Favorites: Living For Love, HeartBreakCity, GhostTown, Joan of Arc
Dislikes: Illuminati, Iconic, S.E.X.
Overall: A return to her dance culture roots with infectious melodies and catchy hooks.
Madonna’s hotly anticipated 13th offering Rebel Heart was plagued by album leaks and mixed reviews in the media that undoubtedly affected its potential impact, but the Queen of Pop is known to defy odds. This record sees a confessional Madonna at her strongest in the current landscape. Markedly more inspired than its predecessors Hard Candy and MDNA, Rebel Heart delivers heartfelt ballads and EDM-influenced tracks merged with various styles with memorable hooks, infectious melodies and superb production from the likes of Diplo, Kanye West and Avicii. Over themes of perseverance, celebration of the spirit and (of course) sexuality, each song has its own musical personality. Uplifting lead single “Living For Love” is a gospel-tinged dance cut; the anthem of the album. On the guitar guided “Joan of Arc,” Madge vulnerably sings about losing strength and crumbling to pressure, admitting “even hearts made out of steel break down. ” This is followed by love-at-war power-ballad “HeartBreakCity,” beautifully backed by an enchanting piano, army like-drums and a thunderous choir. She washes her hands of such battles with the reggae/hip-hop “Unapologetic Bitch,” feeling free and having no regrets after a failed relationship. Fresh intimacies arise on the oriental-vibe and rhythmic bells and suits of "Body Shop, ” where she draws a parallel between repairing a vehicle and making love, challenging her partner to “pop the hood and see what’s good, I need a tune up bad.” Making another sexy comparison, she likens her bodily secretions to “Holy Water,” a track of aggressive synths and beats and an innovative sampling of her iconic hit, “Vogue.” References to her past continue on the rapped/sung “Veni Vidi Vici” ft. Nas, as she reflects on the controversial moments in her career that became pop culture history: “I expressed myself, came like a virgin down the aisle,” she sings. “Through the darkness, somehow I survived,” she concludes on the closing and title track, a simple and catchy song (where she uses her lower register) that reminds us how human she is.
Madonna's vocals throughout are clear, but are also monotone. This is most evident on “Hold Tight” and “Wash All Over Me,” where she fails to take the songs higher, despite a repeated build up. Other tracks, such as “Illuminati” and “Iconic” ft. Mike Tyson and Chance the Rapper, have too much going on and her voice is drowned out. The featured artists, by the way, feel out of place and do not gel well with her sound or the flow of the designated song; no wow factor added. Conceptually, the main problem I have with the record is that it feels like a two sided album in one, going from its "Rebel" dance side to the "Heart" ballad side too frequently. Rebel Heart may not be the utmost cohesive, but its variety, well-structured melodies and anamnesis to what made Madonna great will certainly resonate among fans.