The build-up to the release of Madonna’s new album Rebel Heart has been a messy one, but it’s also ensured that she’s stayed in the press and everybody is talking about her. Late 2014 hackers managed to get hold of and leak demos for the majority of the album forcing Madonna to put out several finished tracks on iTunes. Earlier this year the whole album leaked in full giving Madonna and her team another headache. Just as things were starting to look up, Madonna made what should have been a triumphant return to The BRIT Awards but a shocking mishap resulted in her falling down some steps mid-performance. It’s been one of the messiest album campaigns in recent memory but the chaos around Rebel Heart seems to be helping rather than hindering it.
Released in stages, Rebel Heart finally arrived in full this week and with 10 of the tracks already available, the album has been talked about a lot for the past few months. Is it a return to form for Madonna after patchy reception of 2012’s MDNA and 2008’s Hard Candy?
Rebel Heart opens with the album’s lead single Living For Love, a pulsing club track produced with Diplo that is one of her best in nearly a decade. Quite why it hasn’t jumped to the top of the charts is a mystery but the single’s release has been surrounded by some pretty disgusting ageism directed at the pop icon with Radio 1 allegedly banning Madonna from their playlists for being ‘irrelevant’. If there’s one thing Madonna isn’t, and never will be, that’s irrelevant.
Anyone expecting a collection of club bangers will be surprised by Rebel Heart. The album is a real mixed bag of treats with Madonna experimenting with a variety of sounds and styles. She moves from the club to the confessional throughout the record. Unapologetic Bitch combines reggae beats with a catchy chorus, Veni Vidi Vici featuring Nas sees the icon reflecting on her life and career with many of her catalogue name checked, and Best Night boasts hypnotic beats and a dreamy vocal.
Madonna being Madonna she doesn’t stray away from controversy. S.E.X. has already got the prudes (and ageists) up in arms because the star dares to sing about having a sex life in her fifties and Holy Water, another of the Kanye collaborations leaves little to the imagination.
Some of the best moments come when Madonna lets her guard down and opens up. The beautiful Ghosttown, the album’s next single, is one of her best songs in years, and the gentle acoustic-leaning Joan of Arc sees Madonna exploring the criticism that she receives and how it affects her. Body Shop is one of the more unusual tracks on the album with Madonna giving an unusual vocal over the backing of hand-claps and a sitar.
Not everything on Rebel Heart is a triumph. The bizarre Kanye West helmed Illuminati, whilst sonically interesting, is one track to skip and Bitch I’m Madonna featuring Nicki Minaj is a little bit jarring with the rest of the album.
Album closer Rebel Heart is one of the standout moments on the record. Singing over punchy beats and an acoustic melody, Madonna has created an anthem that sums up her long career. She’s never played by the rules and the fact people continue to be surprised by that is pretty remarkable.
Rebel Heart is Madonna’s best album since 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor. The deluxe version of the album features 19 tracks and in honesty it is a little overlong but for the most part Madonna hits the mark. The album is rich with variety and Madonna shows many sides to her artistry and her vocal ability as a singer; two things she’s rarely given the credit she deserves for. Rebel Heart is an album that celebrates the past and looks to the future, and regardless of what anyone says Madonna is still the best popstar in the world.