From NMEcom...Three years after 2012’s EDM-driven ‘MDNA’ album, ‘Rebel Heart’ finds 56-year-old Madonna still trying to pass herself off as a teenager. It’s a disconnect that has become increasingly grating.
Rather than the return to ’80s underground New York promised by lead single ‘Living For Love’, this 13th album is a scattergun attempt to hit all the bases of modern pop. Instead of having one producer at the helm, as ‘MNDA’ did with William Orbit, Madonna hired the biggest chart-humping names she could find. Avicii co-writes three tracks: ‘HeartBreakCity’, ‘Devil Pray’ – reminiscent of Lady Gaga’s crazed 2013 dance tune ‘Aura’ – and the ballad ‘Wash All Over Me’. Kanye produces three: the classy, ‘Vogue’-referencing ‘Illuminati’, ‘Holy Water’ and ‘Wash All Over Me’. Diplo drives four: ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’, ‘Unapologetic Bitch’, ‘Living For Love’, ‘Hold Tight’. Drake associates Dahi and Michael ‘Blood’ Diamonds take two: ‘Devil Pray’ and ‘Body Shop’. Chance The Rapper (trendy) and Nicki Minaj (bankable) rap on ‘Iconic’ and ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ respectively.
Diplo fares best. The pulsating ‘Living For Love’ is exactly what this record should’ve been top-to-tail, while the digi-reggae of ’Unapologetic Bitch’ could’ve fallen off the back of a Major Lazer album. Diplo makes Madge sound fun, but as the candy-bass ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ – on which she sings, “We’re jumping in the pool and swimming with our clothes on/ I poured beer in my shoe and got my freak on” – shows, the gulf between her life and her music is now impossible to ignore.
The punchy ‘HeartBreakCity’ – a song Lorde would dismiss as too juvenile an interpretation of a break-up – illustrates that however on-point her musical instincts, this persona just isn’t believable any more. ‘Holy Water’ implores, “Kiss it better, kiss it better/ Make it better, make it wetter (Don't it taste like holy water)”. Coitus in mid-life can of course still be a richly rewarding experience, but must we hear quite so many details? Twee ballad ’Body Shop’ hinges on a similarly tortuous lyrical conceit (“My transmission’s blown… You can keep it in overnight/You can do whatever you like”).
Ultimately, ‘Rebel Heart’ feels like a wasted opportunity. Trite self-empowerment anthem ‘Iconic’ informs us that there’s only two letters difference between Icon and I Can’t. Sadly, there are also two letters between class and ass.