The Queen of Pop is back.
Yes, she might have headlines in the wrong way by flying backwards off the steps during a memorable BRITs performance last month, and yes she might be sporting grills and gold teeth and questionable fashion choices, but when it comes to delivering the goods pop-wise, Madonna is the go-to girl and has been for decades.
So, when she surprise-announced her thirteenth LP, Rebel Heart, following a series of leaks of demos for the album, it was with no small amount of surprise and equal trepidation, that Madge herself would be able to live up to her legacy, particularly when other records (such as the disappointing Hard Candy) failed to deliver.
Fortunately the pop hits come thick and fast on Rebel Heart, scattered throughout every available edition of the album — super deluxe bonus track ‘Graffiti Heart’ is a joy thanks to the extended breakdown, while ‘Ghosttown’ is subdued ballady at Madge’s finest, and the eponymous title track’s change from EDM banger to rock-pop ditty is enjoyable, if disconcerting for listeners who heard the leaked demo first. Lead single ‘Living For Love’ lends itself well to both Diplo’s production and Madge’s powerful vocals.
The standard is wonderfully high, by and large, on Madonna’s thirteenth album, with elegant gems such as the enjoyable country-infused tune ‘Devil Pray’ and the minimalist ‘Wash All Over Me’ being paired against bangers such as the bonkers and beat-driven ‘Illuminati’ in which Madonna name checks celebrities, feuds, governments and conspiracies, and the Eastern-sounding ‘Body Shop’ which is a gorgeous ditty to boot, and a fine example of the experimentation present on the LP.
Her vocals are solid and enjoyable on Rebel Heart, and her choice for production (such as roping in Diplo, Avicii, Billboard and Kanye West on board) means this is the best produced album, and therefore most cohesive record in many a moon.
That’s not to say Rebel Heart is flawless through and through, however – every incarnation of the album (there are at least four to name, each with their own bonus tracks and remixes) has a few duds crammed into its overstuffed maw, particularly the surprisingly dull ‘S.E.X.’ and the grating ‘AutoTune Baby’.
Thankfully, these duds are more infinitely skippable than before, making the hits stand out bright and bold, in an album that sees Madonna defined by her humanity, infusing some warmth into these tracks that is oft sorely missed in pop music. Yes, she might have been flung off the stage at the BRITs but she’s still a queen of modern music, one who knows how to dust herself off, make us dance, and keep the party going.