Madonna wants the world to remember that she’s Madonna. So her 13th album, Rebel Heart, released Friday, draws on all the glory of her Queen of Pop legacy but without any fresh creativity. Complete with hypersexual club beats and lyrics reflecting on her long career, Rebel Heart seems like a work unique to this great singer, but really, it is an album that, if it were authored by anyone else, would be cared about by no one.
The opener and lead single, “Living for Love,” sets the tone with its catchy EDM house pop sound and a theme of resilience after heartbreak. Madonna’s resounding gospel lyric of “I’m gonna carry on” is the most enjoyable proclamation of character, a concept she debases and loses as the album continues.
Songs such as “Devil Pray,” with cheap lines such as “And we can sniff glue and we can do E and we can drop acid,” impress nobody. On the same level, “S.E.X.” is blatantly unclever. “Oh my God, you’re so hot” leads the song into a keyword litany of dirty accessories that are so unstimulating for their thinly veiled attempts at glorious obscenity.
Madonna’s explicit content may have worked for her in the more conservative days of “Like a Virgin,” but it is hardly pop news here. This album is fraught with religious themes typical of her work, but they are tiring ploys used to contrast the sexual references — take, for example, “Holy Water,” which describes the taste of her vaginal fluids.
“Bitch I’m Madonna” is the most obvious ride on the coattails of Madonna fame. A repeated “Who do you think you are?” reminds listeners of her greatness, but the track runs on a formulaic EDM-pop sound. She clearly co-opts the line “Cause I’m a bad bitch” from a rapper’s toolbox and hardly supports the claim with any captivating musical output.
When she is not pandering to the mass appeal of shock for the sake of shock, Madonna is at her best when she’s honest and confrontational.
At its very end, “Rebel Heart” brings fans back to a stripped-down guitar sound and raw, confessional material: “I barely made it out alive / Through the darkness somehow I survived.”
For an album bookended by its best tracks, the rest is just Madonna adapting to today’s music landscape without being inventive among it. Standard EDM drops and rapper features from Nicki Minaj, Chance the Rapper and Nas make for unabashed grabs at relevancy. Rebel Heart banks on wide acceptance of the Madonna myth of greatest but lacks any new material in the 19-track work to carry it.
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