Release Year: 1994
The mid-90s were a rough time for Madonna. She received a public backlash after the release of her controversial book Sex and companion album Erotica. She decided to tone down her image with this album. Instead of having tongue in cheek lyrics about the joys of sex, she remains down to earth and even gets personal on a couple of the songs. The shift away from the explicit and the new musical direction makes this her most compelling release.
What’s interesting about the album is the title. With a name like Bedtime Stories and the image of her laying on a bed looking gorgeous makes you think she’s up to her old sexual tricks. But there’s actually nothing explicit on the record itself. The closest it gets is on “Inside of Me.” Not only does the title sound sexual, but the song begins with Madonna moaning and she sings breathlessly. But one look at the lyrics show this is actually about not being able to let go of a lover: “I will always have you, inside of me/Even though you’re gone/Love still carries on.” It seems to be based on a personal experience since she mentions how she tries to look happy in the public eye.
Another track where she gets personal is “Survival.” On this catchy song Madonna notes how she’ll never be an angel or a saint, which seems to be a response to how the public viewed her. The song is kind of simple and repetitive, but it seems to be saying she’s just trying to do what she can to get by. Though the singer did indeed tone things down for this record on “Human Nature” shows she’s still a badass. This has always been one of my favorite songs because she’s fierce and kicks ass. It’s actually a response to the media that lambasted her. She’s basically saying she’s not sorry for her past behavior and she has no regrets. It’s all about expressing yourself and not holding back (hmmm sounds like another one of her songs). It’s a great song that shows Madonna is not a pushover.
Aside from the lack of controversy surrounding this album, another thing that’s interesting about it is the musical direction. Her previous efforts focused on her dance-pop centered sound. Here, the music takes influence from R&B and New Jack Swing, which can be heard on almost all the tracks. “Love Tried to Welcome Me” may begin with swelling strings, but it eventually leads into an R&B groove. This same groove can be found on “Don’t Stop” and the sensual “Forbidden Love.” “I’d Rather Be Your Lover” has this sleepy, dragging groove to it that’s mixed with some hip hop flavor. There’s even a rap by Meshell Ndegeocello during the bridge. It’s not until the last two tracks that we depart from the R&B sound.
“Bedtime Story” is a weird track that has more of an electronic sound and feel. It’s no surprise that Bjork was one of the song’s writers. It’s very ambient with lots of different noises swirling around your head. On the surface, it seems to be about the joys of the unconscious realm, but there have been several write-ups claiming it goes deeper than that. It’s a bit too complicated to get into here, so I’ll leave the link to the Wikipedia page. “Take a Bow,” on the other hand, is classic Madonna all the way. It has that sweet, soft, pretty music that sets up the sad mood. What’s clever about this track is the running motif that compares this relationship to a play. She actually sounds heartbroken; she knows it’s time to say goodbye. Listening to the whole thing again will almost bring you to tears. It’s amazing how it still resonates after all these years.
The album overall is pretty mellow. There are the standard Madonna ballads, but the other tracks are related to R&B and hip hop instead of her typical dance music. It’s yet another reinvention for the singer and one that works quite well. If anything these songs show that Madonna doesn’t rely on controversy and sexual tricks to be successful. She’s talented enough to tone things down and look at her own life for influence. The songs may not be explicit, but her attitude and apologetic nature still makes this a classic Madonna album.