Madonna never stops straining at the parameters of mainstream approval.
Her controversial, best-selling book, “Sex,” blows smoke in the faces of uptight conservatives with its stark, sensuous, and often playful photographic images of alternative lifestyles like homosexuality and S&M. Many have responded to the tome with outrage, while others applaud her latest effort to boldly explore and exploit subjects previously whispered in private.
But what about “Erotica”? Like “Sex,” her first studio recording since 1989’s “Like A Prayer” takes a left-of-center creative approach that aims to broaden the terms of radio acceptability. Cute ditties like past hits “Cherish” and “Material Girl” are replaced by intelligent, pensive tunes such as the wrenching, AIDS-weary “In This Life,” and tough, dance/hip-hop jams like ‘Words” and ‘Waiting.”
In many ways, “Erotica” comes across like a conscious return to clubland, where her roots lie. Not surprisingly, her ardent following at this level is so strong that “Erotica,” the single, sprints to No. 1 this week on Billboard’s Club Play chart less than one month after remixes by Louie Vega, Kenny Gonzalez, and William Orbit were released.
Beyond its considerable lyrical strength, this album is fueled by Madonna’s astute choices in Shep Pettibone and Andre Betts as collaborators. Though they come from opposite ends of the dance music spectrum (Pettibone is hailed as a pioneer remixer, while Betts is a hip-hop-minded newcomer), together the three have assembled a seamless set that has enough street-savvy to heat up dancefloors for months, while easily maintaining a tight grip on top 40 programmers. Next we will take a closer look at the boyz in La M’s hood.
What follows are excerpts from our recent conversation with Madonna, who is currently mapping out the future of her new Warner Bros.-distributed label, Maverick, as well as her next single, “Deeper & Deeper.” The cut, which is due out at the end of the month, has already been remixed for clubs by Pettibone and David Morales.
BILLBOARD: This is clearly your most club-accessible album. Was that intentional?
MADONNA: When I got married and moved to California, I tried to get into that whole lifestyle; like hanging out on the beach. And that was one way to experience life. But then I gravitated back to New York City, and my roots, and the club scene, which was so inspiring to me at the beginning of my career. There’s nothing better than going to the [Sound] Factory on a Saturday night. I like to sit on a speaker, and watch humanity just pulsating, and everybody is one. It’s so cool. That’s what moves me. That’s the kind of music I want to make.
BB: And the dance music community has supported you throughout your career.
MADONNA: Absolutely. I identify with the underdog. I feel like I take a lot of shit, and so does the gay and dance community. I feel comfortable there. I guess misery loves company. [Laughs] I’m not going to feel comfortable in a country club in Connecticut. I’m a freak to those people. I want to go where other people can go and feel like “we’re different, but we’re not freaks. We’re just different.”
BB: What do you think of the remixes of “Erotica”?
MADONNA: I love all of the “Madonna In My Jeep” mixes. They’re great to have sex to. They don’t knock me off my feet. But I think that’s because we approached the songs from a remix point of view to begin with. To me, it was hard to make [“Erotica”] better. Don’t get me wrong, they did a good job. But none are as sexy as the original.
BB: What do you think of your older music?
MADONNA: [Laughs] I need to get much further away from it. I go, “that’s the way I thought? God, I’ve changed so much!”
BB: Let’s talk about the experience of working with Shep and ‘Dre on this album. They both brought out so many different things from you, vocally. For instance, the rap on “Waiting”…
MADONNA: Isn’t that song cool? The vocal on that one was taken from the demo version of the song. My whole thing in writing and recording now is to not try too hard, and not make a big deal about everything. I hate being off in a vocal booth, away from everyone. I like to be in the room with everyone around me, and with the room noise going through the mike. I’m very into what comes off the very first time I sing a song. I like the raw, first interpretation the best; before you start thinking about it too much, and start trying to perfect it. The truest emotion often comes the first time.