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Consequences of Sound Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” Album

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Madonna never lost touch with the culture she once created. Even the weak points in her generation-spanning career throb with a love of pop music, its mass appeal and its potential for mass transcendence — what it can do to people. The singer and performer’s latest album, Rebel Heart, is her 13th in 32 years, and in some ways it carries the most of Madonna’s personality since 2000’s Music. But like her last two albums, 2008’s Hard Candy and 2012’s MDNA, Rebel Heart leans too steeply into too many trends at once, making it a scattered affair that flashes between drudgery and brilliance.

After a polarizing promotional rollout — Madonna was forced to release about a third of the album after a handful of demos leaked, and then she blithely compared herself to Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. by photoshopping their faces into the album’s cover on Instagram — Rebel Heart appears in all its glory with features from Chance the Rapper, Nicki Minaj, and (perplexingly) Mike Tyson. Behind the scenes, she’s got Kanye West, Diplo, Sophie, and Blood Diamonds all co-producing on various tracks. At points, that roster is exactly as jarring as it looks on paper. Diplo’s contributions alternate between buoyant and obnoxious, while PC Music affiliate Sophie feels underused, like an afterthought snagged for the name recognition among the SoundCloud crowd. …continue reading »

V Magazine Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

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March 10, 2015. A new album release from Madonna should feel like a global holiday—a celebration of innovative music, groundbreaking videos, boundary pushing fashion, memorable album artwork, and dance moves that could only belong to the one and only club crawling space cowboy spiritually seeking disco geisha latino loving queen of pop. In contrast, the saga leading up to Rebel Heart’s drop (in stores and online retailers today) has been well documented. A series of unfortunate leaks of an album’s worth of unfinished material, questionable Instagram posts featuring world leaders Photoshopped into the album’s artwork, and perhaps the biggest blow, her spill during her performance of the first single, “Living for Love,” at the Brit Awards, while wearing a now infamous tied too tight Armani cape. Despite the noise, nothing can distract from the fact that Madonna’s blonde ambition has always persevered through the controversy. And her 13th studio album, Rebel Heart, is one of the most challenging and ultimately rewarding records of her career.

Three decades in, she’s still sharp-tongued and in search of the party, but Rebel Heart reveals more vulnerability than she’s allowed since Like A Prayer. The temple and church of the devoted will recognize the familiar themes she continues to explore—sexual fantasy (“Body Shop”), lost and found love (“Heartbreak City”), salvation (“Devil Pray”), redemption (“Wash All Over Me”), and perhaps her most cohesive and powerful narrative, the triumphant and transcendent power of the dancefloor (“Living for Love”). Nostalgia has never been Madonna’s thing, but on Rebel Heart, she takes a time out to reference some of her biggest hits and her rise to the top from the Lower East Side rock scene and vogue balls of the early ’90s with “Veni Vidi Vici” and “Holy Water.” …continue reading »

Paste Magazine’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

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When the tracklist was posted for Madonna’s 13th record, with titles like “Unapologetic Bitch,” “Iconic” and “Bitch I’m Madonna,” it felt like we were in store for another round of songs trying to reclaim her pop supremacy. Even the album’s title, Rebel Heart, smacked of trying to remind listeners that Madonna can still push buttons and boundaries. Then again, the Iggy Azaleas and the Nicki Minajes weaned on Madonna engage in this sort of thing every day.

But this new batch of songs feels and sounds raw and powerful, like the woman herself, if occasionally a little hamfisted. Rebel Heart is not a perfect record—it meanders at lengthy 19 tracks—but it does boast some of the most introspective and lyrics Madonna has ever penned. She also once again brings in a crack team of producers, including Kanye West and Diplo, among many others to add some sparkle and modern-day Futurism to her confessionals.

It works for the songs that would otherwise make you cringe. Diplo throws a dub beat on “Unapologetic Bitch,” whose refrain, “You know you never really knew how much your selfish bullshit cost me, well fuck you,” absolutely stings. “Illuminati” is a meeting of the egos, with Kanye bringing the bells and whistles and Madonna Vogue-rapping. It’s dark and creepy, and it’s one of the best tracks on Rebel Heart. Nicki Minaj raps over “Bitch I’m Madonna,” doing nothing more than lending it some credence to Millennials.

Madonna taps into her sexuality in songs like the heavy-handed “S.E.X.” and “Holy Water” (which includes some “Vogue” references), although they fail to reach the more restrained sexiness of “Justify My Love.” And she gets self-referential on the retrospective “Veni Vidi Vici.” Those are weak spots, but the overall humanness of Rebel Heart makes up for any lapses.

These moments when Madonna feels the need to again pronounce her validity are noteworthy, since she’s spent most of her career setting the curve. On one hand it brings out a welcome vulnerability to the artist and her music. Then again it’s Madonna, bitch—she doesn’t need to explain anything.

7.6 out of 10

Paste

Pitchfork’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

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It’s difficult to take Madonna at face value. She is on her third generation of pop iconhood, after all, and her work comes freighted with decades of discussions about sexuality, appropriation, and whether what she is doing is “shocking” or “fake” or “appropriate.” In the run-up to Rebel Heart, a series of bad-press flare-ups—myriad Instagram-based controversies, comparing her album leak to rape—suggested that maybe Madonna had slipped from our reality entirely. Yet, the surprise of Rebel Heart, her 13th album, is its groundedness, its centering of the Real Madonna in the mix.

In a way, Rebel Heart fits squarely into a growing canon that also includes Björk’s Vulnicura, Kim Gordon’s new memoir and the autobiography of Slits guitarist Viv Albertine: female artists of a certain age making mature, candid work about divorce, and the rediscovery of the artistic self that follows in the wake of the rupture of their domestic life. Rebel Heart, like Vulnicura, digs in on the vertiginous aftermath (most spectacularly on “Living for Love” and “HeartBreakCity”), and finds steadiness in the pure loves of children, the bedrock of self, and spiritualism. As is traditional Madonna™, her lyrics reach for top-shelf Catholicism, conflating spiritual and sexual salvation in a way that never makes entirely clear whether the supplication is being offered at the foot of Christ or a bedmate. …continue reading »

A.V. Club’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

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It’s a testament to Madonna’s star power that every new album she releases is an event. However, the promotional cycle for Rebel Heart was provocative even by her standards: A hacker leaked demos from the album back in December, prompting the early release of six full songs just before Christmas (and an arrest several weeks later). That still didn’t prevent another avalanche of demos and remixes from appearing online and infiltrating YouTube, however—ensuring that nobody was entirely quite sure what the final version of Rebel Heart would actually sound like.

That shroud of mystery and intrigue still suits the ever-chameleonic icon, even if Rebel Heart’s main themes are clear-cut studies in contrasts: confident braggadocio and expressions of uncertainty; unfettered lust and tender love; relationship optimism and post-heartbreak sorrow; seeking out religious redemption and tangoing with the dark side. None of this is particularly new territory for Madonna, but these juxtapositions do make for some of her most vulnerable, engaging work in years—in particular “Joan Of Arc” (during which she acknowledges her fallibility when faced with criticism) and the bitter, piano-driven ex-kiss-off “HeartBreakCity.” …continue reading »

Spin’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

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As the woman who reinvented and ultimately defined what pop stardom means, Madonna understands the first rule of it better than anyone else: Never be afraid to embarrass yourself. In her 30-plus-year reign as the genre’s queen, Madge has acutely displayed the difference between self-awareness and self-consciousness, and why it’s as important to have plenty of the former as it is to lack the latter entirely. Top-40 titans are more compelling when it’s evident they know exactly what they’re doing, but once it’s clear that they’re adjusting their music or personality based on audience perception or expectation, it’s probably already over for them.

At age 56, she is still generating excessive debate and extensive criticism for this reason — she fails to kowtow to the public’s assumption that popular icons (and female ones in particular) should age gracefully, or at least obviously. Rebel Heart, Madonna’s 13th and latest album, references drug usage, name-drops (other) celebrities, and contains no shortage of eye-rolling double entendres. It’s not about motherhood, it’s not about nostalgia, and it’s definitely not about being less than a decade away from social security. It’s an album that makes it exceptionally easy for critics — or just the Internet at large — to turn Madonna into a punchline, the old hag that still thinks she’s 25 and just can’t understand that no one wants to hear a 50-something talking about how Yeezus ranks her pussy. It also contains a number of Madonna’s best songs in years. …continue reading »

Time Magazine’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

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Rebel Heart Is Madonna’s Most Consistent Album in a Decade

Because nobody can poke fun at Madonna like Madonna

The last decade of Madonna’s career is a testament to the power of thin lines: an inch of slippage, and even the most venerated and groundbreaking artists can tumble from pop’s vanguard to a zone somewhere in the back, fighting to catch up. After the commercial and critical debacle that was 2003’s American Life, she temporarily stepped out of the pop arms race, traveling backwards in time to revisit her days as a Lower East Side disco queen with Confessions on a Dance Floor. As a result, she regained some momentum. But when she attempted to rejoin the present with the chunky, rhythmically dense Hard Candy and cold, shiny EDM of MDNA, she received criticism that was disproportionate to the quality of the product. Rather than being celebrated for working hard to stay contemporary after nearly three decades of work, she was called desperate and calculating, assertions that often stunk of sexism. (Try to find examples of similar criticisms being leveled at Giorgio Moroder, or Nile Rodgers, or Paul McCartney.)

It was a reaction that disregarded the fact that she was simply doing what she’d done for every album she’d ever released: cherry-picking collaborators with the relevance and skill to match her songwriting and nose for trends, and attempting to forge a sort of synergy. But the narrative had been set, and handfuls of good songs — like Hard Candy’s “She’s Not Me,” a funky, strobe-lit romp that beat Daft Punk to the nü-Chic punch — were doomed to languish in relative obscurity. For a moment, it seemed like Rebel Heart, her 13th studio album, was going to be submarined for similarly non-musical reasons. When a huge batch of demos and sketches leaked at the end of 2014, she went nuts in response, comparing the leaks to “artistic rape” and “terrorism.” Given all the turmoil, it’s impressive — and a little surprising — that the final product is her most consistent album in a decade, and one that renders any hypothetical “bid for continued relevance” moot by remaining proudly scattershot. It’s an album that places more emphasis on Madonna the person than Madonna the sonic visionary, and it benefits as a result.

Of course, that doesn’t mean she’s completely eschewed the bleeding edge. About half of Rebel Heart lands somewhere between “contemporary” and “innovative,” with songs that evoke the frenetic uncanny valley pop of PC Music, Kanye West’s serrated and menacing Yeezus and Avicii’s country-EDM fusion. (West and Avicii both appear on the album via writing and production credits; Diplo, enigmatic UK producer Sophie, and indie darling Ariel Rechtshaid are also among the small army of collaborators.) Single “Bitch I’m Madonna” manages to somehow pull from all three, and the result is a glorious mess, a whirlwind of unexpected texture and silly sound. But staying ahead of the curve isn’t the album’s ultimate goal, and there are just as many songs that land with surprising delicacy: simple folk guitars, churchy piano melodies, and arrangements that recall the soft, intimate sweep of 1994’s underrated Bedtime Stories. The album presents two faces, neither of which are designed to stand alone: the #1 Baddest Bitch out for sex and blood (“the Rebel”) and the vulnerable veteran reflecting on love, life, and difficult choices (“the Heart”). And while the songs in the former group are great fun, because nobody can poke fun at Madonna like Madonna — the repeated snarl of “Bitch, get off my pole” on the lurid “Holy Water” is funnier than every Twitter joke about her tumble at the BRIT Awards put together — the latter ones are the true stunners.

They’re rich in the same reckoning with faith, sacrilege, and love that have marked Madonna’s work for three decades, but there’s a new and palpable fatigue to the writing and performance. Her voice sounds great, light and a little worn around the edges; it bears the weight of a full love, of love won and lost, real pain and real joy. On highlights like the gentle “Joan of Arc” and weightless fantasy “Body Shop,” she sounds a little like a mother tucking into an old story at the kitchen table, running through the decisions she’s made and the paths she could’ve taken: her years of purposeful provocation, the isolation that stems from defiance, the fight to accept imperfections within yourself. There are albums where it’s been difficult to remember that Madonna is a real person and not just a figurehead, a concept, a lightning rod. That’s not the case with Rebel Heart: it has surprising gravity, and doubles as a portrait of a lion approaching the winter of a career without precedent. It’s the realest, and the best, Madonna has sounded in quite some time.

Time

The Observer’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

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The internet is a funny place – so full of porn and hate, but so often as obsessed with propriety as a Victorian maiden aunt. Recently, it decided that women of 56 can’t fall over; online wags reminding them that walking up stairs in capes is solely the preserve of youth.

The ageism unleashed by Capegate makes you warm to much of Rebel Heart, Madonna’s 13th album. The unseemly segments, where Madonna baits and gyrates, can be a hoot. When she acts her age, it is lacklustre and over-enunciated; lived-and-loved stuff trotted out in overblown ballads.

Ever since Evita (and some might argue, Kabbalah), Madonna has too often hankered after a librettist’s voice, in which scansion, character motivation and imagery development take precedence over the giddy rush of pop. Wash All Over Me, the last song on Rebel Heart, is a wordy and portentous digital wallow that finds rave producer Avicii playing Andrew Lloyd Webber to her Tim Rice. Another electronic ballad not ill-suited to the stage, Ghosttown, finds a pair of lovers in extremis, without a shred of originality to hang on to. Do we really need Madonna – MDNA, as was – warning us of the dangerous illusion of drug use, as she does on Devil Pray? Probably not, although everyone should inhale this digital country-turned-Goan-rave romp at least once, just to say they have.

Millennials will cringe, but Madonna just makes a far better basqued polemicist than she does a wise elder stateswoman. The indecorous segments of Rebel Heart locate her sense of wickedness high in the mix. Rebel Heart’s key collaboration with Kanye West finds two of pop’s biggest egomaniacs starring in a wiggly club banger that doubles as a takedown of the internet’s most nutzoid meme – The Illuminati, a secret society that allegedly runs the world with the help of triangles in pop videos. …continue reading »

The Independent’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

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The lyrics mine familiar tropes of sex, dance, religion and celebrity but the music pushes out from her electropop template

If any confirmation were required of Madonna’s sustained cultural relevance, it was surely provided by a mere wardrobe malfunction out-shining the combined micro-celebrity wattage of the entire Brit Awards line-up.

It’s fortunate, then, that this ironic triumph should be followed by confirmation of her musical relevance. Rebel Heart capitalises on the comeback charm of 2012’s MDNA, and in places repeats aspects of its success. Nicki Minaj reprises her role as Madge’s rapping henchgirl on the amusingly abrasive “Bitch I’m Madonna”; and Madonna again slips sly hints of hits such as “Vogue” into the arrangements, like straps binding the material to her legacy.

The most welcome reminders are those which recall the career-apex achievements of Like a Prayer, particularly “Devil Pray” and album closer “Wash All Over Me” – the latter mining a resistant melancholy while the former urges the adoption of a deeper spirituality not dependent on drugs. A less reverential employment of religious imagery, however, occurs in the controversy-courting cunnilingus anthem “Holy Water”, where she proclaims, “Bless yourself and genuflect/Jesus loves my p***y best.”

But if the lyrics mine familiar tropes of sex, dance, religion and celebrity, the music pushes out from her electropop template, with the brittle beats and wheezing dubstep electronic flourishes augmented by the kalimba groove of “Body Shop”, the choral responses of “Heartbreak City” and the Middle Eastern drone of “Best Night”.

The inventive Diplo is a frequent collaborator, with support from Avicii, Michael Diamond and Kanye, but what’s most impressive is Madonna’s singing, which for the most part eschews the excessive vocal treatments of R&B in favour of a simple clarity, which, on “Ghosttown” and “Joan of Arc”, recalls the purity of Karen Carpenter.

It’s a sonic nakedness that’s more revealing than any flirty flash of boob or buttock.

4 out of 5 stars

Independent

The Times’ Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

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One of the more colourful explanations for Madonna’s near garrotting by her own cape at the Brit Awards last week puts the blame on a cabal of all-powerful figures intent on ruling the world through a combination of blood sacrifice and song-and-dance routines.
Halfway through Rebel Heart, her 13th album, comes Illuminati, a robot-voiced listing of all the people — or shape-shifting lizards, according to David Icke — who are said to belong to this sinister order. Jay-Z, Beyoncé, even that poor lost man-child Justin Bieber get a mention in a catchy disco tune that pokes fun at conspiracy theorists’ fondness for mythologising famous people.
Those same theorists are now suggesting that the Illuminati took revenge on Madge by subjecting her to a terrible punishment at the Brits: tying her cape on too tight.
In fact, Madonna’s accident showed her to be not only human after all, but also possessed of a strength of character that has seen her through four decades of outrageous fortune. She knew how to fly backwards without breaking her neck, she bounced up in seconds and got on with the show and, rather than sack her mortified dancers, she took them out for dinner. …continue reading »

Daily Mail’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

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The omens for Madonna’s first album in three years have not been good. Not only was the Queen of Pop shaken when unfinished tracks were leaked online in December, but Radio 1 seems to have ruled that the 56-year-old’s music no longer appeals to its mainly teenage audience.
Then came the Material Girl’s wardrobe malfunction at last week’s Brits, when she tumbled inelegantly down steps on stage, because her extravagant matador’s cape had been tied too tight. We’ve all been there.
But, as she proved by finishing her performance of Living For Love despite this, the pop diva is a trouper. And her 13th studio album reiterates a capacity for rejuvenation.

Rebel Heart is Madonna’s best album since 2005’s Confessions On A Dancefloor, probably because she is at her most relaxed and natural.
Playing to her strengths while using modern tricks, it is an eclectic mix of dance, pop, reggae and balladry.
It is also an upgrade on 2008’s Hard Candy, where she struggled to keep pace with trends, and 2012’s cold, machine-tooled MDNA.

Looking at the long list of credits, you could be excused for thinking Rebel Heart was designed by committee. There are collaborations with Swedish producer Avicii, U.S. DJ Diplo, rappers Kanye West, Nas and Nicki Minaj — even a spoken-word cameo from Mike Tyson.
Despite the supporting cast, Madonna has produced a cohesive album enhanced by her respect for traditional pop songs.
Even dance-orientated numbers are built around tuneful guitars and pianos rather than crushing beats.
Famous for not giving away too much of herself, the singer also explores a surprisingly wide range of moods and emotions, from the crudely defiant to the quietly confessional. Her lyrics are uncomplicated, but there are revealing flashes of intimacy.
More arrogant, self-aggrandising themes are to the fore on Unapologetic B***h, a pop-reggae workout, and B***h, I’m Madonna, with Minaj. The bubbly, hypnotic Iconic is an electronic pop number.

As pop’s original rude girl, Madonna still presses the ‘outrage’ button, although now it veers more towards the silly than the shocking.
Body Shop relies on car-related innuendo involving engines and gaskets, while deluxe edition bonus track S.E.X. is similarly vulgar.
Madonna comes into her own on the more adventurous tracks. Referencing ecstasy and ‘weed’, folk-tinged Devil Pray initially sounds like a glorification of drugs, but is actually a warning of their dangers.
The strongest moments are those where Madonna shows vulnerability, such as tender love song Joan Of Arc. Along with Heartbreak City and Wash All Over Me, it has the most personal lyrics she has penned since 1998’s, soul-baring Mer Girl.
After spending nine months finishing Rebel Heart, the workaholic star is set to begin a huge world tour in August that arrives in the UK in December. As she sings on the title track: ‘I live my life like a masochist /Hear my father say “I told you so”’.
She might not be growing old gracefully, but Madonna is still doing things her way.

4 out of 5 stars

Daily Mail

Billboard’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

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In December — as Madonna rushed out six songs from Rebel Heart after some truly ugly cyber-bullying — she told Billboard she had recorded so much material that she had considered doing a double album. And indeed, there are at least two albums struggling to come into being amid these 19 tracks.

Oppositions are the animating tension of Rebel Heart: Biting breakup songs like “Heartbreak City” rub up against some of the most absurdly lubricious sex songs of her absurdly lubricious career, like the Kanye West-co-produced “Holy Water,” where she compares her bodily fluids to the song’s title, then proclaims, “Yeezus loves my pussy best.” Declarations of invincibility like “Unapologetic Bitch” are undone by laments over the price of fame and the way that even hearts of steel can break. Her decades-long love affair with house continues alongside her decades-long love affair with singer-songwriter confessions. Religious devotion and earthly love are cross-wired in the Avicii-helmed power ballad “Messiah.” And songs with spare, inventive beats battle for dominance against expertly realized maximalist pop.

There’s one other tension of note: Her determination to outgrow the past and shed her skin (as she puts it on the title track) tangles with her own back catalog. Three different songs refer to old hits, with “Veni Vidi Vici” stringing together titles like a bad Oscar medley: “I opened up my heart, I learned the power of goodbye/I saw a ray of light, music saved my life.” If anyone is entitled to honor herself with her own drag show, it’s her. Still, these backward glances are odd, and perhaps tip the hand that Madonna albums are now launching pads for Madonna tours, where the old songs can come out and play (indeed, on March 2, she announced a 35-city global run). …continue reading »

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