Madonna Exposes Six Sides Of Her 'Rebel Heart'

Monday, December 22, 2014

After a bushel of unfinished demos posing as a new album leaked online without permission, Madonna rightfully got pissed. While her rhetoric was reckless ("artistic rape"? Ugh, you're terrible Muriel...), Madonna decided to stop her Grinch grumbling and allow her heart to grow a few sizes bigger, caving into the irksome unveil to officially release six new songs from her upcoming album, Rebel Heart, as an early Christmas gift to fans. Well, bless her.

Here's a breakdown of each track:

Living For Love
It only took a few seconds, but there was instant romance with what is to be Rebel Heart's official first single. It's a superbly stacked track that has Madonna in a seamless mix of her past and foreseeable future as she dances amid glitter bomb grooves with Alicia Keys in the background just banging away on piano. She rests on her laurels with a smattering of religious references and the ghosts of "Deeper And Deeper" and "Rescue Me" wiggling their way in, but these remnants also play strategically well into the '90s House revival that is currently dominating the radio and it allows Madonna to flourish into the future without a stumble. Cluttered in its production list only (Diplo, MoZella, Nick Rowe, Toby Gad, Ariel Rechtstaidand MNEK were all involved), "Living For Love" is seriously the best single Madonna has released in the last 10 years.

Unapologetic Bitch
Madonna has always raised a neatly polished middle finger to her dissenters, and she keeps that finger wagging and her salted tongue lashing for this Reggae-tinged roller. Forget about the dopey title that sent everyone in a hashtag tizzy back when Rebel Heart was just mere rumor, Diplo gives Madonna an electric hammock of synths to sway in as she 'pushes and shoves' a little No Doubt flavor into the addictive bounce.

With snarled lip beats, Kanye West sends Madonna into an inky, ominous spiral with "Illuminati". It's a somewhat oddball track that has Madonna waxing a history lesson about what the 'secret elitist cult' is --- and what it is not ("It’s not Jay-Z and Beyonce, it’s not Nicki or Lil Wayne/It’s not Oprah and Obama, the Pope and Rihanna/Queen Elizabeth or Kanye") --- all while evoking shades of "Vogue"'s dicey raps and West's signature stabbing synths. Though goofy lines like "Google of United States" (um, que?) pop up and it clunks rather than clicks in some spots, when the bridges kick in with its prismatic synth walls, "Illuminati" shines like the all seeing eye.

Lyrically better than the others, the wintry "Ghosttown" is Madonna locking into a power ballad and she excels at every turn. Swept up you'll be in the wave crash of synths and the fluid way the melodies just rush and fold over you as this song is crafted with the Madonna of yore in mind, taking us back to the time when she 'took a bow' and was reflecting on the 'rain'. Madonna always comes across as effective when she hones in and gets her chanteuse on, and with this lament she captivates. In a perfect world, I'd love for this to be a single, and for the title's spelling to not look like that ( #JournalismMajorProblems).

Devil Pray
Madonna atones for her whiskey and weed indulging sins on this woebegone wailer that reaches back to the American Life songbook. Yet, it's been ten years, and the riffs on AL are far and few as with Ryan Tedder on production backup "Devil Pray" gallops into a sunset of unusual arrangement textures such as a looping 'demon' voice, handclaps, and synth bleeps, all of it freely flowing into the pillow-lined guitar backdrop. As it hooks you, it also puts a real spin on the country fried melodic, and its another strong contender for single material if you ask me.

Bitch, I'm Madonna (feat. Nicki Minaj)
As I'm one of the few sista girls on this planet who isn't enraptured with whatever Miss Nicki Minaj is trying to peddle off as "feminist rap", I was already sucking my teeth about this number. Still, Madonna can have whoever the f*ck she wants on a song because well, bitches, she's Madonna, and my basic ass probably needs to have several seats about that (Lordy, I felt a few brain cells dissolve when typing that...). Not that I needed confirmation on Madonna's, um, "Madonniness", but for those who needed a reminder, this bratty, spangled banner waves the right to express yourself --- not repress yourself, and who am I to turn a nose up about it. Still this is the lone dud for me, because even the assault of trappy Diplo and Sophie crafted beats doesn't cure me from the fact that Madonna is winking and gunning like a cool mom with this song. I'm sorry, but bitch, I'm Audio Diva, and I've got my listening standards.

While this is a first for her Madgesty to hastily release tracks to soften the blow of an (embarrassing) technological boo-boo, yet this a lemonade into champagne situation as this messy roll-out all works in her favor. Recently, Madonna slid into the hot seat to give two great interviews with Rolling Stone and Billboard and she actually explained the origins and thought processes behind her new material --- and shock of shocks --- she actually sounds pretty got damn merry about Rebel Heart, which is a complete turnaround from the lack of emotional investment during the Hard Candy and MDNA eras.

Though I've defended Madonna often, and consider myself a self-appointed whiz at finding aural gems in the most lopsided of projects, I was still optimistically wary when the songs dropped over the weekend. From lending an ear to the six tracks (which you can now stream via Spotify or on iTunes), I was pleased to hear that Madonna sounds like she's packed and ready to navigate the next phase of her career as her vocals are sharp and her creative drive is back on cruise. In short, Madonna is effing on-point with this mini collection.

For all the times we've wanted Madonna to 'act her age' (because god forbid women in pop music age), she's scoffed at every turn, but doubters might be surprised at how Madonna has crafted material that still provokes her traditional blunt candidness, but it is now balanced and accessible, as it pricks at her past, but also allows her to flirt with a little more keen tact towards new sound detours. Less of a cool mom, more rebellious and with heart --- yep, I can dig it.

Rebel Heart will be officially released in full on March 10, 2015.

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