Madonna • Rebel Heart • Interscope • US Release Date: March 10, 2015
There is and will only ever be one Madonna. Anytime Madonna performs or releases a new album, everybody is interested to see what the cutting-edge pop legend is going to do – specifically how she is going to reinvent herself. While Madonna’s most innovative days are in the past, the pop star has constantly proved she’s still ‘got it.’ Throughout Rebel Heart, Madonna shows while she’s still the one to beat.
“Living For Love” opens Rebel Heart energetically. Feel good, danceable, and super catchy, “Living For Love” garners the listener’s attention without ever relinquishing it. The lyrics are simple, but stick – the mark of a winning pop song. The fascinating “Devil Pray” exceptionally follows, delivering a dark contrast to “Living For Love.” “Devil Pray” tackles spirituality, drugs, and perseverance. It’s enigmatic sound captivates with inescapable eeriness.
“Ghosttown” highlights the importance of love when everything else ceases. “When the world gets cold, I’ll be your cover,” Madonna sings, later adding, “When it all falls, when it all falls down / we’ll be two souls in a ghost town.” Ultimately, it’s pleasant and wholesome. The reggae-tinged “Unapologetic B*tch,” is completely opposite, truly embracing being unapologetic. “It might sound like I’m an unapologetic b*tch / but sometimes you know I gotta call it like it is.” Madonna keeps it real, eventually telling her ex, “Well, f*ck you.”
“Illuminati” is a trip – period. “It’s not Jay-Z and Beyoncé / it’s not Nicki or Lil Wayne,” she sings on the first verse, continuing in similar fashion on the second. Ultimately, Madonna speaks upon the perception that celebrities are ‘the Illuminati,’ a popular talking point for whatever reason. “B*tch I’m Madonna” follows, serving among the most fun songs from Rebel Heart, thanks to banging production and Madonna’s feistiness. Having Nicki Minaj guest doesn’t hurt either!
“Hold Tight” is solid, even if it falls short of the best. “Joan of Arc” features clever lyrics referencing authentic ‘superhero’ Joan of Arc. Madonna asserts she’s “Not Joan of Arc, not yet.” If “Joan Of Arc” seemed ‘tame’ for Madonna, “Iconic” finds the chanteuse ferocious. Madge doesn’t reach “B*tch I’m Madonna” here, but confirms her “Iconic” status. The production is epic, mixing electronic and hip-hop sensibilities – notably ‘the drop.’ A verse by Chance The Rapper makes “Iconic” even more noteworthy.
“Heartbreak City” slows the tempo, but not the intensity as Madge drops an obligatory f-bomb early on: “Cut me down the middle / f*cked me up a little…” The real talk fits Madge’s relatable emotional state. Following heartbreak, she takes us to the “Body Shop,” which is more ‘tastefully’ executed than expected. Sure it’s sex, but there is eschewal of profane references, which makes it clever.
“Holy Water” is anything but “holy,” with the sacrilege fully apparent on the chorus: “Kiss it better, kiss it better / don’t it taste like holy water / make it wetter, make it wetter / don’t it taste like holy water.” “ “Holy Water” equals unapologetic boldness. “Inside Out” finds Madonna’s vocals clear and robust. Still sporting ‘attitude,’ “Inside Out” is less R-rated than “Holy Water.” The standard edition of Rebel Heart concludes with “Wash All Over Me,” a lush ballad that grows percussive upon the refrain. Those indulging into deluxe edition are given five more songs: “Best Night,” “Veni Vidi Vici” (featuring Nas), “S.E.X.,” “Messiah,” and the title track, “Rebel Heart.”
Ultimately, Rebel Heart is an enjoyable, soundly conceived album. It plays to Madonna’s strengths and easily eclipses the legendary pop stars overlooked 2012 album MDNA. There aren’t any hits giving “Like A Virgin” a run for its money, but for a 56-year old, this effort is contemporary and definitely has swag, no questions asked.
Favorites: “Living For Love,” “Devil Pray,” “Unapologetic B*tch,” “B*tch I’m Madonna,” “Iconic”