February 4, 2015

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Madonna - Rebel Heart (Review)

The highly anticipated 13th studio album from the Queen Of Pop is slated to be released next month, and there are rumors it may be moved up to next week to coincide with her Grammy Awards performance on Sunday.

Madonna began work on this album last year. She was very active on Instagram throughout that year documenting her process with many collaborators including Alicia Keys, Avicii, Diplo, Kanye West, Mozella, Nas, Natalia Kills, Nicki Minaj, Ryan Tedder, Toby Gad, and many others.

Nearly a week before Christmas, a number of unfinished demos and work in progress versions of songs from the album leaked online forcing Madonna and her team to release the first 6 songs as 'instant downloads' when fans pre-ordered the album on iTunes. The lead single "Living For Love" was one of the songs to be released then. A full remix package has also been released and a music video is in the works. The album was originally envisioned as a concept project with two discs each containing a particular them with one being "Rebel Heart" with the more socially conscious and emotional songs and then "Unapologetic Bitch" with the more playful and light-hearted songs. That concept was abandoned due to the leaks and it is now one album going back and forth between the themes.

Here is a track by track writeup.

1. Living For Love
This throwback to 90s House music about finding new love after a breakup is an excellent album opener.
Grade: A

2. Devil Pray
The Folk/Dance midtempo is super catchy with its many hooks. This is begging to be a future single.
Grade: A

3. Ghosttown
The haunting ballad is one of her best in a longtime. This one desperately needs to be used in a movie.
Grade: A+

4. Unapologetic Bitch
Reggae and Dubstep being put together sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but it works on this song about throwing caution to the wind and being true to oneself.
Grade: B-

5. Illuminati
This is a hilarious commentary on how the blogosphere erupts to discuss the hidden symbolism referencing the Freemasons whenever a new music video or something is released by various famous people. M namechecks many celebrities during the vocoded rap.
Grade: B-

6. Bitch I'm Madonna (feat. Nicki Minaj)
It sticks out like a sore thumb amongst some of the more thought provoking ballads and midtempos, however, this one would probably best enjoyed while drunk.
Grade: C+

7. Hold Tight
Giorgio Moroder would be proud of this dreamy marching band-laden gem.
Grade: A

8. Joan of Arc
Another stunner that sounds like something off of one of her earlier albums.
Grade: A

9. Iconic (feat. Chance the Rapper & Mike Tyson)
This is a convivial fusion of EDM and Dubstep with two unexpected guests.
Grade: B+

10. HeartBreakCity
The confessional piano ballad builds into a midtempo is a bit of a tearjerker.
Grade: A

11. Body Shop
The marching band drums return for this cute one. The car and auto body shop cliché lyrics are a bit suggestive, but the way they are sung doesn't necessarily mean they should be interpreted in that manner.
Grade: A-

12. Holy Water
The bass heavy, semi Dubstep song is one of the raciest ones she has done in a while with its many catch phrases. It incorporate a short sample from the rap in her iconic hit "Vogue."
Grade: A

13. Inside Out
This is another fun, hooky EDM midtempo.
Grade: A-

14. Wash All Over Me
This is absolutely beautiful.
Grade: A

15. Best Night
Sinewy and sensual, this has a deep layered production with many exciting elements.
Grade: A

16. Veni Vidi Vici (feat. Nas)
This is an autobiographical EDM/Hip Hop song referencing her own lyrics with some fierce rhymes by Nas with a cute sample from "Holiday."
Grade: A

17. S.E.X.
The room-shaking bass combined with the over-the-top sexual lyrics is hilarious.
Grade: A-

18. Messiah
This is a cinematic masterpiece with an epic orchestra. The vocals are just heavenly.
Grade: A+

19. Rebel Heart
Another Folk/Dance hybrid that has been reworked considerably from the demo.
Grade: B+

20. Beautiful Scars
This is another gorgeous midtempo begging to be a single.
Grade: A-

21. Borrowed Time
This sounds like the little sister of "Love Profusion" from American Life, however, this is much catchier.
Grade: A-

22. Queen
This is another haunting, atmospheric song with gothic church bells and marching band drums.
Grade: A

23. Graffiti Heart
This cute song could have been on one of her earlier albums. It's a fusion of her 80s synthpop and contempo EDM.
Grade: A-

24. Autotune Baby
This is one of the strangest songs on the album with the heavily autotuned baby crying sounds used as the basis for the synths. It's catchy for the most part, but that sample...
Grade: B

25. Addicted
The album closer is an Acoustic/EDM hybrid with another strong hook.
Grade: A-

Overall, the album ends up being one of her strongest and most cohesive efforts in a long time. She was clearly inspired and going through a great creative period. Her primary focus this time around was the music and that made a huge difference. Hard Candy and MDNA had some excellent songs as well, but they lacked the focus that this and other previous albums had. Madonna's vocals sound far more natural on this record. A major complaint with the last two was the unnecessary and extreme autotuning that made her sound robotic and severe (although it was intentional on some songs on those records and even this one). The ballads and midtempos are a great return to form. American Life was the last album that had proper ballads whereas subsequent records had some songs that were not quite close enough to the traditional ballads she has graced us with. The uptempos are pretty good as well, however, a couple of the ones released in the initial 6 put on iTunes ended up being the weakest tracks of the album. The newer ones ended up being much better though. This is a solid release with a little something for everyone.

Overall Grade: A-


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