No matter the agenda, whether hit or miss, I’ve always been impressed and inspired by her relentlessness, but when it comes down to it, my first and foremost love affair with Madonna has always been about the music and the artistry.
MADONNA REBEL HEART (Boy Toy/Live Nation)
Dear old Madge got me worried there, with her latest effort MDNA, being her most desperate and poorly constructed album to date and prior to that Hard Candy, even though somewhat entertaining, still definitely a contrived body of work. I mean, was she actually losing that magical pop touch? And is there really anyone who could stay up to date, all the time, with every release, more than 3o years into their career? To some extent I had given up on her and decided to live on her past merits, merits that definitely were worthy of such. But hope lit up late last year, when she released a bunch of tracks following the infamous internet leak, on which she actually sounded relevant again. But could she keep the momentum going for a whole album?
What Rebel Heart does is spring something unexpected to mind and that is hope. I mean, if an artist 32 years into their career, still feels the need to explore musical territories and not budge to common expectations of women of a certain age, for me that is nothing but hopeful. Of course it helps, that the final result is as good as this. Because this is the best Madge-album for 15 years. Not since Music has she been as relevant and becomingly hungry for new grounds to cover and she hasn’t been this personal and fun for years either. Between the opening track Living for love, with its uplifting 90’s gospelhouse flavour and the acoustically warm and reflecting title track that finishes the deluxe version, we get a wonderful, fun, vulnerable and truly inspiring Queen of Pop at the top of her game. Yes, we’re talking the deluxe version with 19(!) tracks altogether, which in writing sounds slightly omnious, but in reality she exceeds.
She has obviously been inspired working with the likes of Diplo, Avicii, Toby Gad and Kanye West, just to name a few of her co-writers and co-producers and although there’s an obvious musical diversity, which gives the album its colorful character, it’s still surprisingly cohesive. It is a bit as I read somewhere, everything Madonna touches turns to pop, and what didn’t work on e.g. Bedtime Stories and Hard Candy, works way better here. It’s when she uses influences from R&B and soul, instead of trying to do R&B and soul. Here she even takes on reggae in Unapologetic bitch and actually pulls it off, with honors. And what makes these dance driven pop tunes work so well, is that feeling of her letting go and just having fun, not trying so damn hard on being a front runner and instead the pop magic happens.
On this, her 13th album, she continues her quest to mix the electronic dance pop self with the acoustic singer-songwriter-ish self and that provides us with magnetic pieces such as the glorious Illuminati with spoken word-verses, the glimmering Hold tight and the emotional Ghosttown, one of her most beautiful songs in years. On this album she does some serious reflecting on her career and life in several of the tracks, and for once it’s becoming. On Joan of Arc she actually shows a vulnerable side, while on Veni vid vici she looks back on her iconic position in a refreshingly cocky way and gets assistance by another of my long time darlings and what it seems to be a truly inspired Nas. And it wouldn’t be a Madge-album without the occasional raunchy feature, which works better than expected or maybe I’m just overwhelmingly biased at this point. I don’t know and I don’t care, because what matters is that she has stepped back into the game.