The story of Madonna is becoming boring. Criticising this new album is like criticising her last album: she’s not what she was; she’s playing catch up to current trends; her songs sound like everyone else’s. Mostly she’s just not the artist she used to be and as each album comes and goes, it’s becoming crystal clear that the old magic will never be regained. Forget ‘Rebel Heart’, this album should be called ‘Déjà vu’.
Madonna may think she’s a rebel at heart, but here she’s nothing but a conformist. The best track here is probably current single Living For Love, but even then it’s a pretty standard pop-house track with Guetta-esque non-chorus. From there we hit a number of different genres as Madonna struggles to settle on a modern style to suit her: Devil Pray also features a non-chorus in its generic electronic-with-a-dash-of-guitar production (courtesy of Avicii obviously); Ghost Town goes full electro-ballad with grating autotune straight out of Kanye’s ‘808s and Heartbreak’; Unapologetic Bitch has unapologetically been swiped from Rihanna’s offcuts; Joan Of Arc is a more traditional
pop ballad; Body Shop is a twee slow
jam. The biggest overall influence is hip-hop, a genre so prevalent in current
pop that it’s lost all rebellious connotations.
What’s most disappointing is that it’s not even that bad. This is overall a more consistent album than in the recent past with some decent production - as you’d expect from the likes of Diplo, Billboard and even Kanye West. The angular lines of Bitch I’m Madonna are instantly infectious, even with its noisy non-chorus; Iconic fares similarly. The whirring synths of Hold Tight also stand out, as does the pure trap of Veni Vidi Vici featuring Nas. That said, an actual chorus would be nice at some point.
The trouble is, ‘not that bad’ isn’t what we expect from Madonna. The album is too long, with too much filler and too little original personality. Perhaps the length comes from the early leaks and Madonna wanting to give something more in return. The lack of personality though, coming from Madonna especially, is inexcusable.
Where the production is enjoyable enough, lyrically ‘Rebel Heart’ is terrible. First there’s the faux anthemic Living For Love. That’s followed by the string of drug references in Devil Pray that proves she still isn’t over ‘MDMA’. HeartBreakCity includes the clunky line “Heartbreak city, it’s not that pretty”. Worst of all are the sexual references: Holy Water’s repeated line “bitch get off my pole” seemingly comes out of nowhere, whilst S.E.X. is probably the least sexiest song about sex in pop history. And that’s before you notice all the tiny references to her past material littered throughout the record, merely reminding us of her prime. Much has been made of Madonna’s age and her youthful reference points (sex, drugs) – it wouldn’t be a problem if the music was actually decent. Other artists are far more forward-thinking when it comes to implementing these themes.
It’s Madonna’s sheer arrogance that grates most of all though. “Bitch I’m Madonna”, “I’m an unapologetic bitch”, she notes before boasting that she’s “iconic”. Yet if ‘Rebel Heart’ didn’t have her name on it, would anyone really be interested? If anything, that name has been tarnished over the last few albums and the most iconic things she’s done recently are a shambles of a social media campaign and getting pulled off a stage - both of which are meme-worthy at best. If anything she should learn to apologise for releasing something so bland and generic; it just leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
* Living For Love
* Bitch I’m Madonna
* Hold Tight
Listen: ‘Rebel Heart’ is available now.