After 1992’s Erotica, a chilly cocktail of disco, techno and S & M that didn’t go down so smoothly with her fans, Madonna has gone back to her pop roots to produce a winning album—with a little songwriting and production help from such friends as Babyface, Dallas Austin and Björk. “Secret,” with its psychedelic acoustic-guitar intro, persistent syncopated beat and orchestral flourishes, is easily the best Madonna single since 1989’s “Like a Prayer.” And “I’d Rather Be Your Lover” (featuring Me’Shell NdegeOcello) and the flamenco-tinged “Love Tried to Welcome Me” are sexier than any of the bedtime fantasies on Erotica.
True, Madonna, who borrowed from the sexy rap style of former Prince protege Ingrid Chavez to create her No. 1 hit “Justify My Love,” still draws shamelessly from her contemporaries (“Human Nature” is reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation”). But her lower-register vocals, sounding less thin than on previous albums, are well-suited to these smooth, hip-hop arrangements. Her voice—and some seriously infectious grooves—makes these Bedtime Stories worth staying awake for. (Maverick/Sire/Warner Bros.)