Madonna’s Studio Albums: A Personal Ranking

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I haven’t completely processed the turn of events at the recent Rebel Heart Tour in Manila. So before I whip up a more proper review, here’s how I stack up the Queen of Pop‘s discography. Note that this excludes compilations and pseudo-soundtracks. 

#13 – American Life (2003)
The whole thing was meant to be a political statement. Instead, it came across as a maudlin, 50-minute humblebrag. We get it, Tita Madonna: You love double shoteys of soy lattes that go through your bodey, now cut the rap.

#12 – MDNA (2012)
Madge rallied back from her divorce with an abbreviated monicker and a developed fondness for EDM. Recall was minimal. But hey, she gained a new BFF in Nicki Minaj. 

#11 – Hard Candy (2008)
Despite the Sticky and Sweet branding, not all confectionaries in this candy shop, well, stuck. Madonna collaborated with Timbaland and Pharell in this effort and it almost sounded like she took the backseat.  Give it 2 Me and 4 Minutes (her duet with Justin Timberlake) are among few highlights.

#10 – Music (2000)
Part Ray of Light sequel, part “I’m still trying to figure out my next step, so I’ll just wear this cowboy hat“.  In defense of Music, though, it wasn’t a severe slump. Highlights include the blistering title track, the country-infused Don’t Tell Me, and the chauvinist-guilt-tripping What It Feels Like for a Girl.

#9 – True Blue (1986)
She served her third offering with less froth and more tenacity. Here, she started tackling heavy issues like teenage pregnancy (Papa Don’t Preach) and damaged relationships (Live to Tell), while still churning up infectious ditties (La Isla Bonita, Open Your Heart). Alas, the remainder – including the treacly title track – now sounds like an 80s b-side. Bonus fact for Vilmanians: Where’s the Party was used in the pilot for Ate Vi’s GMA variety show. (Come on! Pleeeaze? Huwers the partay?!)

#8- Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005)
While far from essential, this disco throwback was a huge leap forward from American Life and a glorious return to the dance floor for Madge. Save for the ABBA-sampling Hung Up, none of the tracks resonate individually. As a whole, however, Confessions is still one trippy dance mix.

#7 – Bedtime Stories (1994)
In the wake of Janet Jackson‘s janet and En Vogue‘s Funky Divas, Madonna ventured into R&B territory with Bedtime Stories, an album that further asserted her no-holds-barred image. She enjoyed mocking the backlash (listen to Human Nature); fans enjoyed the soulful fare. As for its singles, Take a Bow was the break-up anthem of the mid-90s.

#6- Rebel Heart (2015)
The recurring themes of her recent release are heartbreak and rebirth. In fact, the album itself is a celebratory return to form. The first single Living for Love gives us Like a Prayer flashbacks, while Holy Water and S.E.X. feel like Erotica all over again. Rebel Heart struggles with over-length (19 tracks – the most in any Madonna album), but it reinstates our memory of Madonna as a revered icon. Long live the queen.

#5 – Erotica (1992)
We’ve always known Madonna as an Unapologetic Bitch even before she recorded that song for Rebel Heart. It’s a title she’s proudly embodied since the early 90s, thanks largely to Erotica. Madge took on the alter-ego Mistress Dita for this concept album, released in conjunction with her first book Sex. Put concisely, it’s an S&M soundtrack, with promos even MTV found galvanizing and lyrics that put E.L. James‘ writing techniques to shame. The project was received with overwhelmed initial backlash back then. Nowadays, it’s revered as an understated classic. 

#4 – Madonna (1983)
With only eight tracks, this breakthrough album now feels like a demo compared to all her subsequent releases. But then, it’s a “demo” we still love to dance and sing, get up, and do our thing to, thanks to Borderline and Holiday. So on the contrary, Madonna, you are our lucky star.   

#3 – Like a Virgin (1984)
She made it through the wilderness known as the Sophomore Slump and came out with this worthy follow-up – a feat coveted by any “shiny and new” act. While Madonna was her ticket to fame, Like a Virgin was the jet that flew her to pop culture heavens. With earworms like Material Girl, Dress You Up, and the title track, Madonna was clearly destined for legend status.

#2 – Ray of Light (1998)
Madonna
closed the 90s with Ray of Light, her foray to electronica and her first – and so far, only – Grammy Album of the Year nominee. Call it a by-product of Kabbalah if you wish; it’s still a rewarding introspective journey. From the arresting Frozen to the hyper-catchy title track, each cut was meticulously crafted and produced with William Orbit. The Mother of Reinvention tag never rang more true.

#1 – Like a Prayer (1989)
Upon hitting her 30s, Madonna rode the train to controversy and never turned back. Like a Prayer paved the way for her unpredictable artistry, proving she’s no flash-in-the-pan with richer vocals and stronger songwriting. Headlined by the exultant title track and the anthemic Express Yourself, this album unleashed a feistier Madonna with a knack for subversion that had Pepsi panicking. Most of the remaining tracks are a heavy listen, with lyrics that speak of parental issues and broken marriages. Yet, the power seeps through the pain. It’s a celebration of vulnerability so compelling; even Prince couldn’t resist dropping by. Perhaps we have Sean Penn to thank for this as well.

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One Reply to “Madonna’s Studio Albums: A Personal Ranking”

  1. Love everything about her. Want to buy the biography. Her life is most interesting. I can realate what happened to her especially during her teen years. She has mentioned an incident on her life at the O’Brian book. Checked it out at Wiki 😉

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