We gave it a C+
I am ready, Madonna. I have submitted myself to your S&M-sound-bite video, ”Erotica,” and am now prepared to surrender to your supposed sizzling steak of a new album, Erotica. Take me to your lair. Manipulate me. Turn me into your quivering human plaything. Hurt me.
Before we begin, may I mention that as a single, ”Erotica” is depressingly trite — that between its frigid melody and your scary ”My name is Dita” spoken bits, it’s about as sexy as an episode of the Shelley Hack-era Charlie’s Angels? Ouch! My leather mask is a bit tight, Madonna. There, that’s better. Hold on — listen to the first half of this record, the tracks that follow ”Erotica.” My God — you haven’t made club music this intense and bottom-heavy since your first album. Dense, pitch-dark rumblings of sound, all clomping-dinosaur bass lines and drum programs and blippy synthesizers concocted by you and your coproducers, Shep Pettibone and Andre Betts.
I like it. Don’t stop. Pummel me with your rhythms. You want me to beg for more? Yes, I will. I offer myself before ”Deeper and Deeper,” which whooshes like a subway train going express at 4 a.m., and ”Waiting,” with its goose-step rhythms and creepy obsessive chorus that lingers long after you’ve heard it. They’re as subtle as a Panzer tank, but directness always has been your talent, hasn’t it, O priestess of pain?
But wait; something’s wrong, Madonna. Are you enjoying this? You don’t seem to be. Your voice — it sounds so…soulless. You and Shep sure do a bang-up job — pun intended — transforming ”Fever,” that old Peggy Lee hit, into a techno drone, but listen to the parched sound emitted from your throat on such tracks. It’s cold, deadened, remote. There’s nothing erotic about it, unless one finds the idea of a singing death mask sexy. And those lyrics — all these lonely-at-the-top, lovesick-victim songs like ”Waiting” (”Life has taught me that love/With a man like you/Is only gonna make me blue”) and the somber ”Bad Girl” (”I’m not happy this way,” indeed). Don’t take this the wrong way, but Erotica may be the most joyless dance music ever made.
Ouch! You didn’t say those cattle prods were going to be hot!
Okay, okay — there are a few moments when the record heats up. ”Secret Garden,” which hints at your desire to have offspring, and ”Where Life Begins,” with its insinuating, sirenlike ”Go down” chorus, slither and squirm across the floor. But with the exception of ”In This Life” (a sincere, if lugubrious, ballad about friends who have died of AIDS), you sound the most honest on ”Bye Bye Baby,” on which you taunt some chump with your sardonic, electronically altered chirp of a voice. Maybe that’s your point: that love and romance are hopeless conceits, that pain and torment are what bind us all together, that love and loss are intertwined in the ’90s.
Fascinating themes, but, as on all your other albums, you don’t follow through with them. On the second half, the chains loosen and you go soft, from a girl-group-on-downers ballad to overly busy dance filler. And to title a song ”Why’s It So Hard” and have it consist of banal platitudes about world peace — I mean, what’s the point of calling the thing Erotica if you don’t deliver?
What? The session’s over? Well, that wasn’t so bad. I hardly felt a thing. Then again, I don’t remember much of it, either. Next time, can you make the thongs just a little bit tighter? C+