GHV2 by Madonna

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Madonna's Hits (and Misses) of the 90s

Mar 16, 2007
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The songs from the under-rated "Erotica" and "Bedtime Stories" albums are great.

Cons:The material from "Ray of Light" and "Music" is mostly sub-standard.

The Bottom Line: A handful of great tracks with a handful of duds. Worth examining if you're a Madonna fan and want to get acquainted with her more recent hits.


The 90s were certainly an interesting decade for Madonna. After four mega-hit albums that catapulted her to the top of the world’s charts, it was inevitable that she could only commercially decline. Grouping her hits from 1992's “Erotica” through to 2000's “Music”, “Greatest Hits: Volume Two” displays Madonna’s artistic growth (or lack thereof) as she went from sex queen to cowgirl.

As one of the approximately five people who liked “Erotica”, I’m happy to see its two biggest hits at the start of this collection. That album saw Madonna giving a tongue-in-cheek appraisal of contemporary sexuality, backed up with icy, emotionless and bass-heavy club jams. The title track is the perfect summation of this, its crackling intro and ominous baseline giving way to a chilly spoken delivery. Madonna is perfect in her role as an S&M queen, and the breathy hook of “Erotic, erotic, put your hands all over my body” is rather memorable. I find it quite amusing that a woman who produced her own porn book couldn’t bring herself to utter the ‘f word’ (instead heavily implying it with the song’s rhyme scheme), but the track is still a compelling number exploring the darker recesses of lust.

The disc’s opener “Deeper and Deeper” is much more commercial and listener-friendly, with its house beat, catchy melody and perfectly camp flamenco guitar solo. The dizzy flamboyance of the groove is perfect for the song’s discussion of a young man coming to terms with his sexuality, and the track ranks up as another Madonna dance floor classic.

After the weak commercial reaction to “Erotica”, Madonna retreated into a more conformist R’n’B format for her 1994 release, “Bedtime Stories”. Despite losing her guts and spark at this point in her career, the songs are still quite good. “Human Nature” has a droning synth line as Madonna retorts her hypocritical “Erotica” critics, and I agree completely with her. The song is unfortunately edited to remove its great “I’m not your b*tch, don’t hang your sh*t on me” line, but the bite is still there and Madonna’s anger is tangible. “Secret” is another highlight, its delicious hook-stuffed “Mmm-hmm, my baby’s got a secret” chorus riding atop a heavy beat and tasty acoustic guitar sample. Madonna’s biggest US No. 1 “Take A Bow” is also present and correct, a lovely Canto-pop-style ballad with a gorgeous melody and nice metaphorical lyrics regarding the demise of a relationship. “Bedtime Story” rounds off the chilled contributions with an undulating electronic groove, with Bjork-penned lyrics that advise the listener to discard language for unconsciousness.

With 1998's “Ray of Light”, Madonna sadly became a shell of her former self. Trading in her personality, sexuality (and musical hooks) for generic ‘spiritual’ droning, she bagged her biggest success in almost a decade. There’s something to be said about critics who derided quasi-masculine albums like “Madonna” and “Erotica” yet leapt to praise Madonna when she revealed that all she wanted was to be a wife and mother, but I’ll file that away for later discussion. In all fairness, the hits from the album weren’t too bad, but Madonna sings for technicality rather than intuitive feeling, and William Orbit’s production relies on cheap techno gimmicks far too often. The driving turbulence of the song “Ray of Light” makes it a truly refreshing listen, but neither of the ballads (“Frozen”; “The Power of Good-Bye”) have anything new to say, and the whiny “Drowned World/Substitute For Love” hints at the ‘I’m rich and famous and it sucks’ complaining that would mark Madonna’s ultimate nadir, 2003's “American Life”.

After the over-processed, false emotions of the “Ray of Light” album, it’s rather startling to hear “Beautiful Stranger”. Although it’s from the same time period, it’s got a completely different tone, buzzing sixties-influenced beats dancing around with twanging guitars and an infectious tune. It works simply because it’s fun, with no stupid pretensions or po-faced attempts at seriousness. The same cannot be said of the horrendous “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, which almost kills the disc five songs in. It’s depressing as anything to see one of the ballsy pop maestros of the eighties returning as a flaccid Celine Dion clone, and despite a memorable chorus, I’d rather forget this one.

Madonna began the 21st Century with her “Music” album, the title of which does not evade my irony sensors. The album was mostly a grating mish-mash of vacuous beats with bad vocal melodies, and the title track is an accurate summation of it. Despite attempting to be a dance floor manifesto, Madonna’s vocals are not up to scratch, and she just sounds bored. Similarly, the music sounds like the cheap product of a synthesiser fished out from a dumpster, and producer Mirwais rapidly proves a one-trick pony. He employs a stuttering guitar gimmick on “Don’t Tell Me” that makes it sound like the CD is skipping, and not even the gorgeous orchestration can save the bad lyrics, which aim for poeticism but just sound silly. “What It Feels Like For A Girl” is better, rounding things off with polished pop production and more of a return to melody, with the theme of gender differences being handled nicely.

As a hits collection, experience of “Greatest Hits: Volume Two” depends on your feelings about the albums that spawned the songs. In the 90s, Madonna’s output became less commercially friendly, and a lot of the tracks here sound better in the context of their parent discs rather than in more isolated circumstances. There’s a bit of chronology to the track order, but it’s not as solid as on previous retrospective “The Immaculate Collection”, and hearing the classy “Take A Bow” trapped with dreary songs from “Ray of Light” is annoying. Likewise, I’m not entirely convinced why “Erotica” songs “Bad Girl” and “Rain” aren’t present; as two of Madonna’s best ballads, they were far more deserving of places here than “Drowned World” or “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, and are far more indicative of Madonna’s strengths as a pop artist. Finally, it’s disappointing to note that there aren’t any new songs included, meaning that anyone who already has the original singles/albums won’t have any real reason to pick this up.

Mysteries aside, this disc is a decent enough collection of tracks for anyone who wants to sample Madonna’s post-eighties work and get acquainted with her bigger hits of the period. It’s far from being as flawless, convincing or compelling as “The Immaculate Collection”, but is worth exploring if you’re a casual fan who doesn’t want to wade through the hit-and-miss albums. Just about recommended.


Recommend this product? Yes

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