Rebel Heart (Super Deluxe Edition)


Interscope, 2015

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Take her or leave her, love her or loathe her, Madonna has returned to say she’s never going to change. Therein lies the dilemma when it comes to the double album “opus”—and I use that term loosely—that is her 13th studio effort. When it comes to her image, change is something that Madonna, however IRONICALLY (her favorite word), has skillfully used to tremendous effect. Her videos have always been the perfect marriage of sound and vision. However, now that people are judging her for her age (56) and publicity stunts more than her talent, her defiant streak has come out with a vengeance. It is this polarizing middle finger stance that is on full display on the appropriately titled Rebel Heart.

Straightaway, Madonna finds herself in a safe and all-too-familiar, computer-driven pocket with very little room to move. The first half of the album is maddening, as we plod through boring ballads with clunky vocals and even worse upbeat tracks with tired beats and whooshes. Once again, the single choices are abysmal, from the Merman-esque “Living For Love” and its ponderous matador-themed video that she’s already done twice before (“Take A Bow” and “You’ll See”) to the by-the-numbers “Ghosttown,” which will only leave you trying desperately to stifle a yawn as you bat away the flies and kick away the tumbleweeds. Sorry kiddies, don’t expect these tunes to get played on the radio, American or otherwise. No loss there…

Didn’t Madonna also say that she would never repeat herself? If the bullfighting… oh sorry, minotaur-slaying… clip wasn’t bad enough, her numbskull producers (all of them young enough to be her kids, no doubt) insisted she sample HERSELF! On one of the album’s best tracks “Holy Water” we are pummeled by, yep, here we go again, a couple of bars from “Vogue” (“Deeper And Deeper” anyone?), while she dusts off a few key lines from “Justify My Love” for “Best Night”… which is anything but as I write this review.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The real elephant in the studio for Rebel Heart is her decision to go even further into the hip hop direction than she did back in 1994 with Bedtime Stories and 2008 with Hard Candy. This time, she valiantly attempts another rapid fire rap delivery on the sorely out-of-place “Illuminati” and the autobiographical “Veni Vidi Vici” which is brought down a peg by an unnecessary cameo by Nas. Here’s a legitimate question: Do the Madonna and rap camps need each other to survive?

It’s interesting that the Grammys this year seemed to move on. Even the Oscars were bereft of black actors being nominated. Whatever the reason for the racial divide in the industry or in the country as a whole, only someone as daring as Madonna would come to Kanye West’s defense and recruit him as one of her producers at this stage of the game. And what’s really surprising? His work on Rebel Heart is probably the strongest of the lot (which include Diplo and Avicii). I think we’d all be fools to write either one of these superstars off quite yet. You can try if you want to, but you can bet they won’t go quietly.

Speaking of freedom of speech, Madonna’s second favorite word (if the track list here is any indication) is “BITCH” and let me tell ya, it gets bandied about something fierce on this record. It’s a running gag for sure, adding just a bit of spice and charm to the otherwise predictable proceedings. Fellow big-cheeky devil Nicki Minaj is back from 2012’s MDNA for another go-round with Maddie on the whiny train wreck “Bitch, I’m Madonna,” while on “Unapologetic Bitch” we are treated to an unconvincing reggae splash for her very first time. Another low point? Having to hear Mike Tyson on “Iconic” bellow that he’s the greatest, over the same fake crowd noise that completely ruined the MDNA live concert DVD. And yes, there’s the obligatory SHE WENT THERE song in the form of “S.E.X.”… just try not to cringe—or laugh—when you hear the lyrics.

Along with the aforementioned “Holy Water” (co-written by the underrated Natalia Kills), the cuts that deserve to be singled out as the definite keepers are the perfect “Body Shop,” the serpentine stab “Inside Out,” the well-written “Messiah,” the rave freak-out “Addicted,” the ‘70s inspired “Beautiful Scars” and the sincere explanatory title track. Those are the seven lucky songs that should not be missed. See, I give credit where credit is due.

Musically though, this album is a huge disappointment. Pro-Tools is a poor substitute for real instrumentation, people! I don’t care how big these producers’ names are, they all need to be educated in the classics, particularly when it comes to the inclusion of electric guitars, of which Rebel Heart has none. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear Madonna take on the rock genre and breathe some new life into that? The acoustic thing is all played out, especially as far as M’s past overuse of the instrument goes. Do we really need to hear another folksy ballad à la American Life again? I mean, really?

What really sunk this album for me was hearing the sound of someone scraping an inflated balloon on one track and the closing refrain of “giddy up” on another. Is this what pop music has come to?

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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