8 May 2015

Madonna - Rebel Heart

(Editor's note - Originally I was going to pick this one, just because I did not expect any of the others to be interested.  But I asked Mr Marc to pick up the review of the ex-Mrs Ritchie for a few reasons. The first was her terminology when her album was leaked during the recording period; that it should not have happened is a topic that can be argued till the cows come home (it can also be debated if it was an inside job to get press), however to say that it is an act of terrorism??? That is just Mrs M. wanting to have a buzz-worthy word to get maximum press.  It is the sort of thing that she does (i.e. maximum attention on herself) and I can understand that if it was real that she would be frustrated as it must be hard to see your work go out for free - but it is not an act of terrorism! End of story!  The next reason was her attitude when radio stations were not playing her songs as it was not for their target audience and she said it was ageist.  With the greatest respect, it is not her call on that one; if a radio station says her music is not the sort of music for their audience, then tough titties to her.  It happens to bands all the time, look at Pink Floyd - their last album, no plays on the biggest station in the UK, Radio 1.  Same with Alanis Morissette, Morrissey and other artists.  Her audience is now a more mature audience and therefore her music will be played in different stations.  Just because she was is a legend (if you like it or not, she is a legend) does not mean you have a Deity given right to be played on a station which is no longer on your demographic.  Because of this, I did not want my views (which may be clouded with a rant at this point if I am honest) to shit on the music if it does not deserve it.  Whilst the Queen of bitchy might annoy me, she deserves an honest point of view.  Hence Mr Marc is doing this one instead, let's hope it is better than the dance routine at the BRITS awards. Eddie)

Love her madly or loathe her passionately, there's no denying the cultural and musical impact Ms Ciccone has made. Madonna made a few big winners in the 1980s certainly not to mention the welter of controversy that she has brought with it. From the sort of messy but trend setting styles to prudish sensibilities it's no surprise that the Queen of Pop has earned the title as a Mother of Reinvention. Her star might've waned slightly during the nineties until Ray Of Light, which personally I think was a crucially rejuvenating moment. I actually listened to it and yes, very it was heavily produced, it had the typical William Orbit lavish treatment and YET very deceiving. It sounded minimalist and stripped down and so inviting still that I would've given it at least eight out of ten. Just a shame the press didn't warm to it.

First, let's get the gripes out of the way. I bemoan, infinitely and maybe unnecessarily, that there's too many producers, songwriters and musicians involved in a pop album nowadays. But it's a commonly accepted thing so today on this occasion, I will do my level best NOT to make any references to that! The second moan is when music on the whole has to resort to heavy sampling and intense pleadings to borrow a memorable hook (see Hung Up for that point) you know when the creative talents are reaching their limits. My third gripe is when controversy tries to get the right messages across, it all backfires disastrously. By that, I'm referring to a recent tribute rendition she did in recognition of some Russian pop act Pussy Act's imprisonment. Aside from that she's had a few recent lawsuits thrown at her.

So album number thirteen, critically revered across the board and yet it's been struggling to sell. Rebel Heart hasn't been doing well in the Billboard charts and has missed out on a few top spots elsewhere. But given the downloads and countless ways you can listen and obtain the albums you want, is it really that important? On that note however, I will say the one thing I noted about Rebel Heart is that Madge seems to have been compelled to release a number of tracks well ahead of the scheduled launch date, perhaps understandably too owing to the level of piracy and I'm guessing illegal streaming online that's been floating around.

For me, one thing going here is that there aren't too many guest stars in this latest edition, so almost all her own work, and first impressions tell me that M is starting with a clean slate. We're opening with a familiar disco rhythmed Looking for love. Lyrically quite promising but really it tails off quick with some get-out-of-jail-free-card hooks between the verses, so not too memorable to be frank. Devil Pray follows a similar pattern but actually Madonna's showing good content with some rare acoustical backdrops, and an easy tale of passing the time through a few vices. An early top track contender so far, so now onto track 3 Ghosttown, another reasonable narrative, and the chorus feels compelling, in an 'F' chord there does smack positivity through a despairing plot. It's been gentle and easy going so far, rather alien for someone who can be acerbic when she wants to be, and appropriately, next up is Unapologetic Bitch. Woah man! Reggae and tripping rules the roost here, but not something I suspect we'll see too much of for the future. Does work on this occasion I will admit.

Now on to Illuminati, filled with so many bleeps it's almost notable, but really the only that keeps it interesting is the verse/rap parts, a la Vogue on amphetamines, but actually not enough of it I lament. She then goes back to her feral kitten scratching-ness with Bitch I'm Madonna. What's wrong with it in my opinion? The garage/house backdrops sound very Scooter-ish, very ridiculous, downright embarrassing, and featuring somebody as talentless as Nicki Minaj really drops the turd in the middle of the sitting room carpet. Hold Tight however does put the house back in order, some addictive scene setter, reminds me of Ray Of Light and it's a decently flowing filler, then onto Joan Of Arc, someone M claims she isn't, someone who can't change, all rather ironic, given the message songs she tries to convey. Tune-wise it's rather forgettable, so move along. Iconic, does have quite a catchy little edge to it notwithstanding a quirky soundbite from Mike Tyson and rap/vocals(?) from Chance the Rapper, maybe an afterthought, but worthwhile all the same.

So far, a little hit and miss. With all the heavy electronic production, HeartBreakCity should be a welcome break with its piano/drummer boy led ballad. A sterling effort yet it sounds a little bleak if slightly compelling. About three quarters into the album Body Shop is one weird written track, lyrically about car mechanisms if a little suggestive lyrically. And rather camp too, while Holy Water follows the same pattern, I suspect Mrs M's trying for the shock factor, but really it's far too cliche ridden and way out of date. Penultimate track is Inside Out, starts with some Kraftwerk-esque bass, it's a fair and gentle foreplay narrative, if not too spiky or edgy, but even at just four minutes it's heavy going, and finally onto the curtain drop Wash All Over Me, yet another gentle piano ballad. It's where I think too much of the same thing isn't really much at all actually and where the ending isn't so unwelcoming.

At fourteen tracks and less than an hour long, it runs fairly well throughout until the fresh ideas all run out of steam about two thirds of the way through and in the midst of it, some rather disjointed numbers that are out of sync where it feels as though the whole package was all put together hurriedly. I'll accept that because of the piracy brew haw, some tracks including the title track Rebel Heart were omitted right at the eleventh hour. A victim of circumstance granted, but really it's just not a valid enough excuse. Rebel Heart should, and could have been a return to form for her M-ness, where the production wasn't too heavy, where she wasn't too reliant on a lengthy guest list or heavy sampling from some killer disco tunes. Full marks that Madonna started on a blank piece of paper, but not so many marks given that all the tracks on Rebel Heart haven't fallen into place better far better than when she fell off the stage at the Brit Awards (thanks Eddie Carter for reminding me, I giggle a little at the thought of it). I still say sack the wardrobe staff.....

6 out of ten. Now I see where you were going, but not quite there.
(Yes, I am being generous here)
Best track : Devil Pray

Buy the album here on Amazon
Listen to Rebel Heart here on Spotify
Deezer listeners can click on this link
Official Madonna Website on this link
Official Madonna Facebook page on this link

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