Madonna is the queen of reinvention and Madame X, her 14th studio album, marks another new brilliant, bonkers chapter in her 37-year career.
The 13-track CD (15 on the deluxe version) was inspired by a recent spell living in Lisbon, where she clearly imbibed the Portuguese diaspora’s music. Madame X is stuffed with influences, with African drumbeats and Latin grooves to New York club sounds and big ballads, taking in a bit of Cape Verde batuque and Puerto Rican reggaeton too.
It’s a mixed bag: there are some bangers including “Come Alive”, which is made for live performance and will fill the room when she plays the London Palladium in January. But it also has some disappointingly bland numbers.
The opener, Medellín is a joyously sexy work that combines Latin swing with lusty Catholicism, performed with Colombian star Maluma (who also sings on the unmemorable “Bitch I’m Loca”, co-produced with Billboard, one of several collaborators on the album).
Madonna takes a swerve into the political with the next few songs. Some lyrics are ridiculously portentous, as on “Killers Who Are Partying”: “I will be Africa, if Africa is shut down/ I will be poor, if the poor are humiliated”. Yeah, well, easy to say when you’re super-rich.
Not for the first time, Madonna strays dangerously near French and Saunders parody – but is she mocking herself, or us? Who knows? Who cares, when she can write the beautiful and heartfelt ballad “Looking For Mercy” – “Can you tell the truth when you live lies?”
It’s one of seven songs co-produced with Mirwais, who oversees the “statement” songs on Madame X, and is occasionally heavy-handed with the Auto-Tune.
Madame X is full of self-reflection, and its themes – of loving others and loving oneself – are reiterated throughout. The message comes through that Madonna is comfortable in her own skin, and doesn’t care what others think of her (did she ever?).
She gives the middle finger to her critics; “I don’t want your opinion/ Who you talking to?” she says on the excellent “Come Alive” and “There’s nothing you can do to me that hasn’t been done” on the final track, the anthemic “I Rise” – a statement of intent if ever I heard one.
Thematically the album is all over the place, but this is Madonna’s strongest material for years.