Madonna : GHV2

Far from immaculate, this is still quite a collection...

Second volume of hits from Mrs Ritchie
Madonna‘s last Greatest

Hits collection, 1990’s ‘The Immaculate Collection’, was dedicated to the Pope. Cheekily, since he’d denounced her ‘blasphemous’ Blonde Ambition world tour six months beforehand. Appropriately, because like his Holiness, Madonna seemed infallible. From humble beginnings as a disco dolly from the Midwest, she now bestrode the world like Colossus in a gold bustier. Having had so many hits that she could leave off two UK Number Ones with barely anyone even noticing, ‘The Immaculate Collection’ was a stunning show of strength which seemed to prove that Madonnacould do anything (except act). Not to own it is basically to say that you have no interest in popular culture.

‘GHV2’ begins at the point that it all went a bit wonky. The first two tracks, ‘Deeper And Deeper’ and ‘Erotica’, date from 1992, when she released the first (and so far last) mucky book by a major pop star, Sex. It provoked a massive backlash. By then, Madonna had also stopped working with the people who’d co-written such uber-pop as ‘Cherish’ and ‘Like A Prayer’. You can almost hear the resulting loss of creative confidence in mid-’90s tracks like ‘Bedtime Story’ (a bizarre Bjork-penned curio that didn’t suit her at all) and the she-doth-protest-too-much “I’m not sorry” chorus of ‘Human Nature’ (represented here in a horribly dated house mix). But there are underrated gems too. ‘Secret’, her veiled paean to heroin and masturbation, had a brilliant bluesy strut while ‘Take A Bow’ (weirdly, her smallest UK hit but her biggest ever US one until ‘Music’) is a gorgeously constructed song by any standards. Nevertheless, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ stank then, stinks now, and writ large the fact that by 1996 Madonna was fast turning into the pop equivalent of Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond, croaking, “I’m still big! It’s just the Top 40 that got small!”

What saved her was far less William Orbit

(or anyone else) than a revival of the killer instinct that had propelled her out of Michigan in the first place (and which, interestingly, seemed to coincide with the birth of her first child). ‘Frozen’ became her first UK Number One for eight years, but it was on ‘Ray Of Light’ and ‘Drowned World/Substitute For Love’ that Madonna found a new voice which could be simultaneously experienced and euphoric, referencing her past but not dragged down by it. By ‘Beautiful Stranger’ she was well away, her renaissance finally confirmed by the wildly successful (in every sense) 2000 single ‘Music’, ‘GHV2”s final track.

Now, like the Pope, we know Madonna is fallible. Yet she seems as immovable a part of the pop landscape as she did in 1990. It’s a shame, then, that this album lacks any new tracks to suggest where she might go next (‘Sex Makes The World Go Round’ and ‘Veronica Electronica’ having been bumped off at the last minute). The two compilations also leave a further 20 of Madonna‘s hits uncollected, so this is by no means the whole story. But while far from immaculate, this is still quite a collection.

Alex Needham