Madame X (Deluxe Edition)


Interscope/Maverick, 2019

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Ambition has always been Madonna’s middle name. One listen to her new world music album project, Madame X, confirms this in spades. It’s her boldest and most daring set of tunes since 1998’s Ray Of Light, and THAT is saying something. Opening with the first single “Medellin” is a wise choice, even if it never had the chance to make it to the radio airwaves here in America due to the Spanish language elements provided by her latest duet partner and Colombian heartthrob Maluma. It’s certainly a better song than what kicked off her last album from 2015, Rebel Heart, “Living For Love,” which made her sound like an old lady (or at the very least, Ethel Merman). My only complaint is that “Medellin” didn’t bear the more pronounceable title, “Let’s Take A Trip.” Besides, that’s what a world music album is all about, right?

The two experimental cuts to follow are even stronger. “Dark Ballet” features her twin daughters Estere and Stella providing the wind sounds at the end (though they are clearly struggling to catch their breath, which is so cute). As a continuation of “Joan Of Arc,” it delves even deeper into the story and features a stark video starring HIV+ cis-gendered Mykki Blanco (one of the few times Madonna allowed someone else to take center stage). The Tchaikovsky sample, stunning piano work and spoken word portion in the song’s second half really wowed me. Talk about unexpected drama! As for “God Control,” we take a trip straight back to the days of Saturday Night Fevermy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 with cascading disco strings to elevate the grim subject matter of gun violence that happened on the dancefloor of Pulse nightclub in Miami, among too many other places. I could have done without the ridiculous rap, though, where she proclaims that she “doesn’t smoke that dope.” What lyrics like that have to do with gun control is beyond me, but the song is certainly connecting with her hardcore fan base, so this is a minor quibble.

If you’re concerned that the Spanish & Portuguese languages sung on this album will be alienating to English speaking audiences, you shouldn’t be. With the exception of “Faz Gostoso” and “Bitch I’m Loca,” (yet another Bitch song, oy) Madonna wisely translates most of the lines within the songs themselves. Do a Google search and you’ll find the other English translations if you need them. Personally, I give Maddie a lot of credit for learning these languages and singing them so fast and fluently as she does. All of this is due in large part to being inspired by her time living in Lisbon, Portugal for the last two years to help her son David Banda with his soccer aspirations. David even contributes lyrics on the African call-and-response anthem, “Batuka.”

For reggae enthusiasts, there’s the Quavo duet “Future” (which is far better than her last attempt at the genre, “Unapologetic Bitch,” also from the subpar double album Rebel Heart) and for fans of hip hop, there’s the second single “Crave,” with another dude in his twenties, Swae Lee. Too many duets? Perhaps. We can only hope she goes it alone for her next album. Too many cooks in the kitchen threaten to spoil the broth (though on Madame X her stable of producers isn’t as crowded). Bringing the French wunderkind Mirwais back into the fold was a smart move. His production on this album is stellar, despite the overuse of vocoder. The overall sound is amazing; so much better than their folktronica low point in 2003, American Life.

The words “lost” and “crazy” get bandied about quite a lot on Madame X, which caused me to raise an eyebrow and wondered aloud if Madonna might be losing it, especially now that she’s been put in the unenviable position of not only proving that she’s still a relevant force in the music industry, but also dodging media scrutiny that unfairly judges her (and other women) for turning 60. The fact that Madame X is her ninth #1 album on the Billboard 200 should erase all such doubts. Nobody should be more relieved and vindicated than the master of surprise and disguise (eye patch included): Madonna herself. The two tracks that best demonstrate her staying power are in the “Vogue”-inspired “I Don’t Search I Find” and the sublime “Come Alive,” which would be an excellent opener to her theater residency tour starting up in NYC in September.

Make no mistake, this Leo lady has still got a lot of fire in her yet. Dismiss her at your own peril.

Rating: B+

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© 2019 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Interscope/Maverick, and is used for informational purposes only.