The shitstorm that followed the simultaneous release of Madonna’s fifth album Erotica and her controversial book Sex was unprecedented in late 1992. Madonna was herself perplexed by the uproar and came to the conclusion that she was ultimately being punished because she was a successful and powerful single woman. In a 1994 interview Madonna explained, “I feel I’ve been misunderstood. I tried to make a statement about feeling good about yourself and exploring your sexuality, but people took it to mean that everyone should go out on a fuckfest and have sex with everyone, and that I was going to be the leader…”
When it came to the release of her sixth studio album entitled Bedroom Stories, she decided to somewhat tone it down but also exact revenge on her critics via her song Human Nature. “It’s my definitive statement in regards to the incredible payback I’ve received for having the nerve to talk about the things that I did in the past few years with my Sex book and my record’, Madonna told Sheryl Garratt in ’94. “It is defensive, absolutely. But it’s also sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek.”
The hook of course sets the initial tone for the song with its synth undercurrent and knockout bass, where Madonna mutters almost under her breath “Express yourself, don’t repress yourself”. Memorable also is the lyric “Oops…I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about sex” which undoubtedly refers to the backlash of ’92. Moreover, when Madonna repeatedly declare in the chorus “And I’m not sorry” we are left with no doubt that she is pissed.
While Human Nature stands out as Madonna’s protest song, our first taste of the album though came via the lead single Secret with Madonna in the mood to experiment with an acoustic arrangement, drums and strings. Far from diluting what we had come to expect from the ‘Queen of Pop’ with her dance-orientated albums, Bedtime Stories felt newly focused with arrangements across its entirety combining avant pop and R&B as its soul.
There were some critics of Madonna’s Bedtime Stories who at the time of its release looked at this record as the beginning of Madonna’s long downward spiral. Other even still in hindsight see it as “an asterisk to her ominipresence”. But to call Bedtime Stories a flop is an exaggeration. It is both lyrically and sonically with its deep synth cuts a much warmer album than its predecessor (Erotica) with some really inspired musical moments. Of those inspired moments, Secrets, Sanctuary, Forbidden Love, even the often maligned, unappreciated title track itself, meanders almost effortlessly along with feelings of sorrow and romance and everything that gets in the way. However, nothing compares to arguably Madonna’s greatest moment with the lush, orchestral triumph of Take a Bow which concludes the album.
Fun fact: Take A Bow spent thirty weeks in the Billboard Hot 100. It peaked at top of the charts on 25th February 1995 and stayed on top for seven weeks, as her longest running number one hit, until it was eventually overthrown by Montell Jordan’s infectious R&B smash This Is How We Do It.