Madonna’s newest LP, Rebel Heart is a monster. It consists of 14 songs, five iTunes bonus tracks and six more bonus tracks on the physical CD. That is 25 songs, compromising a 90-plus-minute experience loaded with some serious beats, five-star collaborations, a lot of “bitches” and an auto-tuned infant. Much like the hearts of mere mortals, Madonna’s newest LP, Rebel Heart has four distinct chambers that keep it beating: the cocky, the boring, the filthy and the impassioned.
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This is Madonna’s 13th (yes, 13th) studio album. At this point she has proved herself over and over again, and has the right to a song such as “Bitch I’m Madonna.” The beat mixes hip-hop, funk and EDM and knows exactly when to drop and when to let off. This track also features another mystifying Nicki Minaj cameo (follow-up to 2012’s “ Give Me All Your Luvin’”). Madge furthers her confidence streak on “Unapologetic Bitch,” “Iconic” and “Veni Vidi Vici.” “Unapologetic Bitch” mixes fighting words with a bohemian beat; it’s certainly an odd mix, but the rolling bongos dull the edge of otherwise in-your-face lyrics. To bring “Iconic” and “Veni Vidi Vici” to the next level, she enlists the help of Chance the Rapper and Mike Tyson on the former and Nas on the latter. Tyson opens with “I’m the best the world has ever seen … ” before Madonna comes in with an OK chorus. “I-can. I-con. Two letters apart” is clever, but in reality the lines don’t come off as natural. This track finds its footing in the echoes that follow of “iconic” and “ironic.” “Veni Vidi Vici” (Latin for “I came. I saw. I conquered”) recounts her career. She deems herself fearless and provocative — cheers to you, Madge. Nas echoes her sentiments with his own story; his verse is good and leads back to the chorus with some well-placed gunfire, but overall it’s distracting.
Madonna certainly has a lot to say about herself, but a handful of Rebel Heart tracks come out way beneath her. “Hold Tight,” a drum-backed love song, seems to echo sentiments of other tracks in a repetitive monotone. The two final tracks on the basic album package, “Inside Out” and “Wash All Over Me,” are forgettable as well. These tracks are honestly boring. The choruses don’t invite a listener to join in, nor do they present something worth listening to without that catch. “Autotune Baby” is frustrating to say the least. The infant wailing in the background offers no twist, just simple annoyance, similar to that of a baby crying. These, as well as bonus-bonus tracks “Beautiful Scars” and “Queen,” are the slumps among an otherwise uplifting, reflective and tantalizing album.
As seen by Madonna’s Givenchy-sponsored ass flash at the Grammys, she isn’t afraid of getting down n’ dirty. The first somewhat-risqué track, “Body Shop,” is a mess of innuendo. Clapping and a single drum back a mixed metaphor of doing the dirty/getting your car serviced. Some lines are so subtle, it’s hard to tell what she’s really singing about — I’m not sure if she’s looking for sex or if she just has a really fucked-up car. But no fear, she brings all the tricks out on “Holy Water” and “S.E.X.” “Holy Water,” which was produced by Kanye, may be the oral-sex anthem of 2015 (if there’s such a thing? I don’t know, but there should be). It almost sounds like a “fuck you” to Kim Kardashian between the lines, “Bitch, get off my pole” and “Yeezus loves my pussy best.” So, if you really want to know if it tastes like holy water, you know who to ask.
Any subtlety that may be present in “Holy Water” or “Body Shop” is thrown out of the bedroom on “S.E.X.” The deep synths that are present throughout the track set the mood, and it quickly moves from semi-vanilla-headboard-breaking-sex to something darker. Following a dark cackle, string instruments take over for the synths, and Madge lists off a string of sexually charged phrases (“raw meat” and “golden shower” included). In short, these songs are hot. The beats and lustful delivery of lyrics work to make listeners sweat in their seats.
Beyond the passion for sex, there’s a passion for life and love, — a forum for where she’s most infectious. The number-one, “Living for Love,” opens the album with that tinge of auto-tune present throughout Rebel Heart. The chorus, “I’m gonna carry on,” stands just above the rest of the track’s elements, creating a cloud of reassurance, which really anchors the track as an empowerment anthem. That, combined with the grinding post-chorus synth, creates an impeccable pop song. In a somewhat similar fashion, “Ghosttown” allows a snippet of silence before the chorus breaks, and it’s that short transition from the piano-assisted verse into the bold chorus that really highlights the track among its neighbors. Finally, “Joan of Arc” is her down-to-earth masterpiece. Her vulnerability speaks volumes, as it’s surrounded by sex and uncontrolled confidence. The message is simple: words hurt, and they even hurt the queen of pop. A single guitar supports her until the chorus comes in and she proves there’s strength in embracing vulnerability. Production and delivery take what would be a self-deprecating track and transform it into a powerhouse.
Finally, there are tracks that transcend any category imaginable. The dubstep inspired “Illuminati” is a club banger, and nothing less. The baseline begs to be moved to and the constant name-dropping is simply lurid fun. The Super Deluxe Album’s closer, “I’m Addicted,” begins slowly, but soon blossoms into an amazingly catchy chorus, completed with rhymes and an infectious guitar rhythm. It succeeds at bringing together 25 tracks worth of journey into a final track. The albums other feat is its title track. “Rebel Heart” is simply stunning; it’s retrospective, but also looks at the future with optimism. Her critics will say she’s desperately clasping at her youth, but “Rebel Heart” and Rebel Heart, for that matter, show that she recognizes the growth that she has experienced over her past 13 albums, and that she’s where she wants to be.
Rebel Heart relies on its three chambers of confidence, sex and passion to pick up the pace of its lacking fourth chamber. And like any heart, it needs more than its four chambers to keep it beating; It needs something greater. Rebel Heart has that something greater.