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Pop - Released June 11, 1986 | Sire - Warner Records

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Pop - Released June 2, 1998 | Warner Records - Maverick

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Returning to pop after a four-year hiatus, Madonna enlisted respected techno producer William Orbit as her collaborator for Ray of Light, a self-conscious effort to stay abreast of contemporary trends. Unlike other veteran artists who attempted to come to terms with electronica, Madonna was always a dance artist, so it's no real shock to hear her sing over breakbeats, pulsating electronics, and blunted trip-hop beats. Still, it's mildly surprising that it works as well as it does, largely due to Madonna and Orbit's subtle attack. They've reined in the beats, tamed electronica's eccentricities, and retained her flair for pop melodies, creating the first mainstream pop album that successfully embraces techno. Sonically, it's the most adventurous record she has made, but it's far from inaccessible, since the textures are alluring and the songs have a strong melodic foundation, whether it's the swirling title track, the meditative opener, "Substitute for Love," or the ballad "Frozen." For all of its attributes, there's a certain distance to Ray of Light, born of the carefully constructed productions and Madonna's newly mannered, technically precise singing. It all results in her most mature and restrained album, which is an easy achievement to admire, yet not necessarily an easy one to love. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1983 | Sire - Warner Records

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Pop - Released November 14, 1984 | Sire - Warner Records

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Pop - Released November 14, 1984 | Warner Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Madonna had hits with her first album, even reaching the Top Ten twice with "Borderline" and "Lucky Star," but she didn't become a superstar, an icon, until her second album, Like a Virgin. She saw the opening for this kind of explosion and seized it, bringing in former Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers in as a producer, to help her expand her sound, and then carefully constructed her image as an ironic, ferociously sexy Boy Toy; the Steven Meisel-shot cover, capturing her as a buxom bride with a Boy Toy belt buckle on the front, and dressing after a night of passion, was as key to her reinvention as the music itself. Yet, there's no discounting the best songs on the record, the moments when her grand concepts are married to music that transcends the mere classification of dance-pop. These, of course, are "Material Girl" and "Like a Virgin," the two songs that made her an icon, and the two songs that remain definitive statements. They overshadow the rest of the record, not just because they are a perfect match of theme and sound, but because the rest of the album vacillates wildly in terms of quality. The other two singles, "Angel" and "Dress You Up," are excellent standard-issue dance-pop, and there are other moments that work well ("Over and Over," "Stay," the earnest cover of Rose Royce's "Love Don't Live Here"), but overall, it adds up to less than the sum of its parts -- partially because the singles are so good, but also because on the first album, she stunned with style and a certain joy. Here, the calculation is apparent, and while that's part of Madonna's essence -- even something that makes her fun -- it throws the record's balance off a little too much for it to be consistent, even if it justifiably made her a star. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released July 15, 1987 | Sire - Warner Records

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Pop - Released April 25, 2008 | Warner Records

Distinctions 4 étoiles Technikart
All through her career, it has been impossible to divorce Madonna's music from her image, as they feed off each other to the point where it's hard to tell which came first, the concept or the songs. Glancing at the aggressively ugly cover to Hard Candy -- its blistering pinks and assaultive leather suggesting cheap bottom-barrel porno -- it's hard not to wish that this is the one time Madge broke from tradition, offering music that wasn't quite as garish as her graphics. That is not the case. Hard Candy is all brutal hard edges and blaring primary colors, a relentlessly mercenary collection of cold beats and chilly innuendo. Sex has always been a driving force for Madonna, but she's never been as ruthlessly pornographic as she is here, not even when she cut Erotica as a companion to her softcore coffee-table book Sex back in 1992. For all of its carnality, Erotica was coy, belonging to the classic burlesque teasing tradition, but Hard Candy is utterly modern, a steely sex album for the age of Cialis. This new millennium is also an era when Top 40 has pretty much ceased to exist and a pop artist as sharp as Madonna knows this, so she has abandoned the idea of a big crossover hit -- the kind that Erotica courted with such gorgeous, shimmering adult contemporary ballads as "Rain" and "Bad Girl" -- and pitches Hard Candy directly toward her core audience of club-conscious, fashion-forward trendsetters. This is a smart play, as this is the audience that has always consisted of Madonna loyalists, and it's also is a savvy way to negotiate the explosion of niches in 2008, but there are problems in her execution. Madonna relies on the Neptunes and the pair of Timbaland and Justin Timberlake for most of her modern makeover -- a good idea in theory as they are some of the biggest hitmakers of the decade, but the productions they've constructed here sound a couple years old at best and at worst feel like they're dressing Madonna in Nelly Furtado's promiscuous hand-me-downs. Sometimes this can result in reasonably appealing grooves -- "Candy Shop" captures Pharrell Williams' flair for slim, sleek grooves, "Dance 2night" conjures Timberlake's Off the Wall obsession nicely, and the icy heartbreak of "Miles Away" is a worthy successor to "What Goes Around Comes Around" -- but this also points out the album's main flaw: the track comes before the song. Madonna's greatness has always hinged on how she channeled dance trends into pop songs, placing equal emphasis on sound and melody, which provided a neat way to sneak underground club trends into the mainstream. Here, she cedes melodic hooks to rhythmic hooks -- witness the clanging, cluttered "4 Minutes," where she's drowned out by Timbaland's farting four-note synth -- which might not have been so bad if the tracks were fresher and if the whole enterprise didn't feel quite so joylessly mechanical. Madonna doesn't even sound desperate to sit atop current trends; rather, she's following them because she's expected to do so. There's a palpable sense of disinterest here, as if she just handed the reins over to Pharrell and Timba-Lake, trusting them to polish up this piece of stale candy. Maybe she's not into the music; maybe she's just running out this last album for Warner before she moves onto the greener pastures of Live Nation -- either way, Hard Candy is a rare thing: a lifeless Madonna album. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released April 28, 2008 | Warner Records

Distinctions 4 étoiles Technikart
All through her career, it has been impossible to divorce Madonna's music from her image, as they feed off each other to the point where it's hard to tell which came first, the concept or the songs. Glancing at the aggressively ugly cover to Hard Candy -- its blistering pinks and assaultive leather suggesting cheap bottom-barrel porno -- it's hard not to wish that this is the one time Madge broke from tradition, offering music that wasn't quite as garish as her graphics. That is not the case. Hard Candy is all brutal hard edges and blaring primary colors, a relentlessly mercenary collection of cold beats and chilly innuendo. Sex has always been a driving force for Madonna, but she's never been as ruthlessly pornographic as she is here, not even when she cut Erotica as a companion to her softcore coffee-table book Sex back in 1992. For all of its carnality, Erotica was coy, belonging to the classic burlesque teasing tradition, but Hard Candy is utterly modern, a steely sex album for the age of Cialis. This new millennium is also an era when Top 40 has pretty much ceased to exist and a pop artist as sharp as Madonna knows this, so she has abandoned the idea of a big crossover hit -- the kind that Erotica courted with such gorgeous, shimmering adult contemporary ballads as "Rain" and "Bad Girl" -- and pitches Hard Candy directly toward her core audience of club-conscious, fashion-forward trendsetters. This is a smart play, as this is the audience that has always consisted of Madonna loyalists, and it's also is a savvy way to negotiate the explosion of niches in 2008, but there are problems in her execution. Madonna relies on the Neptunes and the pair of Timbaland and Justin Timberlake for most of her modern makeover -- a good idea in theory as they are some of the biggest hitmakers of the decade, but the productions they've constructed here sound a couple years old at best and at worst feel like they're dressing Madonna in Nelly Furtado's promiscuous hand-me-downs. Sometimes this can result in reasonably appealing grooves -- "Candy Shop" captures Pharrell Williams' flair for slim, sleek grooves, "Dance 2night" conjures Timberlake's Off the Wall obsession nicely, and the icy heartbreak of "Miles Away" is a worthy successor to "What Goes Around Comes Around" -- but this also points out the album's main flaw: the track comes before the song. Madonna's greatness has always hinged on how she channeled dance trends into pop songs, placing equal emphasis on sound and melody, which provided a neat way to sneak underground club trends into the mainstream. Here, she cedes melodic hooks to rhythmic hooks -- witness the clanging, cluttered "4 Minutes," where she's drowned out by Timbaland's farting four-note synth -- which might not have been so bad if the tracks were fresher and if the whole enterprise didn't feel quite so joylessly mechanical. Madonna doesn't even sound desperate to sit atop current trends; rather, she's following them because she's expected to do so. There's a palpable sense of disinterest here, as if she just handed the reins over to Pharrell and Timba-Lake, trusting them to polish up this piece of stale candy. Maybe she's not into the music; maybe she's just running out this last album for Warner before she moves onto the greener pastures of Live Nation -- either way, Hard Candy is a rare thing: a lifeless Madonna album. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released June 14, 2019 | Boy Toy, Inc., Exclusively licensed to Live Nation Worldwide, Inc. Exclusively licensed to Interscop

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Madame X marks the reunion between Madonna and Mirwais, the latter being behind the wheel for 7 of the 13 tracks on the album. Daniel Darc's former colleague from Taxi Girl had already worked on several projects, such as the albums Music in 2000 and American Life in 2003. His role here is to take the delirious musical experimentation to new extremes, all the while keeping in line with Madonna's melodic pop style. The most obvious example of Mirwais’ musical madness is Dark Ballet, a song inspired by Joan of Arc that features a long synthetic-baroque arrangement à la Wendy Carlos as well as a mischievous monologue by Madonna that’s told from the point of view of the Maid of Orléans. Maintaining a style that’s both playful and totally insane, the lively disco strings on God Control are a real highlight. Madonna is also politically engaged in this work, focusing on the failed gun control in America (with a sample from Emma Gonzales’ speech in I Rise) as well as speaking out for minorities (particularly in the postmodern fado Killers Who Are Partying). Speaking of fado, Lusophone culture is one of the album’s main themes – probably due to Madonna’s decision to move to Portugal in 2017. On Batuka she celebrates Cape Verde (the batuque being a kind of Cape Verdean music characterised by a call and response structure). Madonna also pays tribute to Colombia with the reggaeton singer Maluma, with whom she sings (and flirts) on two duets: Medellin and Bitch I'm Loca. Finally, she also mentions Picasso's Spain on I Don't Search I Find (quoted from the painter). The album highlights the malleable aspect of her voice (be it auto-tuned, whispered or spoken) and throughout the work Madonna always strikes a perfect balance between the gravity of political commitment on the one hand and the lightness of the duets and Mirwais’ production on the other. She does complete justice album’s title, Madame X most likely being a reference to Marlene Dietrich from Agent X 27, Joseph Von Sternberg's 1931 biopic of the spy Mata Hari. “Madame X is a secret agent, travelling around the world, changing identities and fighting for freedom. She brings light to dark places,” explained the singer in a teaser video for her project. It’s a masked, playful, freedom-fighting and confident Madonna that we find here as she enters her seventh decade. © Nicolas Magenham/Qobuz
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Pop - Released September 18, 2009 | Warner Records

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Pop - Released November 9, 1990 | Sire - Warner Records

On the surface, the single-disc hits compilation The Immaculate Collection appears to be a definitive retrospective of Madonna's heyday in the '80s. After all, it features 17 of Madonna's greatest hits, from "Holiday" and "Like a Virgin" to "Like a Prayer" and "Vogue." However, looks can be deceiving. It's true that The Immaculate Collection contains the bulk of Madonna's hits, but there are several big hits that aren't present, including "Angel," "Dress You Up," "True Blue," "Who's That Girl," and "Causing a Commotion." The songs that are included are frequently altered. Everything on the collection is remastered in Q-sound, which gives an exaggerated sense of stereo separation that often distorts the original intent of the recordings. Furthermore, several songs are faster than their original versions and some are faded out earlier than either their single or album versions, while others are segued together. In other words, while all the hits are present, they're simply not in their correct versions. Nevertheless, The Immaculate Collection remains a necessary purchase, because it captures everything Madonna is about and it proves that she was one of the finest singles artists of the '80s. Until the original single versions are compiled on another album, The Immaculate Collection is the closest thing to a definitive retrospective. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released November 14, 2005 | Warner Records

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Pop - Released March 17, 1989 | Sire - Warner Records

Out of all of Madonna's albums, Like a Prayer is her most explicit attempt at a major artistic statement. Even though it is apparent that she is trying to make a "serious" album, the kaleidoscopic variety of pop styles on Like a Prayer is quite dazzling. Ranging from the deep funk of "Express Yourself" and "Keep It Together" to the haunting "Oh Father" and "Like a Prayer," Madonna displays a commanding sense of songcraft, making this her best and most consistent album. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released September 18, 2000 | Warner Records

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Pop - Released January 1, 1995 | Warner Records

Something to Remember is Madonna's second greatest-hits collection, compiling a selection of the singer's ballads. Several of her biggest hits are included, including the number ones "Crazy for You," "Live to Tell," "This Used to Be My Playground," and "Take a Bow," as well as a handful of first-rate album tracks (a remixed "Love Don't Live Here Anymore," "Something to Remember," and three new tracks, most notably a version of Marvin Gaye's "I Want You" recorded with the British trip-hop group Massive Attack. Only two tracks on the album overlap with The Immaculate Collection, and the disc also marks the first appearance of "This Used to Be My Playground" and "I'll Remember" on one of Madonna's albums. Throughout the album, Madonna proves that she's a terrific singer whose voice has improved over the years. Not one of the tracks is second-rate, and the best songs on Something to Remember rank among the best pop music of the '80s and '90s. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released April 21, 2003 | Warner Records - Maverick

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Pop - Released March 10, 2015 | Interscope

Rebel Heart was introduced to the world with an indiscipline uncharacteristic of Madonna. Blame it on hackers who rushed out a clutch of unfinished tracks at the end of 2014, a few months before the record's scheduled spring release. Madonna countered by putting six full tracks up on a digital service, a move that likely inflated the final Deluxe Edition of Rebel Heart up to a whopping 19 tracks weighing in at 75 minutes, but even that unveiling wasn't performed without a hitch: during an ornate performance of "Living for Love," she stumbled on-stage at the BRIT Awards. Such cracks in Madge's armor happily play into the humanity coursing through Rebel Heart (maybe the hiccups were intentional after all?), a record that ultimately benefits from its daunting mess. All the extra space allows ample room for detours, letting Madonna indulge in both Erotica-era taboo-busting sleaze ("Holy Water") and feather-light pop ("Body Shop"). Although she takes a lingering look back at the past on "Veni Vidi Vici" -- her cataloging of past hits walks right on the edge of camp, kept away from the danger zone by a cameo from Nas -- Rebel Heart, like any Madonna album, looks forward. Opener "Living for Love" announces as much, as its classic disco is soon exploded into a decibel-shattering EDM pulse coming courtesy of co-producer Diplo. Madonna brings him back a few more times -- the pairing of the reggae-bouncing "Unapologetic Bitch" and Nicki Minaj showcase "Bitch I'm Madonna," their titles suggesting vulgarity, their execution flinty and knowing -- but she cleverly balances these clubby bangers with "Devil Pray," an expert evocation of her folktronica Y2K co-produced by Avicii, and "Illuminati," a sleek, spooky collaboration with Kanye West. These are the anchors of the album, grounding the record when Madonna wanders into slow-churning meditation, unabashed revivals of her '90s adult contemporary mode, casual confession ("I spent sometime as a narcissist"), and defiant celebrations of questionable taste. Undoubtedly, some of this flair would've been excised if the record was a manageable length, but the blessing of the unwieldiness is that it does indeed represent a loosening of Madonna's legendary need for control. Certainly, the ambition remains, along with the hunger to remain on the bleeding edge, but she's allowing her past to mingle with her present, allowing her to seem human yet somewhat grander at the same time. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released October 14, 1994 | Sire - Warner Records

Perhaps Madonna correctly guessed that the public overdosed on the raw carnality of her book Sex. Perhaps she wanted to offer a more optimistic take on sex than the distant Erotica. Either way, Bedtime Stories is a warm album, with deep, gently pulsating grooves; the album's title isn't totally tongue-in-cheek. The best songs on the album ("Secret," "Inside of Me," "Sanctuary," "Bedtime Story," "Take a Bow") slowly work their melodies into the subconscious as the bass pulses. In that sense, it does offer an antidote to Erotica, which was filled with deep but cold grooves. The entire production of Bedtime Stories suggests that she wants listeners to acknowledge that her music isn't one-dimensional. She has succeeded with that goal, since Bedtime Stories offers her most humane and open music; it's even seductive. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released June 14, 2019 | Boy Toy, Inc., Exclusively licensed to Live Nation Worldwide, Inc. Exclusively licensed to Interscop

Booklet
Madame X marks the reunion between Madonna and Mirwais, the latter being behind the wheel for 7 of the 13 tracks on the album. Daniel Darc's former colleague from Taxi Girl had already worked on several projects, such as the albums Music in 2000 and American Life in 2003. His role here is to take the delirious musical experimentation to new extremes, all the while keeping in line with Madonna's melodic pop style. The most obvious example of Mirwais’ musical madness is Dark Ballet, a song inspired by Joan of Arc that features a long synthetic-baroque arrangement à la Wendy Carlos as well as a mischievous monologue by Madonna that’s told from the point of view of the Maid of Orléans. Maintaining a style that’s both playful and totally insane, the lively disco strings on God Control are a real highlight. Madonna is also politically engaged in this work, focusing on the failed gun control in America (with a sample from Emma Gonzales’ speech in I Rise) as well as speaking out for minorities (particularly in the postmodern fado Killers Who Are Partying). Speaking of fado, Lusophone culture is one of the album’s main themes – probably due to Madonna’s decision to move to Portugal in 2017. On Batuka she celebrates Cape Verde (the batuque being a kind of Cape Verdean music characterised by a call and response structure). Madonna also pays tribute to Colombia with the reggaeton singer Maluma, with whom she sings (and flirts) on two duets: Medellin and Bitch I'm Loca. Finally, she also mentions Picasso's Spain on I Don't Search I Find (quoted from the painter). The album highlights the malleable aspect of her voice (be it auto-tuned, whispered or spoken) and throughout the work Madonna always strikes a perfect balance between the gravity of political commitment on the one hand and the lightness of the duets and Mirwais’ production on the other. She does complete justice album’s title, Madame X most likely being a reference to Marlene Dietrich from Agent X 27, Joseph Von Sternberg's 1931 biopic of the spy Mata Hari. “Madame X is a secret agent, travelling around the world, changing identities and fighting for freedom. She brings light to dark places,” explained the singer in a teaser video for her project. It’s a masked, playful, freedom-fighting and confident Madonna that we find here as she enters her seventh decade. © Nicolas Magenham/Qobuz
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Pop - Released January 1, 2012 | Interscope

Most pop stars reach a point where they accept the slow march of time, but not Madonna. Time is Madonna's enemy -- an enemy to be battled or, better still, one to be ignored. She soldiers on, turning tougher, harder, colder with each passing album, winding up with a record as flinty as MDNA, the 2012 record that is her first release since departing Warner for Interscope. That's hardly the only notable shift in Madonna's life since the 2008 release of Hard Candy. Since then, she has divorced film director Guy Ritchie and has seen her '80s persona co-opted and perverted by Lady Gaga, events so cataclysmic she can't help but address them on MDNA. Madonna hits the divorce dead-on, muttering about "pre-nups" when she's not fiercely boasting of shooting her lover in the head, and she's not exactly shy about reasserting her dominion over dance and pop, going so far as to draft Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. as maid servants paying their respect to the queen. Whatever part of MDNA that isn't devoted to divorce is dedicated to proving that Madonna remains the preeminent pop star, working harder than anybody to stay just on the edge of the vanguard. All this exertion leads to an excessively lean album: there's not an ounce of fat on MDNA, it's all overly defined muscle, every element working with designated purpose. Such steely precision means there's no warmth on MDNA, not even when Madonna directly confesses emotions she's previously avoided, but the cool calculations here are preferable to the electronic mess of Hard Candy, not least because there's a focus that flows all the way down to the pop hooks, which are as strong and hard as those on Confessions on a Dance Floor even if they're not quite so prominent as they were on that 2005 retro-masterwork. MDNA does echo the Euro-disco vibe of Confessions -- "Love Spent" consciously reworks the ABBA-sampling "Hung Up" -- yet as a whole it feels chillier, possibly due to that defensive undercurrent that pervades the album. Even if she's only measuring it in terms of pretenders to her throne, Madonna is aware of time passing yet she's compelled to fight it, to stay on top, to not slow down, to not waste a second of life, to keep working because the meaning of life is work, not pleasure. Naturally, all that labor can pay off, whether it's through the malevolent pulse of "Gang Bang" or the clever "Beautiful Stranger" rewrite "I'm a Sinner," but, ironically for all of Madonna's exhausting exertion elsewhere, these are the songs that benefit from her finely honed skills as a pop craftsman, illustrating that no matter how she combats it, she can't escape her age and may indeed be better off just embracing it. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo