Thursday, February 12, 2015

Rebel Heart | Madonna


★★★☆☆

Madonna has been in the music industry since the early 1980s, but she's definitely not above the digital problems of the twenty-first century. Portions of her thirteenth album, Rebel Heart, were prompted for digital release late last year after a full album's worth of demos were leaked online. After she claimed to be a victim of "artistic rape," (That's right, kids: A leaked album is almost the same thing as being raped.) she released six of the album's fourteen standard tracks for immediate download on iTunes. She started a total #RebelHeart takeover on Instagram and soon caused controversy by superimposing black wire into photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela to promote her album. Filling the album with track titles like "Illuminati," "Devil Pray," and "Unapologetic Bitch" certainly didn't hurt the gossip mill, either. While Madonna sure knows how to stir the pot of gossip, is there still any substance behind this Rebel Heart?

Madonna is a chameleon in pop music; each album shifts her in a new direction, but she retains a certain level of her own personality with each new turn. One of her most beloved albums, 2005's Confessions on a Dance Floor, was drenched in '80s-inspired pop. Her eleventh studio album, Hard Candy, was released in 2008 and was almost entirely produced by R&B production giants Timbaland and The Neptunes (a duo composed of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo). Finally, by the time MDNA dropped in 2012, Madonna kicked other influences to the curb in favor of rehashed synthpop. 

Fast forward to 2015, we now get Madonna featuring Diplo and Avicii as she transitions to clean-cut electronic dance. To much surprise, Madonna doesn't just offer cut-and-dried dance music this time around, either. She and her producers pack the hardest EMD punches on "Iconic," featuring Chance the Rapper and awkward spoken snippets from professional boxer Mike Tyson, and "Bitch I'm Madonna," an ode to herself in which she is ironically out-performed vocally by previous collaborator Nicki Minaj. On "Living for Love," we get gospel-inspired chants and vocal soars over Diplo's production, and elements of "Devil Pray" seem to be lifted straight from a western movie score before sliding into an impressive bass drop. Although it is without a proper bass drop, "Holy Water" also exudes great production handiwork and samples Madonna's own "Vogue."

While Madonna's production choices shine on Rebel Heart, she has regressed lyrically. She has not lost her try-hard attitude that really shined through on MDNA; if anything, her desire to achieve an untouchable, bad-ass status has intensified. After all, Madonna is now accepting of her role as an "Unapologetic Bitch" and isn't afraid to tell everyone how it is. "Holy Water" includes the demand of "Bitch, get off my pole" and blurred (and slightly alarming) exclamations of "Jesus loves my pussy best," while in "Devil Pray," she mindlessly rambles off a bunch of edgy activities: "And we can do drugs / And we can smoke weed / And we can drink whiskey / Yeah we can get high / And we can get stoned / And we can sniff glue / And we can do E / And we can drop acid." In other words, 56-year-old Madonna is not like a regular mom. She's a cool mom.

While Her Madgesty brings some spunky tracks to the table, the whole album doesn't dazzle with excellence. Perhaps instead of churning out ten extra tracks for deluxe and super deluxe pressings of Rebel Heart, Madonna should have weeded out the bland filler tracks on the standard edition like "Body Shop" and "HeartBreakCity." Moreover, she is not bringing anything extraordinarily new to the table; "Hold Tight," for example, is the stepsister to Gwen Stefani's "Baby Don't Lie." Inevitably, previous pieces of Madonna gold cannot be overshadowed by anything post-Confessions, but she's doing her best to extend her shelf-life. Let's all just be ecstatic that there is noticeable improvement from MDNA and enjoy Rebel Heart for what it is: a respectable stab at EDM and grittier synthpop.

Rebel Heart will be released on March 10, 2015 through Interscope Records, Boy Toy, and Live Nation Worldwide. Standard, deluxe, and super deluxe pressings will be available.

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