Where The Immaculate Collection culled material from her first four studio albums, threw in a few soundtrack gems, and two new songs, GHV2 repeats the process for her next four studio albums, a few soundtrack-only tracks, and completely skips out on any new material. The fact that there’s no new material to be found is not a complete tragedy, there’s no obligation to include any on a compilation, but it does signal a certain amount of indifference to the collection. This carries on into the random sequencing of the songs.
The Immaculate Collection traced Madonna’s increasingly canny ability to infuse her pop songs with headier subject matter and personal revelations. GHV2 could have repeated that trick if it had flowed in chronological order. Instead, it opens with two songs from Erotica, then two from Bedtime Stories, adds in “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” for some reason, then goes back to Bedtime Stories. It’s random and makes no logical sense. The same goes for the ending of the album which alternates between songs from Ray of Light and Music. (Although, there is a perverse hilarity in sticking “Erotica” and “Human Nature” back-to-back, as if it was some sort of call-and-response.)
There’s no rhyme or reason to the order, and it muddies the evolution and deepening of her eccentricities and musical explorations throughout the decade. A greatest hits should make an argument for an artist’s impact and legacy, and the best way to do it is to present them in chronological order as a demonstration of their increasingly thrown around heft and might. And for the life of me, I do not understand why “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” was included over more logical choices like “I’ll Remember” or “This Used to Be My Playground.” “Argentina” is one of her finest vocal performances, but if she wanted a song from Evita then why not include “You Must Love Me,” the song that won an Oscar.
Still, GHV2 does operate as a double-barreled middle-finger salute to the critics that proclaimed her a beautiful but disposable pop starlet at the start of her career. Not only can she populate a second greatest hits collection with legitimate hits, but some of these are the biggest and best of her career: “Music,” “Take a Bow,” “Ray of Light,” just to name a few. Hell, even the underappreciated gems like “Bedtime Story” and “Deeper and Deeper” have aged better and proven indispensable to her legacy.
The most shocking development around this time period was that Madonna finally learned that an album could be more than a few smash singles and some filler. She first learned this trick on Like a Prayer, but she reached her zenith on the maternal electronica of Ray of Light and the headphones-mandatory sonic glitches of Music. Taken outside of the context of their albums a few of the songs suffer, “What It Feels Like for a Girl” and “The Power of Goodbye” primarily. On its own, “The Power of Goodbye” sounds like a particularly strange song you’d hear while doing yoga. “Girl” meanwhile takes place on Music’s more confessional and folksy second-half, and wedged in-between the heavy electronics makes it wilt.
At the time, Madonna was criticized for taking herself too seriously. At times, this is a fair criticism, but it doesn’t explain the ebullience of “Beautiful Stranger,” the theme song for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. It’s a deliriously silly blast of nostalgic psychedelic pop polished up with William Orbit’s analog synths and her warm vocal performance. It makes a welcome presence on an official album release from the singer and not buried away as a bonus track on some international edition of Music. It’s a pure sugar rush of good-time bubblegum pop that you’d be forgiven for thinking she forgot how to make.
In its own way, this is as essential in telling her story as The Immaculate Collection. If all you want are the hits, then you could just snap up those two discs and call it a day. Or invest in the double-disc version of Celebration, although that really isn’t the career spanning extravaganza it promises to be or should have been. If nothing else, the slightly frustrating omissions and choices made in Madonna’s subsequent greatest hits package only underline the argument for her as a dynamic force in pop music. We’ve never seen a career like hers before, and it makes it hard to properly document and solidify what exactly constitutes her “greatest” or “best” after a while. GHV2 is imperfect, but the music makes a solid argument for her continued relevance and domination as an iconic personality.
DOWNLOAD: “Bedtime Story,” “Music,” “Beautiful Stranger”