Bitch, She’s Madonna.

       So maybe you’ve heard Madonna came out with a new album a couple months ago.  Maybe? No? Stop lying, you totally heard about it. It’s called “Rebel Heart,” and it’s good, you guys.  It’s like real good. The pre-opening buzz was a little weird, but now that it’s out, I think her entire fan base is relieved to say that it’s kind of amazing.  No, it’s not mindblowing nor will it cure cancer or help declare world peace, but for a piece of pop art, it’s pretty damn awesome.
       I want to avoid allowing this piece to become a full on music review…maybe… but have you heard the album?  It’s not only extremely well-produced, but it’s a riskier piece of work than usual for her.  Riskier lyrically and musically, I mean.  The production doesn’t feel so safe, and her lyrics are playfully sexy in an adult way, as well as vulnerable and sweet at times.
       Ten years ago, her rapping on “American Life” was supposed to be this really risky move on her part, and it made everyone cringe.  Thankfully, there are no real cringeworthy moments on this one, which hey, to me is a major success.  (I’ll forgive her calling the police “The 5-0” in “Bitch, I’m Madonna,” because the song itself is awesome – similar to rhyming New York with “dork” in “I Love New York” from “Confessions on a Dance Floor”, which is otherwise a fantastic song).
       Since “Confessions” shocked everyone with its level of quality after “American Life” was widely considered a bit of a misstep, Madonna’s work seems to have been more than polarizing.  It’s almost like haters have gotten louder about their disappointment in her work, her image, and her politics, while her fans almost have to apologize for still retaining their affection for her.
Sentiments often include statements like “Grandma needs to go to bed,” or “A woman in her 50s should not be dressing like that,” or “She needs to stop putting out party music if she wants to be taken seriously,” or “Oh my god, she can’t even sing anymore, it’s all auto-tune!”
       Yeah, a lot of what we hear on “Rebel Heart” is auto-tuned to death.  Yeah, she’s still making party pop, despite no longer being a “young” woman. Yeah, she’s still putting together intricately staged performances at awards shows, and is charging tons of money for the upcoming tour dates (link included to purchase, that is if you can afford it).  But the thing that is most amazing about “Rebel Heart” is that as a body of work, it almost serves as an answer to the sentiments above.
       It’s Madonna saying she still, after all these years, doesn’t really give a fuck about what people think.  Think she’s too old to be sexy?  She went sexier.  Think the politics thing was just a shtick?  She pushed it further and made fun of it a little bit.  Think she can’t be doing what she’s doing, or shouldn’t?  Her response is “Don’t you get it? I am doing it.” The self-referential ego trip she often has is all over this album, and she seems to be having a blast with it.  The woman delivered a quality pop album which, thematically, proves that she’s basically won the game.  She’s made a brand out of longevity, and no one else has done what she is doing, and probably never will.
       As someone who’s been an off-and-on fan of hers basically since birth, I gotta say, I’m damn proud of her.  And her falling on the Brit Awards stage last month and getting back up couldn’t be a clearer metaphor for what that song (the excellent first single, “Living for Love”) represents as a step in her career.  She sang that song live, her voice slightly shaky but still hitting the notes.  She fell, got back up, and nailed the performance, ending it standing proud, slightly out of breath, and with this knowing, unforgettable smile.
       The bitch won, game over.  Maybe one day we’ll get another “Ray of Light,” in which she goes deep and soulful again. But in the meantime bow to the queen, and may she keep doing what she’s doing, for as long as she damn well pleases.  And thank goodness that fall didn’t break a hip.  Although she probably would have made that cool, too.
       P.S. I know I didn’t want to make this a music review, but this is my space, so I can do what I want with it!  If you’d like to indulge me, and see if you agree or disagree, read on.
       Living For Love – superbly worthy first single that gets better every time I hear it.  Consider that “Give Me All Your Luv” was the first single from MDNA.  I allowed myself to enjoy that song, but was fully aware that it was throwaway pop candy.  This is quality, uplifting discopop, with production value that is very now.
       Devil Pray – One of the few tracks that really pulls some surprising punches as it builds.  Starts out alright, and just get better as it goes.  The bassline in the “Who’s gonna save my soul?” sections of the song have my foot thumping, which is not what I expected when the song started.  It’s dark.  And sexy.  And the sexual moans scattered throughout the album start in this track, and I’m all about them.
       Ghosttown – A pop ballad that is certainly catchy, but a little slight for my taste.  Not bad, but I tend to want to skip it.  Great chorus.  I guess it’s the second single?
       Unapologetic Bitch – I don’t gravitate toward reggae-influenced tracks on any album, but this one is so good.  And by the time she says, “You’ll never really know how much your selfish bullshit cost me…so fuck you,” I’m kind of gagging.
       Illuminati – More dark, more sex.  Very self-referential, and fun.  Won’t be a single, but will be remembered.  I think it’s also interesting to note the distinction, that she says “Everybody IN this party” rather than “Everybody AT this party.” Is she referring to a political party?
       Bitch I’m Madonna – So much fun!!! And the pre-chorus hip hop breakdowns are so ratchet, I can’t help but want to get down.  And Nicki’s part is amazing. See her excellent performance of it on Jimmy Fallon here.
       Hold Tight – Decent pop song, nothing super special.  But at this point in the album, it becomes clear that the theme of “making it through” is the arc she returns to throughout the collection.  And similar to “Ghosttown,” proof that she really can nail a chorus.
       Joan of Arc – The longevity theme is present here too, but from a more vulnerable standpoint.  Also proof that lyrically this album is the strongest she’s had in quite some time.  Another excellent chorus.  It’s sweet.  And I like Madonna when she’s sweet.
       Iconic – In the same family as “Bitch I’m Madonna.”  Empowering lyrics, if slightly self-absorbed, but in a very appropriate and fun way.  Builds to the chorus beautifully.  Lots of great builds on this album.  And these days, builds in pop songs are hella satisfying.  Also, I don’t know much about Chance the Rapper, but his guest spot is fantastic.
       HeartBreakCity – Back to vulnerable.  While “Unapologetic Bitch” is her being slightly “Bye Felicia,” about the end of her relationship with ex-husband Guy Ritchie (I presume), this track is her showing her bummed side.  It’s refreshing to hear this side of her, honestly.
       Body Shop – To my surprise, this track is one of my favorites.  It’s her sweet side again, in the form of a car-themed ballad.  It’s easy on the ears, and really quite lovely.
       Holy Water – One of the sexiest tracks on the album, hands down.  The repeated bass hook throughout the verses, a good build-up in the beat, more moans in the chorus, and a sample from “Vogue.”  Thumbs way up.
       Inside Out – Strong chorus again in another dark love song in which Madonna is the empowered one of the two.  Formulaic but very listenable.
       Wash All Over Me – Decent track, if somewhat plodding.  At this point, it’s like “Okay, wrap it up, honey.”
       Best Night – This is a cocky side of Madonna we don’t get to hear very often.  It’s her saying “I’m a good lay, so if you’re down I’m down.  You’ll like it.”
       Veni Vidi Vici – I’m torn about this one.  To be sure, it’s a catchy song in which she gets very playfully self-referential.  It’s almost like a history lesson, in which she uses a lot of old song titles to tell her story.  The best line: “And when I struck a pose, all the gay boys lost their minds.”  Unfortunately, Nas is a big part of this track, and his part is so dated.  It’s a guest rapper part that belongs in a song from 10 years ago.  It made me wish Nicki or CTR came back for this track instead.
       S.E.X. – Gurl, get. It.  Yep, she’s 56, and she don’t give a FUCK.  And why should she? Should women stop having dirty thoughts about sex, and if they’re songwriters, should they stop singing about it?  She says no, and makes a fantastic case for it with this track. It’s filthy.  And I’m a pervert, so I’m into it.
       Messiah – She brings back the drama with this one, that in some ways is very reminiscent of 90s Madonna.  Synth strings, and bold baroque chord changes.  Not bad.
       Rebel Heart – I find it an interesting choice that she would end this album with a sweet, happy song that sums up what we’ve learned from the album as a whole. She could have ended the album with the proverbial middle finger and saying “Fuck you, I do what I want!” (though, as stated above many times, that’s generally the theme here), she instead ends it with a shrug and says no, she’s not perfect, but this is how she operates and she will remain true to her process till the end.  This song is like the sonic equivalent to that smile at the end of her Brit Awards performance. As a standalone track, it’s pretty slight.  As a closer to this particular collection of tracks, it’s an appropriately sappy and sentimentally bold way to finish her point.  Mazel, woman.



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Posted on: May 2nd, 2015 by Aram Kirakosian No Comments

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