation on MTV and MuchMusic in Canada.

Today in Madonna History: January 16, 1993

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On January 16 1993, Madonna was musical guest on NBC-TV’s Saturday Night Live, performing Fever and Bad Girl. She also appeared in the show’s opening skit – a humorous homage to Marilyn Monroe – alongside the late comedians Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks.

Perhaps a little too into character or, more likely, a little too nervous – she managed to flub the show’s signature intro tag line during the live broadcast, with the mistake being subsequently edited out of all repeated airings of the episode.

Fortunately any nervous energy quickly dissipated once Madonna took to the musical stage, where she delivered a stunningly confident and nuanced vocal performance backed by an equally impressive new band (which included several members that would be recruited for her Girlie Show tour later in the year). It was Madonna’s only live performance of Bad Girl to date, and despite many appearances on SNL, her only inclusion as featured musical guest.

The episode was hosted by Harvey Keitel, who was only weeks away from working with Madonna again in the film Dangerous Game (then known as Snake Eyes) which began shooting in February.

Would you like to see Madonna return to SNL as musical guest?

Today in Madonna History: July 31, 1993

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On July 31 1993, the fifth single from Madonna’s Erotica album, Rain, debuted at #7 on the UK Singles Chart.

In Japan, a ten track Rain mini album or EP was later released to celebrate the single and the upcoming Girlie Show concerts.  As usual, Australia copied the release, but eliminated the obi-strip from their pressing.

The EP included the following tracks:

Rain (Radio Remix)
Waiting (Remix)
Up Down Suite
Rain (Album Version)
Bad Girl (Extended Mix)
Fever (Extended 12″)
Fever (Shep’s Remedy Dub)
Fever (Murk Boys Miami Dub)
Fever (Oscar G’s Dope Mix)
Rain (Video Edit)

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