Updated: Aug 15, 2020
As the 1994 album makes #1 on the iTunes charts, we take a look back at why the star's underrated album is so enduring.
Madonna's sixth album, Bedtime Stories released in 1994, followed the heat from her most controversial period. The Erotica album (1992) and the SEX book caused a furore when released, but it gained the artist a huge amount of publicity, although not always for the right reasons. If attacking the Catholic Church and organised religion wasn't enough, Madonna's aim to break down sexual taboos and re-define the role of female sexuality may have made some people feel equally liberated, but others felt she had finally gone too far. I dare say these are exactly the sort of people the album was intended for in the first place. Regardless of the media and social outrage, Erotica is now regarded as one of Madonna's most acclaimed albums. Rather than add fire to the flames, the release for Bedtime Stories was very low key; there was little media coverage to promote the album and no subsequent tour due to her filming commitments on Evita. As a result, the album is often overlooked in the cannon of her work, despite being one of her best. The album has also remained an elusive collector's piece, with the original vinyl fetching a high price but happily, it finally gets it is well-deserved hundred and 180g reissue and deserves revisiting. At first glance, you could be fooled into thinking that the title makes the album simply a sequel to its predecessor, and in some ways, you'd be right. The album is certainly sexy and erotic in part due to the R & B and dub influences which give it a smooth, soulful feel, but it's also deeply romantic and layered with lyrical depth. If Madonna was aiming to reinvent herself again with the album she succeeded tenfold. The compilation album Something To Remember released a year later continued to shake off the one-dimensional image of her as a provocative pop star and get her taken seriously as an artist. If these two albums didn't fulfil that brief, then her acclaimed performance as Eva Peron and the universally regarded album Ray Of Light certainly would undo any damage caused in the previous decade. Survival opens the album with a distinctly different sound and has the singer proclaiming 'I'll never be an angel, I'll never be a saint it's true. I'm too busy surviving.' Lyrically it speaks volumes about her attitude towards the media and her chameleon-like status in the music industry. It's a hook-heavy track, with a sharp focus on harmonies and bass lines, something that is maintained throughout the album. The lead single, Secret, stills sound contemporary as does the rest of the album. The choice of enlisting several different producers helps to form a fresh and timeless sound to the album. It's certainly evident on a revisit that much of Madonna's work from the 90s and beyond does indeed have a perennial sound quality to it, in a similar way to the work of Kate Bush, Michael Jackson and Prince. The hip-hop influence of Erotica's Waiting creeps through tracks like Rather Be Your Lover, Inside Of Me and Human Nature. The latter plays on one of the themes from Madonna's previous singles, reaffirming the notion that you should 'express yourself, don't repress yourself.' Here she confronts previous haters, labelling them narrow-minded, and debating societies reluctance to talk about sex, after all, it is human nature. She offers the suave, yet unsanitised put-down, 'I'm not your bitch, don't hang your shit on me'. The final sting in the tail comes from her ability to challenge gender norms in society once again by asking her critics to consider if they would have tolerated her behaviour better if she was a man. It's a classy track which serves as an unrepentant two fingers to the stuffy collared establishment. Of course, this wouldn't be her only paean for unapologetic behaviour; she would later pick up the concept in 2015's Rebel Heart.
Here on in, there's a much more subdued, understated feel to the album, although none the less emotive and alluring. Love Tried To Welcome Me combines elements of acoustic guitar, strings and a soulful sway to tempt us into the mournful song of loneliness and lust. It's a terrifically sensitive song which is enhanced by Madonna's gentle and silken vocals.
Sanctuary hints at the hypnotic and mystical production that William Orbit would draw out in Ray Of Light. There's also elements of a similar sound in the ethereal and concupiscent, Bedtime Story, co-written by Bjork. These musical seedlings would grow to fruition on Ray Of Light, hinting at an artist who has a very clear foresight of what she wants to achieve musically. In many ways these two tracks bridge the gap between the two albums, showing the continued evolution of Madonna as an artist.
Take A Bow, the effortless ballad on the album makes use of strings and a lilting Japanese style piano refrain. It's stylistically different from anything else on the album, which is a credit to Madonna and the track's co-producer Babyface. There is an innocence, a vulnerability to the music, but also empowerment in the lyrics which serves to confuse us emotionally. It's certainly a graceful and unexpected end to a varied and noteworthy album.
Bedtime Stories may be a far cry from the explicit sounds of Erotica, it's more of a teasing, seductive pillow fight in comparison, yet it still had the power to create controversy. It's sexually suggestive which may have got people's back up, but the most crucial part of the album's legacy is the fact that Madonna refused to be silenced by critics and was steadfast in her unwillingness to kotow to their pressure to show remorse – a quality which has ensured that Madonna has stayed true to her artistic vision. That is something that she should never apologise for.