Madonna’s albums from this century fall into two categories: the playing-it-safe ones, and the “WTF is she thinking?” ones. You might be tempted to assume the mega-weird ones are better, but nothing is ever that straightforward in the Madonna universe. Confessions on a Dance Floor was her totally safe execution of an obvious idea — why doesn’t history’s greatest disco mastermind just make a damn disco record? — but it was also brilliant. Whereas the certifiably flaky American Life was certifiably ass. That’s just one of the many reasons Madonna remains the queen of all pop queens.
Yet Madame X is so admirably bizarre, all you can do is stand back and watch the girl go. “It’s a weird kind of energy,” as she sings in “God Control” — a rare moment of Madonna understatement. She dips into a melting pot of Latin-pop styles, complete with a reggaeton jam called “Bitch I’m Loca.” It’s for fans of her loca edge only, full of experiments no other pop star on Earth would try.
She teamed up with Colombian superstar Maluma for the scandal-bait single “Medellin,” learning to cha-cha-cha in her mysterious new accent. There’s a lot more where “Medellin” came from. Like a vocoder singing The Nutcracker in “Dark Ballet.” Or the moment when she chants, “People think that I’m insane/The only gun is in my brain/Each new birth, it gives me hope/ That’s why I don’t smoke that dope.” She throws down with Quavo, Diplo and Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee.
Weirdest of all, there are truly great Madonna moments. Especially “Crave,” a love song with florid acoustic guitar where she plays down the accent and gets lost in emotion, or the trip-hop “Crazy.” But with her typical nerve, she buries the strongest songs deep in Madame X. To reach them, you have to endure “Killers Who Are Partying,” where she ponders political oppression: “I’ll be Islam if Islam is hated/I’ll be Israel if they’re incarcerated.”
There’s something gratifying about the way the music can trigger that familiar “worried about Madonna” feeling. Let’s face it, aren’t we proud of our Eighties mega-pop idols for still being willing to act up like this? Imagine going back in time to the Eighties and saying, “Someday, Madonna will chant ‘Bitch, I’m loca’ the same week Bruce Springsteen releases his concept album about horses.” These two legends never let us down, in their very different ways. Time will tell if Madame X has staying power or not. But if you love Madonna for her shamelessness – bitch, she’s loca.
3 out of 5 stars