The internet is a funny place – so full of porn and hate, but so often as obsessed with propriety as a Victorian maiden aunt. Recently, it decided that women of 56 can’t fall over; online wags reminding them that walking up stairs in capes is solely the preserve of youth.
The ageism unleashed by Capegate makes you warm to much of Rebel Heart, Madonna’s 13th album. The unseemly segments, where Madonna baits and gyrates, can be a hoot. When she acts her age, it is lacklustre and over-enunciated; lived-and-loved stuff trotted out in overblown ballads.
Ever since Evita (and some might argue, Kabbalah), Madonna has too often hankered after a librettist’s voice, in which scansion, character motivation and imagery development take precedence over the giddy rush of pop. Wash All Over Me, the last song on Rebel Heart, is a wordy and portentous digital wallow that finds rave producer Avicii playing Andrew Lloyd Webber to her Tim Rice. Another electronic ballad not ill-suited to the stage, Ghosttown, finds a pair of lovers in extremis, without a shred of originality to hang on to. Do we really need Madonna – MDNA, as was – warning us of the dangerous illusion of drug use, as she does on Devil Pray? Probably not, although everyone should inhale this digital country-turned-Goan-rave romp at least once, just to say they have.
Millennials will cringe, but Madonna just makes a far better basqued polemicist than she does a wise elder stateswoman. The indecorous segments of Rebel Heart locate her sense of wickedness high in the mix. Rebel Heart’s key collaboration with Kanye West finds two of pop’s biggest egomaniacs starring in a wiggly club banger that doubles as a takedown of the internet’s most nutzoid meme – The Illuminati, a secret society that allegedly runs the world with the help of triangles in pop videos.
As a rough guide, songs with the word “bitch” in the title bode well. Bitch I’m Madonna is a party anthem produced by Diplo, in which the sound of an enraged acrylic wasp and a fierce rap by Nicki Minaj bring Madonna’s grandstanding up to date. Even better is Unapologetic Bitch, in which Diplo lays Madonna down over some dancehall. Santigold was doing similar things in ’08, but the method remains sound.
Then there’s sex, Madonna’s sine qua non. One particularly silly track compares Madonna’s vaginal fluids to holy water, maintaining the long-term narrative of Catholic-poking that runs through Madonna’s libidinous oeuvre. “Bless yourself and genuflect!” she commands on Holy Water, accompanied by ecstatic gasps and lubricious R&B; the rap is lifted from Vogue, one of Madonna’s many totemic hits.
But another sex tune – Body Shop – might be the most appealing song Madonna has been associated with in some time. It’s the only time on Rebel Heart that Madonna attempts something genuinely offbeat with two of the album’s relatively junior production partners: Blood Diamonds (Grimes) and Dahi (Kendrick Lamar).
Here is a sweet-natured dalliance where Madonna’s vocal flutters and flirts as the tune sways gently towards the Indian subcontinent, all plucked strings, handclaps and gently shlumping beats. It’s so unexpectedly nuanced, you don’t even mind the extended car-mending metaphor.
Source: The Guardian