By Collin Ward, Staff Writer
On Tuesday, March 10, Madonna, the inventor of the modern day pop star, released her 14th solo studio album, “Rebel Heart.”
A career spanning 33 years in music Madonna has reinvented herself numerous times, releasing an album corresponding to each of her personas, the dance hall queen on Confessions, the sex book writing artist on Erotica, and the pop folk artist on American Life.
With more than 300 million albums sold worldwide and references to her work plastered over today’s pop landscape, Madonna is iconic.
It is now time to definitively rank Madonna’s 14 albums from worst to best.
14) “I’m Breathless” – 1990
Madonna herself does not count this as one of her albums but she co-wrote it, sings every song on it, and it contains arguably her best song, “Vogue.” The album is songs for and inspired by the 1990 film “Dick Tracy” starring Madonna herself and then boyfriend Warren Beatty. The album is a mix of jazzy pop songs that frankly are not memorable and come off as cheesy. Madonna’s vocals are strong throughout this album, but the only hit is “Vogue” and no other song comes close to it. And frankly, if Madonna doesn’t consider it one of her own, neither do I.
Scrap: The rest of the album
13) “MDNA” – 2012
With over seven producers in total, it is no wonder Madonna’s 2012 album was all over the place. Not to mention cliché and tired lyrics about drinking, dancing, and promiscuous sex (Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things), it was the attention grabbing delivery of these themes and repetitive beats that were eye rolling. Been there, seen that Madonna! At least she came to Detroit for the tour this time.
Highlights: “Love Spent, “I’m Addicted”
Scrap: “Give me all your Loving,” “Gang Bang,” and “Girl Gone Wild”
12) “Like a Virgin” – 1984
Madonna’s second album did include the iconic songs “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl,” but after that this album plunges into half-hearted pop and forgettable ballads. Success of 1983’s self-titled “Madonna” the studio rushed her to put out a follow-up. Given more time this could’ve been a strong second album, but unfortunately it falls victim to the machine.
Highlights: “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl,” and “Dress You Up”
11) “Hard Candy” – 2008
When this album came out, it seemed like a last ditch effort to jump on the Timberland producer bandwagon. The songs sounded like everything else that came out around that time, which is so very un-Madonna. However, listening to it back again recently it sounds really nostalgic for me and enjoyable to listen to. The Justin Timberlake featuring song “4 Minutes” was Madonna’s last major hit.
Highlights: “Beat Goes On,” “Give it 2 Me,” and “Heartbeat”
Scrap: “She’s Not Me” Duh, you’re Madonna, nobody’s you!
10) “American Life” – 2003.
A mostly self-indulgent and pretentious album lyric wise, but the ambient trance tones and unapologetic-ness of the whole thing is something you have to respect. “American Life” also ushered in the electronic niche that Madonna now lives in and is arguably Madonna’s last album that was made with a clear central theme lyrically and sonically. Had her lyrics been more pressing and had more depth to them, this could’ve been a standout in her discography. Also, that “rap” on the lead single “American Life” might be the worst thing she’s ever done.
Highlights: “Hollywood,” “Nothing Fails,” “Easy Ride,” and “Love Profusion”
Scrap: “American Life” and “Die Another Day”
9) “Rebel Heart” – 2015
Madonna’s best album in the past decade and for the first time in that decade she does not feel desperate to be noticed and comes across as genuine, though the album does fall victim to some overproducing and schizophrenic transitions from song to song, lyrically and vocally Madonna is strong yet extremely vulnerable in songs like, “Joan of Arc” and “Ghosttown.” Unfortunately, it is songs like “Bitch, I’m Madonna,” “S.E.X,” and “Holy Water” which are all terribly over-the-top and embarrassing. But get past those attention grabbing songs, and you have an emotional and thoughtful artist one step closer to reclaiming her throne.
Highlights: “Ghosttown, ”“Rebel Heart,” and “Living for Love”
Scrap: “S.E.X” and “Bitch, I’m Madonna”
8) “Music”– 2000
Madonna’s follow up to Ray of Light was a sonic boom of folk guitars, electronic beats, and warped distorted vocals. Madonna the persona more or less disappears and you’re left with, well, music, a brilliant hodgepodge of sounds and tones. Possibly Madonna’s most experimental album to date and personally Madonna’s best song in the last 15 years, “Don’t Tell Me” in which she sings, “Tell me everything I’m not but don’t ever tell me to stop.”
Highlights: “Music,” “Impressive Instinct,” “Don’t Tell Me,” and “What it Feels Like For a Girl”
7) “Madonna” – 1983
The album that started it all. A near perfect debut pop album. With only eight songs on it in total what it lacks in length it makes up for in sheer pop force. From her first single, “Everybody” to “Lucky Star.” From “Borderline” to “Burning Up” and then to “Holiday.” More than half the songs on this album were put on her 2009 greatest hits album.
Highlights: “Burning Up,” “Borderline,” and “Holiday”
Scrap: “I Know It”
6) “True Blue” – 1986.
While there are a few more skip worthy tracks on 1986’s “True Blue” then her debut album, Madonna’s third album shows her vocal range and her experimenting with different music styles. I also distinctly remember riding in my mom’s car listening to “Open Your Heart” so I might be a touch nostalgic. With pounding 80s drums and mesmerizing synths this is a pretty darn epic album, then there’s the song “Jimmy Jimmy”… We can’t have it all.
Highlights: “Open Your Heart,” “Live to Tell,” and “Papa Don’t Preach”
Scrap: “Jimmy, Jimmy”
5) “Erotica” – 1992
This album is HOT. This is some damn sexy bedroom music. Unfortunately, all the sex talk and nudity overshadowed and turn the public off from really seeking out this album for a full listen. That sex coffee table book probably didn’t help either. Complex themes of love and lust sexuality and desire are spread all over this album. While it doesn’t have a number one single on it, it’s Madonna’s most ambitious and underrated album ever.
Highlights: “Erotica,” “Fever,” “Deeper and Deeper,” and “Bad Girl”
Scrap: “Did you do it?”and “Secret Garden”
4) “Like a Prayer” – 1989
The one two punch of the songs “Like a Prayer” and “Express Yourself” will get you high on a list regardless. Madonna’s genius album is a meditation on self, faith, and family. During her tour supporting this album, the Pope denounced Madonna, that’s some pretty damn good publicity. And let’s face it, “Like a Prayer” is Madonna’s most iconic song, hell, she closed the Super bowl with it.
Highlights: “Like a Prayer,” “Express Yourself,” and “Oh Father”
Scrap: “Dear Jessie” and “Keep it Together”
3) “Bedtime Stories” – 1994
Another criminally underrated Madonna album, which was the follow up to “Erotica,” so the blowback from that remained, but give it a full listen and it is a great breakup album (breaking up from the public?). Madonna is in full Janet Jackson territory with her R&B style here. Also, the song “Bedtime Story” was written by Bjork. And “Human Nature” is an epic “F You” to all her haters.
Highlights: “Human Nature,” “Secret,” “Survival,” “Bedtime Story,” and “Take a Bow”
Scrap: It’s too hard to choose!
2) “Confessions on a Dance Floor” – 2005
This is Madonna in full electronic dance music, and it was done the way it should be done. The lead single “Hung Up” put Madonna back on the top of the charts, a place she hadn’t been since 2000. But what is best about this album is its main goal, to get you up and dance. The album is edited in a way where one song flows into the other for a continued listening experience. This is a great 70’s era disco album for the modern age, and even though it is 10 years old this year, every song seems totally relevant in today’s music landscape.
Highlights: “Hung Up,” “Sorry,” “Jump,” “Let it Will be,”… oh hell, just the whole d**n album.
Scrap: Not a d**n thing.
1) “Ray of Light” – 1998
Her masterpiece. An album that sounded relevant in 1998, an album that sounds relevant today, and I believe an album that will sound current even 20 years from now. Meditations on religion, being a mother, and fame all sonically wrapped in ambient noise by producer William Orbit. To be totally honest, I play this album at work at least once a month and everyone says to me, “Who is this? I like it.” My response is always, “Madonna, just let it wash all over you.”
Highlights: “Ray of Light,” “Substitute for Love,” “Frozen,” and “The Power of Goodbye”
Scrap: You’re kidding right?