Madonna – Rebel Heart
When Madonna used the word “reductive” in her infamous interview on ABC back in 2012, it set off a firestorm of what would become one of the biggest rivalries in pop music. The word would also go on to become a go-to term for throwing shade. But lately it also seems to be the word that best describes Madonna’s own music.
Before even listening to Rebel Heart, Madonna’s upcoming 13th album, the song titles lend themselves to the dead horse she has beaten time and time again. They aren’t merely uninteresting as much as they bring one eye-roll after another. Devil Pray, Holy Water, and Messiah all play up the religious angle in some of the album’s many been-there, done-that moments, while S.E.X. could be seductive, or it could just be a reminder of her controversial book of the same name from the early 90s.
It seems no one is as big a fan of Madonna as Madonna herself.
Never before has the iconic pop star relied so much on her own legacy than with this record. Her name and status splash across the album to emphasize who she is and why it means something. She goes from reciting the most familiar lines of Vogue in Holy Water to incorporating the titles of many of her past hits for the bulk of Veni Vidi Veci.
Madonna’s reinvention tactic this time seems to be a response to her own status crisis as she kneels at the alter of herself to constantly utter reminders of why she’s important. Rebel Heart makes so many references to her own hits and achievements that it begs the question, has she finally run out of ideas or is she just really insecure?
The number of tracks on the super deluxe edition suggest she’s still full of ideas, but out of a whopping 25 songs, there’s a lot to sift through before finding one that sticks.
Living For Love kicks the album off on a good note as her best single since Hung Up. It’s a melodic house track that incorporates a gospel choir in true Madonna fashion. It’s not new territory in any way but it’s still a solid dance recording.
Madonna’s ability to deliver great songs isn’t lost on this album as she occasionally hits other high points throughout such as on Ghosttown, her best ballad since The Power Of Goodbye. She comes out of left field with Body Shop, the album’s star track and one of the most creative songs she’s ever done. It’s sexy and seductive in its delivery, showing that less really can be more.
It’s hard to ignore the strong production across most of the record, especially when the lyrics and melody are so lazy much of the time. Quite often it’s the production that brings out the best of songs that would otherwise fall flat. Producers including Avicii, Diplo and Kanye West offer support on the record. Illuminati, produced by West, is a classic in the making within her discography, even if the concept has dated slightly. Iconic has a hard-hitting chorus that helps the unnecessary inclusion of Mike Tyson in the intro monologue be forgotten, though the recycling of the couplet “born to be a superstar/that’s (exactly) what you are,” which initially appeared on the song Superstar from MDNA, feels like a rip-off.
One of the best pop songs on the record is the title track, which does a much better job of laying out Madonna’s career from start to present than Veni Vidi Vici. She sounds appreciative and almost emotional on the upbeat tune that focuses more on its melody, making it succeed.
But then there are the weak songs. Tracks like the aforementioned Devil Pray and Holy Water regurgitate the same religious themes using terrible lyrics that have become tiresome in Madonna’s music. The only purpose of S.E.X. is to be edgy and controversial – only it’s not 1992 anymore. There’s absolutely nothing interesting about the song or the stale double-entendre “I’m like an open door/let you come inside of me.” And for Autotune Baby, the title actually does say it all in what some are saying is the worst song Madonna has ever recorded. No comment.
It’s ironic that the Madonna of today is at her best when she isn’t trying to make a statement, court controversy or attempt to appeal to younger audiences. She continues on the path of sabotaging her own legacy by diminishing her status with weak material. Rebel Heart follows two duds and makes little effort to not join them as it strives to appeal to new audiences that aren’t interested in someone so desperate to win them over. It’s unfortunate as the record contains some of the best songs she’s recorded in nearly two decades, but as a whole it suffers under the songs that are among the worst she’s ever recorded.
At best, Rebel Heart, with 25 tracks on the super deluxe edition, is her best album in a decade. That is simply to say it’s better than Hard Candy and MDNA, hardly an achievement, and only if you keep a finger near the ‘skip’ button. Realistically, it too often comes across as contrived and, dare I say it, reductive.
1. Living For Love
2. Devil Pray
4. Unapologetic Bitch
6. Bitch I’m Madonna [featuring Nicki Minaj]
7. Hold Tight
8. Joan Of Arc
9. Iconic [featuring Chance The Rapper and Mike Tyson]
11. Body Shop
12. Holy Water
13. Inside Out
14. Wash All Over Me
15. Best Night
16. Veni Vidi Vici [featuring Nicki Minaj]
19. Rebel Heart
Super Deluxe Tracks
20. Beautiful Scars
22. Borrowed Time
23. Graffiti Heart
24. Autotune Baby
This is a followup of a review of the album’s first six tracks, released in December.