Back-Cat Rating: Madonna Edition

In a moment of boredom, which happen more and more frequently nowadays, I’ve decided to put all of Madonna’s albums in order of brilliance or lack thereof.

Firstly, let’s decide what albums are in play. Madonna has 14 studio albums, which we’ll list in a moment, and those will be the basis of this list. The albums we won’t be including are the soundtrack to Who’s That Girl and I’m Breathless, the album of work inspired by and taken from Dick Tracy. Nor will we be including the Early Years album. Got that? Good!

The 14 albums, in chronological order, are:

  • Madonna
  • Like A Virgin
  • True Blue
  • Like A Prayer
  • Erotica
  • Bedtime Stories
  • Ray Of Light
  • Music
  • American Life
  • Confessions On A Dance Floor
  • Hard Candy
  • MDNA
  • Rebel Heart
  • Madame X
  • Or, if you’d prefer, they look like this:

    I guess we now just need to get on with it! I will say this up top… I’m sorry if it gets a bit stat heavy, but I like my stats, so get fucked if you don’t like it. Right, let’s get MDNA out of the way for being a bag of shit and a stain on an otherwise brilliant back cat.

    14: MDNA.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 2012
    Album Number: 12
    Length: 50:47
    Songs (Standard Edition): 12
    Singles: 4

    This entire albums screams of trying too hard. I add a bit of scorn to my distaste for it simply because it’s called MDNA just because it sounds a bit like MDMA and that makes her seem like she’s trying to be cool. To be fair, it’s not as bad as I made out above, but I do think it’s the worst album she’s put out, hence why it’s at the bottom of my list. The singles are largely forgettable and I genuinely had to Google which they even were.

    The inclusion of Nicki Minaj and M.I.A seem like choices based on their popularity at the time rather than artists that would suit her work. There are better people our there to work with and again this seems like she was just trying too hard.

    Now, there are good songs on this album, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that the work as a whole isn’t very strong. I’m not gonna get into reviewing individual tracks otherwise we’d be here all day. Ultimately, and unfortunately for us all, it’s very much a case of “Here’s some songs I made”, instead of “Here’s an album”.

    Standout Tracks: Girl Gone Wild, Masterpiece.

    Score: 4/10

    13: Hard Candy.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 2008
    Album Number: 11
    Length: 56:22
    Songs (Standard Edition): 12
    Singles: 3

    Released in 2008, Hard Candy brought to an end an epic run of albums. It’s possible that the 4 albums that preceded this effort might be one of the best runs of all time. (If it wasn’t for the Evita soundtrack we could keep going!)

    I think Hard Candy also suffers from the same issue that MDNA did. There’s very little substance on it and it feels more like some songs through together than it does a well rounded album. It’s definitely more enjoyable than it’s follow up, but it still falls short of the usual Madonna standard, especially the standard we’d had the prior 10 years.

    I really liked 4 Minutes, despite the fact it kinda divided opinion. JT and Timbaland are more the artists I expect to see her buddy up with. Kanye also appears later in the album, but again he falls into the category of trying too hard.

    Standout Tracks: 4 Seconds, Incredible.

    Score: 5/10

    12: Madonna.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 1983
    Album Number: 1
    Length: 40:47
    Songs (Standard Edition): 8
    Singles: 5

    We now take a leap to the good stuff. Madonna’s debut, again, feels like a collection of songs and less like an album. It’s only 8 songs long for a start, which doesn’t denote a bad album all the time, but when we’re talking mainstream pop music, it kinda does. She’s not Rush or Mike Oldfield.

    The reason this is rated so much higher than the prior two albums on the list despite suffering from the same issues is because the songs are actually great. The album contains at least 3 bonafide pop classics. Borderline, Lucky Star and Holiday.

    It’s worth pointing out that over half of this album was singles. Not usually something I think is a plus point. I know this opinion is wrong, but I see singles as the adverts for the album and the other tracks as the substance. It’s not always true, but if you think about albums that you love, you know it makes sense.

    I wonder how many people have actually listened to this album to be honest. Anyone discovering Madonna post The Immaculate Collection have probably never heard all 7 minutes of Borderline.

    Standout Tracks: Borderline, Lucky Star, Holiday.

    Score: 7/10

    11: Madame X.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 2019
    Album Number: 14
    Length: 56:01
    Songs (Standard Edition): 13
    Singles: 4

    Yes, I scored this less than the last place. I know that won’t make much sense to you, but I don’t make sense to a lot of people when I talk about music and I’d like to keep that going. This is a better album. It has a purpose and after MDNA and Hard Candy, Madonna sorted her shit out on this and Rebel Heart.

    The reason I placed this higher over Madonna despite the lower score is because this works as an album. It’s not just a load of pop classics. It’s a much richer collection. It falls short of being great, however, which is why it lost a point.

    I feel like Madame X has left us at an interesting place in Madonna’s music and her next album is either going to be epic, or fucking awful. Side note, Killers Who Are Partying is weird.

    Standout Tracks: Dark Ballet, Killers Who Are Partying, God Control

    Score: 6/10

    10: Rebel Heart.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 2015
    Album Number: 13
    Length: 55:09
    Songs (Standard Edition): 14
    Singles: 4

    Much better and a small return to form. Rebel Heart is a bit hit and miss in parts but it’s generally a good album. It’s more… Madonna… than Madame X and MDNA, the albums that sandwich it. Hopefully she can rediscover that again soon.

    Oddly it’s not an album I listen to it a lot, when it should be. I don’t listen to anything post Confessions that much to be honest. I think I prefer my Madonna to be classic Madonna.

    Best Night is a good tune, but sadly that’s reserved for the Deluxe Edition so isn’t on the standard issue which is what we’re talking about. You should give it a listen though if you’ve never heard it.

    Standout Tracks: Living For Love, Devil Pray.

    Score: 7/10

    9: Music.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 2000
    Album Number: 8
    Length: 44:31
    Songs (Standard Edition): 10
    Singles: 3

    Joanne! Wait… Sorry, Music! I both love and hate the lead single and title track from this. It’s catchy, it works as a pop song, the video was solid, but there’s something about it that annoys me and I don’t know what it is. Usually I can pinpoint shit like this but this time it escapes me.

    This is a much better album in terms of how it gels. It was a nice reinvention of style again and the album is all the better for it. If she’d tried to drop another Ray Of Light, it wouldn’t have been good and Ray Of Light would have been diminished because of it.

    As we’re on Standard Edition patrol, we can’t include her ample cover of American Pie for this either. Perfectly decent version to be honest. I’m neither here or there on it.

    Standout Tracks: Don’t Tell Me, What It Feels Like For A Girl, Amazing, Impressive Instant.

    Score: 8/10

    8: Like A Virgin.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 1985
    Album Number: 2
    Length: 43:10
    Songs (Standard Edition): 10
    Singles: 5

    Now. There’s some controversy to be had here. I know I said I’d go off Standard Editions, HOWEVER, Like A Virgin was almost instantly re-released to include the single Into The Groove, and I don’t feel like that’s a single we can ignore. It’s bad enough that we’re never going to encounter Vogue and Justify My Love in this album list, so let’s rescue Into The Groove whilst we can.

    An incredibly good pop album and Madonna’s second. This was a phenomenal step in the right direction. This album thrust her forward as a force to be reckoned with. You can’t really go wrong with an intro like Material Girl.

    Love Don’t Live Here Anymore gave her a chance to show off her pipes as she honed her grown up voice, and Like A Virgin shaped the singer she’d become for the next 10 years.

    Standout Tracks: Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, Like A Virgin, Material Girl, Stay.

    Score: 8/10

    7: Erotica.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 1992
    Album Number: 5
    Length: 75:24
    Songs (Standard Edition): 14
    Singles: 6

    Bill Oddie, Bill Oddie, put your hands all over my body. Don’t feel like I have much else to add. Coming in at 14 songs, and about 4 years long, Erotica is a great album.

    Something about Erotica never makes sense to me though, and see if you agree. Erotica was Madonna’s 5th album. To me it always seems like Erotica came much later, but at the same time, feels like it was way earlier. Know what I mean? It’s only two albums until we get Ray Of Light. Were we still with Erotica era Madonna so soon before? Seems mad to me. It might be because Madonna is one of the only people other than friends or family that has the power to define periods of my life.

    I think we should also give special mention to Deeper and Deeper for being an absolute fucking banger. Genuinely don’t think I’ve ever been in a gay nightclub and not heard it. And I’ve been in way more gay nightclubs than I should have been. Also, Rain gave us a brief glimpse of True Blue era Madonna again. She makes an appearance every so often and it’s always exciting to see her.

    Standout Tracks: Erotica, Deeper and Deeper, Rain, Secret Garden.

    Score: 8/10

    6: Like A Prayer.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 1989
    Album Number: 4
    Length: 51:16
    Songs (Standard Edition): 11
    Singles: 6

    She wants to take you there! If there’s one thing we know, Madonna knows how to open an album. If you take the albums on this list I rated the lowest, they both open shitty. Fact.

    This and the prior album cemented my love for Madonna and I think she was showing that she was gonna be around forever. Even if that does mean she’s just sat at home getting drunk on Instagram now.

    I think this is the last album that was more pop driven stuff. She’s always been able to turn her hand to a pop classic, but this marked the end of albums built around them and it was clear she was ready for more.

    Standout Tracks: Like A Prayer, Promise To Try, Cherish, Express Yourself.

    Score: 8/10

    5: American Life.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 2003
    Album Number: 9
    Length: 49:39
    Songs (Standard Edition): 11
    Singles: 4

    Now, hear me out. This is a fucking great album. It didn’t do well to start with, and I often have to argue it’s brilliance with people, but as usual, I’m right and everyone else is wrong. Seriously, this would be a 10 out of 10 if we could just delete Die Another Day off it. To be fair, I don’t hate that song, it just doesn’t need to be on here.

    Now, I liked Music a lot, and I think it’s a great album, but I didn’t love it as much as I love this album. It’s so different to all her other work and that should be applauded. We can have pop Madonna until the cows come home on all the other albums, but here we got folksy, alt Madonna and it’s perfect.

    I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if it was her fave album of all the one’s she did. It’s so different to the other stuff it almost seems like it’s a lot more personal than we maybe give it credit for.

    Standout Tracks: Hollywood, X-Static Process, Intervention.

    Score: 9/10

    4: Bedtime Stories.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 1994
    Album Number: 6
    Length: 51:10
    Songs (Standard Edition): 11
    Singles: 4

    Welcome to underrated town! I feel like this album gets forgotten about a lot and it shouldn’t, it’s great. Falls at the first hurdle though, as possibly the worst song on it is the opener, Survival. It’s not a bad song, it’s just not up to the standard of the rest. It’s very generic.

    This was a good change of pace from Erotica, and again, just like after Ray Of Light, it couldn’t have been sustained and we needed something different. Secret especially was a great change of direction. A beautifully crafted song with another great chance for Madonna to use her voice better.

    Human Nature shows up here and it’s one of my all time fave Madonna songs. Little known fact for you there. I love the quirkiness of it. Take A Bow is also on here! This album had some strong singles game.

    Standout Tracks: Secret, Take A Bow, Human Nature, Forbidden Love.

    Score: 9/10

    3: Confessions On A Dance Floor.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 2005
    Album Number: 10
    Length: 56:28
    Songs (Standard Edition): 12
    Singles: 4

    You have to open an album. You need that killer first track. The perfect opener. You want to set the scene, let people know what they’re in for, and make an entrance. Can you do better than Hung Up? Nope.

    This is the last truly great Madonna album. In some ways, it feels like all her other pop work was leading to this. It’s so well put together, it’s energetic, it’s fun, and it was supported by brilliant music videos. The whole album, feels like (and this isn’t just because of the sample) she just harnessed the brilliance of herself and then stole a load from ABBA and Kylie.

    Sorry is one of the greatest pop songs of all time. It never gets the credit it deserves as it was overshadowed by Hung Up, but Sorry is where it’s at. I don’t think it could be improved in any way. At all. It’s perfection.

    Standout Tracks: Jump, Sorry, Hung Up, Future Lovers.

    Score: 9/10

    2: True Blue.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 1986
    Album Number: 3
    Length: 40:25
    Songs (Standard Edition): 9
    Singles: 5

    Speaking of amazing ways to open an album, hello Papa Don’t Preach. This album, after Like A Virgin, I think cemented her as one of the big 4. Her, MJ, Prince, George Michael. Those 4 couldn’t be stopped at this point.

    Again, her maturity was on the rise and it really showed on here. Live To Tell is, and will always be, her best vocal performance and probably her best ever song. I don’t think I’ll ever change my mind on that. I even debated making this my number one album. I think it is super close for me between the top two, but you can’t deny what’s coming up.

    Like A Virgin, True Blue, and Like A Prayer are why the 80s belonged to Madonna. I mean, find me a modern pop album that doesn’t take some form of inspiration from her.

    Standout Tracks: Live To Tell, Papa Don’t Preach, True Blue, Where’s The Party, La Isla Bonita, Open Your Heart.

    Score: 10/10

    1: Ray Of Light.

    Album Stats:

    Released: 1998
    Album Number: 7
    Length: 66:52
    Songs (Standard Edition): 13
    Singles: 5

    I mean there must be people out there that don’t rate his as her best work, and I respect that, but it still seems odd to me. It’s her magnum opus. She’ll never better it and it’s essentially a perfect album. It will go down in history as an all time classic.

    I mean, like I said earlier, singles are an advert for an album. Let’s take a look at the singles… Frozen, Drowned World/Substitute For Love, Nothing Really Matters, The Power Of Goodbye, Ray Of Light. All of those would be in her top songs ever.

    It’s one of the only Madonna albums I still listen to from start to finish. I love all her work really, but it’s not often I still throw an album on, rather than just a greatest hits or a playlist.

    Standout Tracks: Just all of them. Go listen to it.

    Score: 10/10


    Albums: 14
    Songs: 160
    Singles: 62
    Length: 12 Hours, 18 Minutes, 1 Second
    Score: 108/140

    All with a secret bit of behind the scenes score weighting.

    Overall Back-Cat Rating:


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