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Bedtime Stories Play

Perhaps Madonna correctly guessed that the public overdosed on the raw carnality of her book Sex. Perhaps she wanted to offer a more optimistic take on sex than the distant Erotica. Either way, Bedtime Stories is a warm album, with deep, gently pulsating grooves; the album's title isn't totally tongue-in-cheek. The best songs on the album ("Secret," "Inside of Me," "Sanctuary," "Bedtime Story," "Take a Bow") slowly work their melodies into the subconscious as the bass pulses. In that sense, it does offer an antidote to Erotica, which was filled with deep but cold grooves. The entire production of Bedtime Stories suggests that she wants listeners to acknowledge that her music isn't one-dimensional. She has succeeded with that goal, since Bedtime Stories offers her most humane and open music; it's even seductive. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Ray of Light Play

Returning to pop after a four-year hiatus, Madonna enlisted respected techno producer William Orbit as her collaborator for Ray of Light, a self-conscious effort to stay abreast of contemporary trends. Unlike other veteran artists who attempted to come to terms with electronica, Madonna was always a dance artist, so it's no real shock to hear her sing over breakbeats, pulsating electronics, and blunted trip-hop beats. Still, it's mildly surprising that it works as well as it does, largely due to Madonna and Orbit's subtle attack. They've reined in the beats, tamed electronica's eccentricities, and retained her flair for pop melodies, creating the first mainstream pop album that successfully embraces techno. Sonically, it's the most adventurous record she has made, but it's far from inaccessible, since the textures are alluring and the songs have a strong melodic foundation, whether it's the swirling title track, the meditative opener, "Substitute for Love," or the ballad "Frozen." For all of its attributes, there's a certain distance to Ray of Light, born of the carefully constructed productions and Madonna's newly mannered, technically precise singing. It all results in her most mature and restrained album, which is an easy achievement to admire, yet not necessarily an easy one to love. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

MDNA Play

The 12th studio album from singer Madonna, 2012's MDNA features all-new material from the pop icon with production from French electronic musician and DJ Martin Solveig, as well as longtime Madonna collaborator William Orbit. Coming on the heels of Madonna's half-time performance at the 2012 Super Bowl, the album's title is an abbreviation of her name. Included are the singles "Give Me All Your Luvin'" featuring Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., as well as "Girls Gone Wild.", Rovi

American Life Play

Performed by a vocalist who had recently abandoned the U.S. for the U.K., American Life is an album co-produced by a French techno mastermind, recorded during a time of strife in America, and released just after the country completed a war. Given that context and given that the vocalist is arguably the biggest star in the world, the title can't help but carry some import, carry the weight of social commentary. And it follows through on that promise, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly, but either way, American Life winds up as the first Madonna record with ambitions as serious as a textbook. It plays as somberly as either Like a Prayer or Ray of Light, just as it delves into an insular darkness as deep as Erotica while retaining the club savviness of the brilliant, multi-colored Music. This is an odd mixture, particularly when it's infused with a searching, dissatisfied undercurrent and a musical sensibility that is at once desperate and adventurous, pitched halfway between singer/songwriterisms and a skimming of current club culture. It's pulled tight between these two extremes, particularly because the intimate guitar-based songs (and there are a lot of them, almost all beginning with just her and a guitar) are all personal meditations, with the dance songs usually functioning as vehicles for social commentary. Even if the sparer ballads are introspective, they're treated as soundscapes by producer Mirwais, giving them an unsettling eerie quality that is mirrored by the general hollowness of the club songs. There's a lot that's interesting about American Life -- the half-hearted stabs at politics fall aside, and there are things bubbling in the production that are quite infectious, while the stretch from "Nobody Knows Me" to "X-Static Process" in the middle of the record can be quite moving. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Confessions on a Dance Floor Play

Given the cold shoulder Madonna's 2003 album American Life received by critics and audiences alike -- it may have gone platinum, but apart from the Bond theme “Die Another Day,” released in advance of the album, it generated no new Top Ten singles (in fact, its title track barely cracked the Top 40) -- it's hard not to read its 2005 follow-up, Confessions on a Dance Floor, as a back-to-basics move of sorts: after a stumble, she's returning to her roots, namely the discos and clubs where she launched her career in the early '80s. It's not just that she's returning to dance music -- in a way, she's been making hardcore dance albums ever since 1998's Ray of Light, her first full-on flirtation with electronica -- but that she's revamping and updating disco on Confessions instead of pursuing a bolder direction. While it's true to a certain extent that contemporary dance music is still recycling and reinventing these songs -- besides, anything '80s is in vogue in 2005 -- coming from Madonna, it sounds like a retreat, an inadvertent apology that she's no longer on the cutting edge, or at least an admission that she's inching ever closer to 50. And no matter how she may disguise it beneath glistening layers of synths, or by sequencing the album as a nonstop party, Confessions on a Dance Floor is the first album where Madonna seems like a veteran musician. Not only is there a sense of conscious craft to the album, in how the sounds and the songs segue together, but in how it explicitly references the past -- both her own and club music in the larger sense -- the music seems disassociated from the present; Madonna is reworking familiar territory, not pushing forward, in a manner not dissimilar to how her former opening act the Beastie Boys returned to old-school rap on their defiantly old-fashioned 2004 album To the 5 Boroughs.
But where the Beasties are buoyed by their camaraderie, Madonna has always been a stubborn individual, working well with collaborators but always, without question, existing on her own terms, and this obstinate nature is calcifying slightly into isolation on Confessions. There's no emotional hook in the music, either in its icy surface or in the lyrics, and the hard-headed intention to deliver a hardcore dance album means that this feels cold and calculated, never warm or infectious. Of course, Madonna has always been calculated in her career, often to great effect, and this calculation does pay some dividends here. Taken on a purely sonic level, Confessions on a Dance Floor does its job: with the assistance of co-producer Stuart Price (Bloodshy & Avant produce two tracks, Mirwais produces one, while another was originally produced by Anders Bagge and Peer Astrom), she not only maintains the mood, but keeps the music moving nicely, never letting one track linger any longer than necessary. This is shimmering music falling just short of sexy, yet it's alluring enough on the surface to make for a perfect soundtrack for pitch-black nights. That's what the album was designed to do, and it works well on that level. It works well as a whole, but as a collection of individual tracks it falls apart, since there is a distinct lack of melodic or lyrical hooks. But Confessions wasn't intended to be pop music -- as the title makes clear, it was made for the dance clubs or, in other words, Madonna's core audience, who will surely be pleased by this sleek slice of style. But the fact that she's making music just for her core audience, not for the mass audience that she's had for 20 years, is yet another indication that Madge is slyly, slowly settling into her new status as a veteran (or perhaps as a survivor), and while she succeeds rather handsomely on those modest terms, it's more than a little odd to hear Madonna scaling back her ambition and settling for less rather than hungering for more. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Hard Candy Play

As with nearly everything she’s done, the groove-heavy Hard Candy is distinctly Madonna's own. The Material Girl sculpted her sound this time out by hiring some of the hottest producers on the scene, including Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell and the Neptunes. Cuts like the lead-off single, “4 Minutes” (a duet with Timberlake), and the thumping, sexy title track sparkle with a contemporary club feel. Yet Madonna’s classic pop sensibilities are far from lost in the mix. “Beat Goes On” recalls vintage singles like “Holiday”; “Heartbeat” is sleek, singalong Europop; and “Miles Away” is a love song that rides a sweet midtempo groove., Rovi

Another Suitcase in Another Hall Play

"Another Suitcase in Another Hall" was released as a European single, and was the third European hit from the soundtrack to Evita. The single includes three other tracks from the film, resulting in its being more of a mini-hits package than anything else. Included is the album version of the song, which finds Madonna giving an understated and inspired performance. The single edit of the dance version of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" is included, as well as the soundtrack's first hit, "You Must Love Me," both of which were hits in the U.S. To round out the package is the soundtrack's "Hello and Goodbye." "Another Suitcase in Another Hall," although a small hit in Europe, is virtually unknown to American audiences (unless one is a fan of the musical). One hopes that this overlooked gem might find its way onto future Madonna hits collections, because it is truly a wonderful song. ~ Jose Promis, Rovi

Like a Prayer Play

Out of all of Madonna's albums, Like a Prayer is her most explicit attempt at a major artistic statement. Even though it is apparent that she is trying to make a "serious" album, the kaleidoscopic variety of pop styles on Like a Prayer is quite dazzling. Ranging from the deep funk of "Express Yourself" and "Keep It Together" to the haunting "Oh Father" and "Like a Prayer," Madonna displays a commanding sense of songcraft, making this her best and most consistent album. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Madonna Play

Although she never left it behind, it's been easy to overlook that Madonna began her career as a disco diva in an era that didn't have disco divas. It was an era where disco was anathema to the mainstream pop, and she had a huge role in popularizing dance music as a popular music again, crashing through the door Michael Jackson opened with Thriller. Certainly, her undeniable charisma, chutzpah, and sex appeal had a lot to do with that -- it always did, throughout her career -- but she wouldn't have broken through if the music wasn't so good. And her eponymous debut isn't simply good, it set the standard for dance-pop for the next 20 years. Why did it do so? Because it cleverly incorporated great pop songs with stylish, state-of-the-art beats, and it shrewdly walked a line between being a rush of sound and a showcase for a dynamic lead singer. This is music where all of the elements may not particularly impressive on their own -- the arrangement, synth, and drum programming are fairly rudimentary; Madonna's singing isn't particularly strong; the songs, while hooky and memorable, couldn't necessarily hold up on their own without the production -- but taken together, it's utterly irresistible. And that's the hallmark of dance-pop: every element blends together into an intoxicating sound, where the hooks and rhythms are so hooky, the shallowness is something to celebrate. And there are some great songs here, whether it's the effervescent "Lucky Star," "Borderline," and "Holiday" or the darker, carnal urgency of "Burning Up" and "Physical Attraction." And if Madonna would later sing better, she illustrates here that a good voice is secondary to dance-pop. What's really necessary is personality, since that sells a song where there are no instruments that sound real. Here, Madonna is on fire, and that's the reason why it launched her career, launched dance-pop, and remains a terrific, nearly timeless, listen. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

True Blue Play

True Blue is the album where Madonna truly became Madonna the Superstar -- the endlessly ambitious, fearlessly provocative entertainer that knew how to outrage, spark debates, get good reviews -- and make good music while she's at it. To complain that True Blue is calculated is to not get Madonna -- that's a large part of what she does, and she is exceptional at it, but she also makes fine music. What's brilliant about True Blue is that she does both here, using the music to hook in critics just as she's baiting a mass audience with such masterstrokes as "Papa Don't Preach," where she defiantly states she's keeping her baby. It's easy to position anti-abortionism as feminism, but what's tricky is to transcend your status as a dance-pop diva by consciously recalling classic girl-group pop ("True Blue," "Jimmy Jimmy") to snag the critics, while deepening the dance grooves ("Open Your Heart," "Where's the Party"), touching on Latin rhythms ("La Isla Bonita"), making a plea for world peace ("Love Makes the World Go Round"), and delivering a tremendous ballad that rewrites the rules of adult contemporary crossover ("Live to Tell"). It's even harder to have the entire album play as an organic, cohesive work. Certainly, there's some calculation behind the entire thing, but what matters is the end result, one of the great dance-pop albums, a record that demonstrates Madonna's true skills as a songwriter, record-maker, provocateur, and entertainer through its wide reach, accomplishment, and sheer sense of fun. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Like a Virgin Play

Madonna had hits with her first album, even reaching the Top Ten twice with "Borderline" and "Lucky Star," but she didn't become a superstar, an icon, until her second album, Like a Virgin. She saw the opening for this kind of explosion and seized it, bringing in former Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers in as a producer, to help her expand her sound, and then carefully constructed her image as an ironic, ferociously sexy Boy Toy; the Steven Meisel-shot cover, capturing her as a buxom bride with a Boy Toy belt buckle on the front, and dressing after a night of passion, was as key to her reinvention as the music itself. Yet, there's no discounting the best songs on the record, the moments when her grand concepts are married to music that transcends the mere classification of dance-pop. These, of course, are "Material Girl" and "Like a Virgin," the two songs that made her an icon, and the two songs that remain definitive statements. They overshadow the rest of the record, not just because they are a perfect match of theme and sound, but because the rest of the album vacillates wildly in terms of quality. The other two singles, "Angel" and "Dress You Up," are excellent standard-issue dance-pop, and there are other moments that work well ("Over and Over," "Stay," the earnest cover of Rose Royce's "Love Don't Live Here"), but overall, it adds up to less than the sum of its parts -- partially because the singles are so good, but also because on the first album, she stunned with style and a certain joy. Here, the calculation is apparent, and while that's part of Madonna's essence -- even something that makes her fun -- it throws the record's balance off a little too much for it to be consistent, even if it justifiably made her a star. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Music Play

Filled with vocoders, stylish neo-electro beats, dalliances with trip-hop, and, occasionally, eerie synthesized atmospherics, Music blows by in a kaleidoscopic rush of color, technique, style, and substance. It has so many layers that it's easily as self-aware and earnest as Ray of Light, where her studiousness complemented a record heavy on spirituality and reflection. Here, she mines that territory occasionally, especially as the record winds toward its conclusion, but she applies her new tricks toward celebrations of music itself. That's not only true of the full-throttle dance numbers but also for ballads like "I Deserve It" and "Nobody's Perfect," where the sentiments are couched in electronic effects and lolling, rolling beats. Ultimately, that results in the least introspective or revealing record Madonna has made since Like a Prayer, yet that doesn't mean she doesn't invest herself in the record. Working with a stable of producers, she has created an album that is her most explicitly musical and restlessly creative since, well, Like a Prayer. She may have sacrificed some cohesion for that willful creativity but it's hard to begrudge her that, since so much of the album works. If, apart from the haunting closer "Gone," the Orbit collaborations fail to equal Ray of Light or "Beautiful Stranger," they're still sleekly admirable, and they're offset by the terrific Guy Sigsworth/Mark "Spike" Stent midtempo cut "What It Feels Like for a Girl" and Madonna's thriving partnership with Mirwais. This team is responsible for the heart of the record, with such stunners as the intricate, sensual, folk-psych "Don't Tell Me," the eerily seductive "Paradise (Not for Me)," and the thumping title track, which sounds funkier, denser, sexier with each spin. Whenever she works with Mirwais, Music truly comes alive with the spark and style. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Complete Studio Albums (1983-2008) Play

The Complete Studio Albums (1983-2008) is an 11-disc box set that covers the self-titled album through Hard Candy. Dedicated Madonna fans know from that number that I'm Breathless -- the Dick Tracy tie-in -- must not be included, and that's the case. This set, which retailed around $70 when it was released in March 2012, is meant more for voracious newcomers than longtime followers. The packaging is sharp but not elaborate -- a clamshell box with each disc packaged in a paper LP-replica sleeve. Since they did not appear on any of the proper studio albums, several major hits -- including "Into the Groove," "Vogue," "Justify My Love," "I'll Remember," and "This Used to Be My Playground -- are not here. That's the trade-off. While the box is a convenient and reasonably priced way to obtain most of Madonna's releases, an investment of that scope should entail all the stray hits from the same era. This really could have used a 12th disc. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Immaculate Collection/Something to Remember Play

In 2001, WEA released Immaculate Collection/Something to Remember, which combined a pair of compilations -- Immaculate Collection (1990, originally released on Sire) and Something to Remember (1995, originally released on Maverick) -- by Madonna on two compact discs. ~ John Bush, Rovi
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