It’s amazing how people keep insisting that Madonna tuck her cleavage away and buckle down like any other “proper” aging female pop star would. As she points out in the title track of her new album, “Rebel Heart”, she never did intend to follow the rules anyway. Which is good for her-and good for her music.
Madonna appears to be leaving behind her dance-heavy “MDNA” phase-but not entirely. “Rebel Heart”’s sharp, sudden bursts of EDM-most of which are thanks to Diplo’s producing efforts-give the album edge and excitement.
“Devil Pray”, in which she teams up with Avicii, first strums like a country song and then slips into a watery submersion of vocal effects.
“Unapologetic Bitch”, meanwhile, mixes reggae with a sing-song hook and sudden doses of dubstep, narrowly missing “kinda annoying” for “pretty cool”. It doesn’t hurt that Madonna’s spitting out some blistering lyrics on the track-this could, after all, be her anthem.
A rawer talent is spotlighted on the equal parts gospel/rave opener “Living for Love”, and shiny ballads like breakup reflection “HeartBreak City” and “Ghosttown”, which she recently performed with her “new favorite guitar player” Taylor Swift.
And, of course, what’s a Madonna album without a few songs about sex? On the surprisingly fresh and minimal “Body Shop” she takes auto imagery for a raunchy test drive and then likens her body to a religious experience on “Holy Water” (among her claims: “Yeezus loves my pussy best.”).
One of the more interesting things about “Rebel Heart” is its contrary, or maybe complementary, sense of self. On one hand, there’s “Bitch I’m Madonna”, the playful, throne-asserting blast to which Nicki Minaj lends a fierce rap. On the other is “Joan of Arc”, exposing a devastating vulnerability under constant scrutiny and judgement.
Madonna has and always will be a multi-faceted, relevant pop musician, no matter how much the media loves to hate her. She’s right: “You can’t mess with this lucky star.”