Took me to heaven, watched me fall down. Now that it’s over, I’m gonna carry on.
Plagued from the start with months of countless leaks, ageist criticisms, a monumental fall at this year’s Brit Awards and a new favorite accessory, Madonna’s 13th studio album, Rebel Heart will be released on March 10th… Officially. Though the lineup is a bit over crowded, Rebel Heart shapes up to be the Girl’s best Material in almost a decade with it’s inventive electronic-urban sounds mixed with a vulnerable self reflection. The Deluxe Edition’s 19 songs could be five songs shorter for a cohesive commercial release, but when has Madonna ever been one to fit the mold? Oh right, Hard Candy & MDNA.
The triumphant ‘Living For Love’ kicks off the album with a modern take on what could be considered “classic Madonna.” The Diplo-produced track recalls her past hits ‘Like A Prayer’ and ‘Express Yourself’ with it’s 90s house beats and soaring choir. Where Rebel Heart succeeds is when Madonna is at her most self reflective. Songs like ‘Joan Of Arc,’ ‘Messiah’ and ‘Wash All Over Me’ show Madonna’s consciousness of life, love, religion and her place today’s modern musical landscape. “In a world that’s changing, I’m a stranger in a strange land / There’s a contradiction, and I’m stuck here in between,” she sings on the latter. It’s the kind of self awareness that allows Madonna to appear human and relatable. The album’s second single, ‘Ghosttown,’ has one of the best melodies in the bunch while adding to the repertoire that reveals Madonna’s insecurities and romanticism.
It’s not all somber, though. Tracks like the Yeezus produced ‘Illuminati,’ Mike Tyson & Chance The Rapper assisted ‘Iconic,’ and Nas feature ‘Veni Vedi Vici,’ provide a defiant commentary on fame, fortune and relevancy over electronic synths and hip hop beats. The latter entirely built around self homage, references her 30-plus year career almost to a point of laughter. “And when it came to sex, I know I walked the borderline / And when I struck a pose, all the gay boys lost their mind,” Madonna sings with a straight face. True. The ethereal ‘Hold Tight,’ soars with it’s atmospheric synths and marching beats. Even the Nicki Minaj assisted, ‘Bitch I’m Madonna,’ with it’s abrasive air horn and narcissistic message, works within the tension of Madonna’s inner Rebel and her beating Heart.
Where Rebel Heart falls flat is when the aforementioned highlights are reduced to watered down version of themselves. ‘Heartbreak City’ fails to make the same emotional impact than it’s fully developed twin sister, ‘Wash All Over Me.’ The hollow ‘Inside Out’ fails to live up to the guitar driven demo, not to mention it’s hook is reminiscent of that on Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds.’ Parts of the Avicii-produced ‘Devil Pray’ attempt to recall the success of the 2014 hit, ‘Wake Me Up,’ which is even more evident in it’s demo form. The over hash-tagged ‘Unapologetic Bitch,’ although not unlistenable, misses the mark with it’s “fuck you” message mixed with the Gwen Stefani-esque reggae-pop.
The overtly sexual tracks on Rebel Heart are a harsh reminder of why MDNA and Hard Candy weren’t Madonna’s strongest offerings. ‘Holy Water’ relies too much on the shock value of comparing a woman’s vaginal secretions to… Well… holy water, while referencing ‘Vogue’ for the 5000th time in Madonna’s career. The obnoxious ‘S.E.X.’ just seems to put the entire Fifty Shades Of Grey trilogy into a 4 minute and 12 second song. Skip. However, the sensual ‘Best Night’ is forgiven with it’s eastern-inspired drums and Madonna’s subtle approach to her sexuality… Even if she is appropriating rap-culture as a 56-year-old-white-woman.
The album’s the title track, ‘Rebel Heart,’ is a welcomed highlight and is, ironically, not included on the standard edition. Over it’s simplistic, acoustic feel, Madonna reflects on the choices she’s made and how they’ve shaped the rebel that she’s become. It’s a full circle moment, rounding out an album that, on the surface, could be perceived as an identity crisis if taken out of context. However, as a whole Rebel Heart becomes a sanctuary where introspection and eroticism coexist rather than conflicting with each other. In other words, Madonna is back.
Listen To: ‘Living For Love’ / ‘Ghosttown’ / ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ / ‘Joan Of Arc’ / ‘Iconic’ / ‘Hold Tight’ / ‘Wash All Over Me’