Madonna: Rebel Heart (Interscope)
Verdict: No stumbles
The omens for Madonna’s first album in three years have not been good. Not only was the Queen of Pop shaken when unfinished tracks were leaked online in December, but Radio 1 seems to have ruled that the 56-year-old’s music no longer appeals to its mainly teenage audience.
Then came the Material Girl’s wardrobe malfunction at last week’s Brits, when she tumbled inelegantly down steps on stage, because her extravagant matador’s cape had been tied too tight. We’ve all been there.
But, as she proved by finishing her performance of Living For Love despite this, the pop diva is a trouper. And her 13th studio album reiterates a capacity for rejuvenation.
Rebel Heart is Madonna’s best album since 2005’s Confessions On A Dancefloor, probably because she is at her most relaxed and natural.
Playing to her strengths while using modern tricks, it is an eclectic mix of dance, pop, reggae and balladry.
It is also an upgrade on 2008’s Hard Candy, where she struggled to keep pace with trends, and 2012’s cold, machine-tooled MDNA.
Looking at the long list of credits, you could be excused for thinking Rebel Heart was designed by committee. There are collaborations with Swedish producer Avicii, U.S. DJ Diplo, rappers Kanye West, Nas and Nicki Minaj — even a spoken-word cameo from Mike Tyson.
Despite the supporting cast, Madonna has produced a cohesive album enhanced by her respect for traditional pop songs.
Even dance-orientated numbers are built around tuneful guitars and pianos rather than crushing beats.
Famous for not giving away too much of herself, the singer also explores a surprisingly wide range of moods and emotions, from the crudely defiant to the quietly confessional. Her lyrics are uncomplicated, but there are revealing flashes of intimacy.
More arrogant, self-aggrandising themes are to the fore on Unapologetic B***h, a pop-reggae workout, and B***h, I’m Madonna, with Minaj. The bubbly, hypnotic Iconic is an electronic pop number.
As pop’s original rude girl, Madonna still presses the ‘outrage’ button, although now it veers more towards the silly than the shocking.
Body Shop relies on car-related innuendo involving engines and gaskets, while deluxe edition bonus track S.E.X. is similarly vulgar.
Madonna comes into her own on the more adventurous tracks. Referencing ecstasy and ‘weed’, folk-tinged Devil Pray initially sounds like a glorification of drugs, but is actually a warning of their dangers.
The strongest moments are those where Madonna shows vulnerability, such as tender love song Joan Of Arc. Along with Heartbreak City and Wash All Over Me, it has the most personal lyrics she has penned since 1998’s, soul-baring Mer Girl.
After spending nine months finishing Rebel Heart, the workaholic star is set to begin a huge world tour in August that arrives in the UK in December. As she sings on the title track: ‘I live my life like a masochist /Hear my father say “I told you so”’.
She might not be growing old gracefully, but Madonna is still doing things her way.
Source: Daily Mail