Just before the interview, Madonna puts something on the coffee table which she says will “inspire” her. It is a signed publicity photo of Tom Jones. So it happens that my opening moments of small-talk with Madonna are – at her instigation – on the subject of women removing their knickers.
Composure unravelling, just a touch. I remind her I’ve been asked to concentrate on her music.
“Oh, excellent.” she beams: then sighs, mock- ragically, “I so rarely talk about music.”
Mostly, of course, your press concerns the sinister way you’re plotting the downfall of Western civilisation.
“Exactly,” she nods, solemnly. “It’s all my fault.”
So then there’s some polite chat about her new album Bedtime Stories, which is the reason for this interview. A track I like especially is a smokey soul ballad called Forbidden Love. She is interested to hear this, and asks if I noticed the line that she whispers in the backing track. Yes, I respond confidently. In fact I’d meant to ask her about it: “Protection is the greatest aphrodisiac.”
“No!” She seems hurt. “I say rejection. Rejection is the greatest aphrodisiac …”
Oh, disaster. I groan inwardly at the gaffe.
“… which is not an original thought,” she goes on, now leaning forward, confidingly. “I believe it’s Proust. But it’s so true, wouldn’t you say?”
Do I think that rejection is the greatest aphrodisiac? By this point nestling comfortably somewhere in between blind panic and outright terror, I swiftly improvise some evasive, subject-changing answer.
“Well!” is all she’ll say. “I don’t know why you like the song, then!”
Early days yet, of course. But I’d say she was ahead. Anyway … all these softer songs, the mellower feel of the album, does that arise from your – um – private life?
“I been in an incredibly reflective state of mind. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching. and I just felt in a romantic mood when I was writing it. so that’s what I wrote about.”
Two of the less romantic songs are Survival and Human Nature, each a direct response to your detractors.
“They’re very specific. The other songs could be about anybody, but in these two quite obvious that I’m addressing the public. And they’re basically saying the same thing: Hey get offa my back; don’t hang all of your hang-ups on me.”
Madonna commends her record for its “woven-together” quality, despite the method she used of using various co-writers and producers. These, in the main. are US R&B figures, including Babyface, Dave Hall and Dallas Austin, but there is also Britain’s Nellee Hooper, whom she had come to admire through his work with Soul II Soul, Massive Attack and Bjork. (Hooper and Rjork, in fact, co-wrote Bedtime Stories title track.) Their different contributions are overlapped and blended quite successfully, and she credits Nellee Hooper as the biggest influence on the overall result. The most unlikely collaborator, though, is without doubt the 19th-century American poet Walt Whitman. whose lines Madonna quotes on the track Sanctuary : “Surely whoever speaks to me in the right voice, him or her I shall follow …”