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Album Review: Madonna – Rebel Heart (Deluxe Edition)

3 min read

Madonna’s thirteenth album has already had a bumpy ride, with numerous leaks, THAT headline-capturing fall at the Brit Awards and more ageist/sexist commentary suggesting that the 56-year old Queen of Pop should again, tone it down.

Madonna - Rebel HeartThe title of this latest effort reflects what Madonna is all about, and will continue to be: a rule breaker unafraid to let her guard down every once in a while.

Living for Love starts the album off promisingly, but no meaningful sentiment, choir or handclaps can save this overrated, musically mediocre song. There’s a reason why this hasn’t exploded in the same way that euphoric, legendary lead singles like Like a Prayer and Hung Up have. The lyrics of underwhelming electronic-pop-folk snoozer Devil Pray will induce eye-rolls, as a shopping list is more entertaining than Madonna’s catalogue of drugs in the pre-chorus. Comparisons to Mirwais are futile; at least Don’t Tell Me had a slick groove and Love Profusion bopped.

Fortunately, the finest moments occur on tracks that lean towards the ‘heart’ side: the ballads that have Madonna exposing herself emotionally bare. The apocalyptic, deserving second single Ghosttown is the most epic power ballad of her career. It smashes harder even than Live to Tell, with vocal production evoking Ray of Light (in that spine chilling, stripped penultimate chorus), Music (though that autotune is a bit much) and Confessions on a Dance Floor (in those throwback vocoder harmonies).

The album’s journey through devastation, discovery and recovery is mostly well-thought out in the running order. After the chilled, reggae-influenced yet cutthroat Unapologetic Bitch (Diplo’s best production on the album), the subversive Kanye West-produced Illuminati and the Human-Nature-on-helium but ridiculous Bitch I’m Madonna, Joan of Arc marks an especially welcome reprieve. It is a delicate piece of gentle electro-pop, showing that even the usually steely pop legend can still get hurt.

The desolation of HeartBreakCity is nicely lightened up by the surprisingly pleasant, folksy Body Shop and the strange, throbbing Holy Water. The latter (co-written by Natalia Kills)’s ‘bitch get off my pole’ hook walks a fine line between cringe-worthy and genius, with the track recalling Erotica’s malicious Thief of Hearts and smutty Where Life Begins. Hints of Why It’s So Hard (another Erotica highlight) can be heard in the sparse, insistent Inside Out.

Sadly, neither the mesmerising piano demo or the earlier, ecstatic Avicii version of Wash All Over Me closes the album. Instead, it’s a slightly sped-up Kanye West hack job that adds unnecessary marching drums that take away the song’s stunning subtle beauty.

Apart from the embarrassing S.E.X., the bonus tracks’ exclusion from the album’s standard edition is inexplicable. Best Night smoulders, as listeners can feel the dripping hot candle wax thanks to its mournful, yearning melody and seductive vibe. The orchestral Messiah is magnificent and magical, featuring a fine vocal performance and would not have sounded out of place either on Ray of Light or Rebel Heart. Madonna and guest Nas’ life stories shine on Veni Vidi Vici, whose successful hybrid of hip-hop and folk-pop should have had a bigger presence on the album. And why on earth is the melodic title track left off, regardless of the many versions out there? It could have been Madonna’s Wake Me Up comeback.

Rebel Heart could have been an outstanding, shorter collection, if it weren’t for the average songwriting and questionable, desperate and already-dated production on some tracks. The best 12 or 13 songs off this deluxe edition together would have been Madonna’s best album since Confessions. In any case, it’s still a return to form.

1 thought on “Album Review: Madonna – Rebel Heart (Deluxe Edition)

  1. Interesting – u essentially really really like many of the songs but begin your review by slamming it so bad most people probably won’t read on. I for one think much of the album is fantastic. A problem i have with reviews of Madonna is that they seem to always compare her to herself and not to other POP artists. The construction of the songs on this album are so much better than any other current pop album. No other modern day divas put out albums that equal this.

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