Madonna: Rebel Heart | Album Review
If you’re the superstitious sort, you might blame the mishaps surrounding Madonna’s 13th album – early leaks of songs that she contentiously likened to “artistic rape”, the subsequent sanctioned release of six tracks before Christmas, controversy about fan artwork – on plain bad luck. If you’re the cynical sort, you’d ascribe the kerfuffle to genius marketing. In any case, the indisputable pop icon is back with a tentative bang after 2012’s dodgy MDNA – an album with plenty of big names attached, but few memorable pop hits.
Madonna is never one to shun progress, and several songs on Rebel Heart see her use the “club banger” strategy first deployed on 2005’s Confessions on a Dancefloor, with help from producers including Aviici, Diplo and Kanye West. Living for Love and Illuminati both zig-zag untidily around Auto-Tune and heavy-handed electropop, while Unapologetic Bitch’s scattered reggae stomp is supplemented by synthesisers. Nor is she one to skirt egotism, as the Nicki Minaj-supplemented Bitch, I’m Madonna attests to; the titillating Hold Tight even goes as far as to reference her past life, with lines from Vogue.
There are plenty of old-school pop melodies to tip the balance. Joan of Arc and the zippy Hold Tight are standouts, while her damning indictment of a soured relationship, as heard on the comparatively austere Heartbreak City, offsets the plentiful lyrical trivialities.
There are several missteps: Mike Tyson’s spoken word turn on Iconic is tokenistic, while her checklist of “sins” on Devil Pray (“We can sniff glue, and we can do E, and we can drop acid”) seems provocative for the sake of it. Overall, though . . . is it safe to say it? All right, then: it’s good to have her back.