Well, it is 2015 and Madonna went out and made another album. And even though Madonna is the Queen of Pop and can supposedly do no wrong, Rebel Heart is just that––wrong. Rebel Heart is the type of record whose best songs can only be described as “less unpleasant” than her cringeworthy worst. Nonetheless, it’s Madonna, so it’s worth a listen, even if only for novelty.
To delve into the musicality of these songs seems wildly inappropriate, but for the sake of fairness, a lot of the instrumentation and effects in Rebel Heart are typical of plenty of today’s best pop artists. Madonna is alarmingly clumsy with the EDM beats and vocal effects. From the start, it is obvious why her album has been poorly received.
“Living For Love” is the record’s first track, and its electronic groove is set from the start and drives through the rest of the song. For a while this song is promising, but it quickly falls apart as Madonna’s computerized voice mixes with a tacky, ’80s keyboard sound in the pre-chorus. It’s almost as if Madonna is trying to mix up her musical generations––her peak and present––but it is just too awkward. Even still, this track is one of the better ones. It has its fun moments, a cool dance breakdown, and eases its listener into what’s to come.
“Devil Pray” is another good warm-up tune. Its use of acoustic guitar, clapping, and Madonna’s clearer vocals show a softer dimension to usual rambunctious pop. Very quickly, this track develops an edgier dance beat and becomes a launchpad for Madonna’s entire artistic intent. With lyrics consisting almost entirely of lists of drugs, it seems the Queen of Pop is simply trying to stay relevant and edge herself into in a new, younger scene. She seems to be fumbling for nothing, though, as the song ends up going way too long and sounds ridiculous.
For the most part, the rest of the songs on Rebel Heart are baffling. From “Unapologetic Bitch,” with its reggae vibes and really bizarre, car-honking sound effects, to “Illuminati,” with its creepy, whispered introduction.
The underlying theme––if there is one––on this record is at best more-than-confused. There is almost undoubtedly no vision for this album, and instead it shows Madonna reaching out for young followers in any way she can. Perhaps that coincides with the album’s title, that the work is something rebellious and new, but it just doesn’t translate with a woman whose music was once so identifiable and loved.
Not to be forgotten, “Bitch I’m Madonna” is a classic for all the wrong reasons. Just about as outrageous as its title suggests, this track is so outlandishly overdone it almost seems like a practical joke. Unless you are a diehard Madonna fan, there is no need or use for this song. Maybe she’s singing it ironically, but by pulling in Nicki Minaj to rap a verse (the best part of the song, featuring the type of young, fresh, artist Madonna now desperately envies) Madonna shows just how badly she wants these songs to be good.
Madonna rounds out her album with some aggressively sexual tracks: “Body Shop,” “Holy Water,” and “Inside Out.” Though these songs definitely succeed in their shock factor, they are the type of tunes that once heard, never need to be heard again. Some might call it edgy and empowering, but most would call it scarring.
Of course, Madonna’s songs “Joan of Arc” and “HeartBreakCity” have to be included in any decent writeup of Rebel Heart purely because they make a listener feel guilty for disliking the album. In hilariously whiny lyrics, Madonna uses these songs as a complete departure. Though they’re compelling, and do seem to elicit real guilt, they can’t hope to save an album that was lost at the outset. If anything, they add to the confused conglomeration of songs that makes up Rebel Heart.
Featured Image Courtesy of Interscope Records