Madonna: Rebel Heart

It's album number thirteen for one of the world's most enduring entertainers. Is it lucky for some?

- Thirteen is such a tricky number. It’s the harbinger of so much perceived bad luck in Western society with the designers of buildings omitting a 13th floor, people avoiding going outside on a Friday 13th and so on. Madonna has finally released in full (after several “leaks” and special releases of certain tracks online) her thirteenth studio album, Rebel Heart. In fact, she’s released it in three ever increasing sizes – the “standard” fourteen track, the deluxe twenty track edition (which curiously contains the title song) and the super deluxe edition which sprawls over twenty-five tracks and two CDs (if you are still someone who buys hard copy music.) And therein lies the problem.

Madonna's album is like three different albums all Lego'ed together. There's the Madge that wants to be as cool as her son Rocco (a budding hip-hop artist, so we are told) and go all urban & pseudo-gangsta (ala her 2008 Hard Candy). There's a groovy Madge with a reach back to the late '90's of Ray Of Light, which is not that bad (though lyrically, some of the tracks are more twee than a Eurovision entry) and then there is this newer incarnation: "indie" Madge which is rather enticing - simple vocals, acoustic guitars, percussion, lots of layered meaning. She'd fit right in at any favoured hipster venue near you.

Rebel Heart is a jumble. Frankly, she could have dumped at least a third of the Rebel Heart standard release songs and replaced it with several of the tracks from the extended version releases for a much more connected album, however, that wouldn’t have been clever marketing, now would it?

The stuff that doesn’t work is when she tries so hard to be relevant to a modern urban, gangsta luvin’ audience with the atrocious Bitch I’m Madonna (with the equally unpalatable Nicki Minaj) and having Kanye West involved on this album sounds like one ego attempting to massage and then outdo the other. Illuminati (with Mr Yeezuz all over it like he was invading an awards show) is just plain embarrassing. Though he’s not totally useless, even a song as in your face as Holy Water (which is about female oral stimulation: remember, this is Madonna) name checks him and isn’t as bad as it sounds and Body Shop (one of the more successful Diplo and MoZella collaborations) sounds as if it could have come from her 1986 mega successful True Blue album, it has a cute hook, lyrically clever and uses instrumentation that’s outside the ordinary.

When Madonna becomes introspective and unpacks her life as a performing artist and public icon on Joan of Arc and Wash Over Me it works; on Veni Vedi Veci (with rapper Nas) and Iconic (with Chance the Rapper and Mike Tyson, yes, THAT Mike Tyson) it doesn’t. The album is a patchwork of producers, songwriters and contributors who have been at the forefront of popular music in the last 5 or so years – Tim Bergling (AVICII), Tom Pentz (Diplo), Maureen McDonald (MoZella), Toby Ganz (who HASN’T he worked with)… and that’s only about half of the album - the list is rather long.

It’s not too harsh to say that working with so many different people (even if they are all driven to produce music that is a potential world-wide hit) produces a disconnected hodgepodge of sounds, nor is it wrong to say that a patchwork quilt made by many hands is colourful, intricate and ultimately comforting even if there are some sections that make your eyes water. Is Rebel Heart more the latter than the former? Perhaps, however, she’s Madonna and to ignore her thirty-two years after she began is just not possible, whether thirteen proves to be lucky for some, or not.

- Blair Martin.

Album Details

Album Title: Rebel Heart
Artist: Madonna
Record Label: (Interscope / Universal)