The question of whether Madonna, thirty-two years into her career, can remain relevant to today’s music scene is a question that comes up repeatedly when listening to Rebel Heart, her thirteenth studio album. Following 2012’s MDNA, which was considered a disappointment by both the critics and the general public, and improving upon it, was always going to be the challenge facing Madonna. However, Rebel Heart presents some of Madonna’s strongest songs in years.
‘Living For Love’ opens the album with strong EDM influences, a rousing chorus, and uplifting lyrics. With the image of Madonna memorably performing the song at February’s BRIT Awards still fresh in everyone’s minds, the song stands up to repeated listens and it is a shame it wasn’t a bigger hit in the UK upon its single release. The first half of the album contains many of the tracks released in early December 2014 after Madonna was targeted by leaks. They are also some of the best on the album, although from the titles Rebel Heart may be forgiven for re-treading old themes, such as religion, sex, and Nicki Minaj rap verses. ‘Devil Pray’ is a particular favourite, bringing Madonna’s voice to the forefront with sensual production and a compelling instrumental breakdown. ‘Unapologetic Bitch’ and ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ also manage to sound distinctly ‘Madonna’ without sounding too trend-chasing, something she has not pulled off as successfully in the past. Also, importantly, they’re just a whole lot of fun to dance and sing along to.
[quote] At 19 tracks long, the album is an exhausting listen, whilst also a significant achievement. [/quote]
Where Rebel Heart really shines is on the slower moments, with guitar parts and a focus on lyricism that casts back to her earlier albums such as Music and American Life. ‘Joan of Arc’ is surprisingly vulnerable, while ‘Ghosttown’ is one of the highlights of the album, sounding both euphoric and edgy. Meanwhile, ‘Body Shop’ manages to sound like nothing else on the album, with Middle-Eastern influences and an impressive beat. Madonna also manages to retain her knack for an introspective ballad, with both ‘Messiah’ and ‘Wash All Over Me’ having strong melodies that come later in the record. Similarly, to be found on the Deluxe Edition is the lovely ‘Rebel Heart’, which acts as a great stripped-back moment to end the album. The refocus on Madonna’s voice and originality as an artist is a welcome change from her previous albums such as MDNA and Hard Candy. The effort put into this album really shows, and ultimately it feels good to hear Madonna re-focusing on her own music.
[quote]The refocus on Madonna’s voice and originality as an artist is a welcome change from her previous albums such as MDNA and Hard Candy. [/quote]
However, her use of producers such as Avicii, Diplo and Kanye West does sometimes misfire, and though the successes are more prominent than the failures on Rebel Heart, songs such as ‘Illuminati’, ‘Holy Water’ and ‘S.E.X.’ perhaps should have remained as demos. At 19 tracks long, the album is an exhausting listen, whilst also a significant achievement. Ultimately, Rebel Heart does act as a partial return to form for Madonna, with some great songs and occasional filler.
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