Madonna’s sixth studio album, ”Bedtime Stories,” was released 25 years ago on Oct. 25. The album remains ones of the superstar’s most sonically cohesive and genre transformative records—drifting away from the commercial dance-pop that made her a household name in the ‘80s into a more mature, understated R&B-infused sound. The smooth production stylings of ‘90s R&B heavyweights Dallas Austin and Babyface catapulted Madonna into a new avenue, which ultimately laid out the bluepoint for the critically acclaimed experimental project, “Ray of Light,” four years later.
In 1994, Madonna was already a veteran in the pop music game—experiencing the gruesome territory that follows with obtaining massive commercial success. Produced alongside Nellee Hooper, the opening track “Survival” serves as a great reflection of her career thus far as she sings, “I’ll never be an angel/I’ll never be a saint, it’s true/I’m too busy surviving.” The upbeat, yet chill new-jack swing beat gives listeners an insight into the wide scope of the rest of the project’s sound.
“Secret”—the album’s lead single—incorporates elements of acoustic guitar heavily in the beginning and delicately transitions into a looping drum beat with the dramatic touch of beautiful strings, which perfectly coincides with the dreamy layered vocal production in the chorus. The more soulful, bass heavy “I’d Rather Be Your Lover” further establishes Madonna’s ease into this genre switch as the track features a cool and collected rap verse from Meshell Ndegeocello—an element of music she hasn’t explored before. The track also has another version with Tupac Shakur, which has often been said to be the intended feature.
As incredibly different the sound palette of this album is for Madonna, she incorporates the same themes of previous works. The groovy and simple “Don’t Stop” explores the common dance music sentiments of letting the rhythm of a song take over you. Even though it is less lyrically profound than the other tracks of the album, the track offers a joyous break from the album’s mature intricacy.
Although Madonna has always been one to push the boundaries, the years preluding this record took her image to a heightened level of controversy. The joint release of the sexually charged dance album “Erotica” and the “Sex” coffee table book in 1992 further elevated negative chatter from critics—saying she went too far with her provocative image. “Human Nature” was her unapologetic response as she continues her motto, “Express yourself, don’t repress yourself”—nodding to her 1989 hit “Express Yourself.” Toward the end of the track, she is heard faintly whispering, “Would it sound better if I were a man?” and “You’re the one with the problem.” Its music video showcases her frustration with society’s constraints as she and her dancers are seen trapped in boxes, which involves some of her best choreography to date.
This project also preludes to the techno-sounding nature of albums to follow. The title track “Bedtime Stories” and “Sanctuary” follow this trajectory of expression due to its atmospheric, ethereal nature. The reverb of the breathy vocal delivery of these tracks alongside the jazz infused “Inside of Me” puts the listener into a trance.
“Love Tried to Welcome Me” is arguably one of the most poetically introspective songs on the record. The somber delivery is entrancing and relevational as she sings, “And I must confess, instead of spring, it’s always winter/And my heart has always been a lonely hunter.”
Backed by a romantic orchestra, “Take A Bow” encapsulates Madonna at her best. Although she isn’t a vocal powerhouse like her peers Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, this track proves her ability to grasp an emotionally charged pop-ballad with grace while not feeling she has to to overdo it to showcase her vulnerability. It also helps that she wrote and produced the track alongside Babyface—a true master in curating the perfect love song. The gorgeous background vocals from Babyface add to its mesmerizing nature, but what makes the song stand out is its expressive bridge. Concluding the album perfectly, she sings, “Say good-bye.”
More than anything, this album further showcases the multi-dimensional and limitless approach Madonna brings to popular music, which is why she has sustained longevity. The album is dreamingly relaxing with the classic themes of love, sorrow and romance. Simply put, the title, “Bedtime Stories,” was right on point.
Rylee Jackson can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @rybyjackson.