Monday 16 March 2015

Review of 'Rebel Heart' by Madonna

There are few fifty-six year old pop stars that would dare to sing over a dirty Diplo-produced trap beat. There are also few fifty-six year old pop singers that would dare to sing about drugs, cunnilingus and the art of being a bitch in such explicit detail as can be found on this album.

It’s admirable that after all these years Madonna is still making music that’s current and controversial. Back in the eighties, songs such as ‘Like a Virgin’ were pushing the sexual boundaries of pop music. By today’s standard such a track is tame. In fact it’s hard to make a genuinely shocking sex song in 2015 and yet on Rebel Heart, Madonna somehow manages it – the Kanye-produced ode-to-oral-sex ‘Holy Water’ containing lines as outrageous as ‘Yeezus loves my pussy best’.

Kanye produces several of the beats on this record.

It’s crude. It’s hilarious. It’s embarrassing. It’s commendable. The ageist part of me thinks that she’s simply too old for this shit. However, the more liberal part of me respects her for not doing what every other middle-aged musician does. Quite frankly, it would have been too easy for the pop icon to do a folksy right-of-passage album about her life lessons. Similarly, it would have been too easy for her to jump on the eighties-revival bandwagon and continue churning out retro hits like Duran Duran and more recently Kylie.

Instead, Madonna has gone the hard route and tried to play catch-up with the edginess of today’s divas – the Mileys and Kanyes of this world. The result is an album that’s semi-ridiculous in its arrogance and shock value. Containing track titles such as ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ and an entire song dedicated to the illuminati, Rebel Heart is a diamond chandelier of gimmickry. Half the songs make you think to yourself ‘did that just happen? Did Madonna really just do a song with Chance the Rapper and Mike Tyson? Did Madonna really just dedicate an entire track to her ladyparts?

Yep, Mike Tyson is on this album. lolwot

Known for taking herself rather too seriously at times,  one could argue that a lot of the songs' boastful and outrageous moments prove that the Queen of Clubs does in fact have a sense of humour. Indeed, I too could believe this if it wasn't for the equal number of bland and forgettable sincere moments interspersed into the tracklist, moments so bland and forgettable that they're just as offensive.

'Ghost Town', 'Joan of Arc' and 'Living for Love' tackle Madonna's own fame and take the format of cookie-cut radio-friendly electro-ballads that feel more like attempts to fit in with today's pop crowd rather than stand out amongst the crowd. Some people may remember 'Living for Love' in years to come if only for it's unforgettable Brit performance, and even then this will forever be for all the wrong reasons.

Madonna during her Brit Awards performance of 'Living for Love', accidentally being yanked off stage by her cape (yeah, I had to mention it in this review) 
Overall, Rebel Heart sways from being overly obnoxious to not obnoxious enough. The only track that really sits anywhere in the middle is 'Devil Pray. It's lyrics about sniffing glue and doing E are edgy, but not pushed to outrageous extremes. Meanwhile, the instrumental isn't a tuneless Diplo synth-squeal, nor is it a boring electro-ballad. Instead we get a guitar-strummed beat that's memorable for the simple fact that it sounds good.

Perhaps that's what's missing most from Rebel Heart - feelgood melodic songs that don't rely on gaudiness to get engrained in your head.