Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” Reviewed
This is a companion piece to… Bjork’s Vulnicara? I know and while the songs finally get past the break up, the first ten songs of Madonna’s Rebel Heart are absolutely filled with pain. I guess, for obvious reason, among them she has never been much of a lyricist, we don’t see Madonna as a woman with much of an inner life. Her sexuality is something we might, in an earlier age, have called male. And when we discover she has broken up with another twenty something, a Timor Steffens or a Brahim Zaibat, we don’t imagine her sitting on a couch with a large tub of Haagen Daz and “Sleepless In Seattle” on repeat. We imagine her looking through dancers auditions and picking out a replacement.
At her most emotional, she is still not good enough to express her feelings, her free fall. Starting with the disco “Living For Love” (“after the heartache I’m gonna carry on” -hardly the saddest admission in the world), the break up takes its toll: , “Unapologetic Bitch”, “Joan Of Arc” and “Heartbreakcity” are all troubled disco break up songs. Harsher self aware break up tracks, there is something so mechanically upsetting about a hurt Madonna: she feels used, hurt, and the beats are like the beats of her heart but she is not credible -there are too many machines and her heart is like a ticker tape machine.
These break up songs, clumped together at the beginning of Rebel Heart, lead the way throw a more complete picture of Madonna on her fine 25 song album of EDM state of the art dance tracks, with raps from Nicki Minaj and Nas (and Mike Tyson?) . The rest of the album is the equal, a wide net of modern dance songs that read like torn out diary pages, “I’m only human” she sings on “Joan Of Arc”, “I live my life like a masochistic, hearing my father say ‘told you so, told you so'” on “Rebel Heart”. A long way from “Bang Bang” and while it isn’t “Ray Of Light” or “Music”, it has the rhythmic intuition of Confessions On The Dancefloor. It seems like Madonna, whose MDMA I enjoyed much more than most people, is better on record than on stage nowadays, where her arrogant antics are even more wearying than Lauryn Hill’s. This is a very good album, a vital, powerful woman revealing herself to at least some degree. Here’s a song by song review:
1 – Living For Life – The difference between Madonna and Alicia Keys (one of the writers) is Madonna insists that even a heartbreaker is completely awake. A terrific dance track, all strange clanging sounds – A
2 – Devil’s Pray – Avicii track and sounds it – C+
3 – Ghosttown – A Madonna come on and a beautiful, it seems Madonna’s problem with sex is her fame (which she is addicted to of course) – A-
4 – Unapologetic Bitch – A good break up song, apparently the guy threw her over and Maddie is not amused – A-
5 – Illuminati – This is the Kanye track. Meh – B-
6 – Bitch, I’m Madonna – with Nicki Minaj, it is a nursery rhyme rap song that woulda been comfortable on the last one – B+
7 – Hold Tight – Another sex dancefloor track, great backing track – B+
8 – Joan Of Arc – Even when Madonna is claiming to be just like us, she is comparing herself to a saint. Human, eh? – A-
9 – Iconic – what a waste of Chance The Rapper (did you notice Kanye is using Chance pal Vic Mensa on “Wolf”?) – B
10 – Heartbreakcity – Full on ballad and hits me as the final track about Timor Steffens, the thing with these quieter songs is, well they aren’t very quiet – B+
11 – Body Shop – Strong sex song, catchy and sweet – A
12 – Holy Water – what’s worse, Catholics or lapsed Catholics? Bitch get off my pole.. – B-
13 – Inside Out – Another song about fucking and loving – B
14 – Wash All Over me – More lapsed Catholicism (cmon, baptism right?), a mid album snooze – C+
15 – Best Night – The beats are a little dusty – B-
16 – Veni Vidi Veci – Nas gives a very strong piece of self aggrandization rap – B+
17 – S.E.X. – Bass line is pretty good but can sex be more boring? – C
18 – Messiah – Oh geez, sex and god, god and sex – C+
19 – Rebel Heart – An astoundingly revealing self portrait with a handclap, I recommend it to Lady Gaga – A
20 – Beautiful Scars – This is a very sweet and romantic song, you hope it is true because she is who she is and take her this way – A-
21 – Queen – Nice intro, good beat, a little more of the same though the lyric is different, “the queen’s enslaved”? Is it a marriage song? – B-
22 – Borrowed Time – Political track: “do we need to start a war?” Apparently we are here on borrowed time – C
23 – Graffiti Heart – The last three songs are really good, stupid lyric but it is a lovely tune – B+
24 – Autotune Baby – This is hysterical, Steve Reich meets Kanye West, inspired use of autotune, literally using a baby crying for the hook – A-
25 – Addicted – Another goodie, with a fine lick leading us in, and the addiction to fame is a great place to end the album.
So 98 minutes and yes it is way too long but it takes her time to add the songs into a worldview, even if the world revolves around love and dancing. Considering how far Madonna has come, this is an ambitious success. A very good album that starts with a break up and ends with a different love, the love of fame.