Madame X: The MadonnaTribe Review
Madame X is a strange piece of an art work, as with Madonna herself this album is loved and hated with the same strenght.
Like with Madonna herself, you either embrace it or reject it. There are no half measures with Madame X.
You take your time, listen to it several times and then you either love it or hate it.
By reading many social media posts by fans, since the first singles came out, I realized that fans have their own favourite albums and they always tend to compare Madonna’s new works to that favourite album and if the new material does not fit that precise standard then they start claiming she has lost it, she is producing crap, that she’s old and should retire (they throw this last comment in anyway, just in case).
To my surprise, the album that the majority of times is taken as a comparison piece is not that perfect extract of pop juice that is True Blue or Like a Prayer, the album that Rolling Stone called “as close to art as pop music gets”.
It’s not even the critically acclaimed Ray of Light.
The album that most of these fans, who are more vocal on Facebook and Twitter and have no sense of self humour, take on the comparison table is… Confessions on a Dance Floor, which by the way is a great collection of songs and a wonderful concept album – no doubt about it – but it can’t be considered as the total essence of Madonna as an artist.
If you mumble because you don’t like Medellín, it shouldn’t be because it’s not another Hung Up, but because it’s not another Like a Prayer or Vogue!
I personally like Madame X a lot, because it is indeed a journey taking you to both familiar and unfamiliar grounds.
Madame X is both old and new.
Madame X is both recognizable and unknown.
Madame X is very well produced album, with each sound and element painstakingly put in there for a reason, under the strict supervision of Madonna herself, making sound pretentious and arrogant all those supposed fans and critics saying she put together a huge nonesense of a mess without a will or a direction.
I give the album 5 stars out of 5 and I’m going to explain why by going through a track by track review.
01 Medellín. First song on the album and first single. The song the introduced the world to the Madame X project. When it was first released in Apri to say that fans were a bit concerned is an euphemism. Unlike music critics, who were positively intrigued by the single or simply reported about it without negative comments, most of the fans simply hated it and were very vocal about it.
It was like they were personally betrayed by Madonna, who didn’t give them what they have been expecting from her. Many of them complained this wasn’t the new radio bomb and social media was full of delusional comments.
The main problem apparently was the presence of Maluma and the use of reggaeton. Many of the know it all people on Facebook compared the single to the most commercial, bothering and stupid reggaeton songs that ever appeared on the face of the Earth. Well, it’s true that reggaeton’s beat – called Dem Bow, by the way – coming from a popular Jamaican rhythm sounds almost identical in virtually all reggaeton songs but Mirwais‘ take on the genre, his sophisticated production skills, really makes it stand out from the genre and if you have ears you ear that on the first spin!
Funnily enough, Medellín is indeed the Hung Up of this album for so many reasons. It’s a catchy, simple dance tune that you can sing along right away and just like the first single from Confessions it has a mantra that sticks in your mind. Guys, “One Two Cha Cha Cha” is the new “Time Goes By So Slowly”!
Then the video came out and it basically won half of the flock of lost sheeps. Radio and video rotation did the rest and now most of the fans love the song, proving that Madonna knows very well what she’s doing and that there’s a reason why she has been staying at the top of the music business for so long.
02 Dark Ballet. Well, where do we start? Coming after Medellín, this is indeed the real album opener, because it slowly introduces us to the strange, dark but hopeful journey of Madame X and starts giving away what’s in store next.
A beautiful and haunted melody, accompanied by a piano and then by a Mirwais-style syncopated loop is interrupted, first by a classic piano interlude reminiscing of George Gershwin then by an electronic rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker suite taking us to a mood inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange, as Madonna herself revealed.
A video about a modern Joan Of Arc, played by Mykki Blanco who represents many of the repressed minorities, has been released a week before the album and to give force to the message Madonna detracts herself from the video, appearing in a brief cameo and being just the story teller. Like Clopin in Notre-Dame de Paris she sings and talks about the crimes and pain brought to the world by religious extremists.
Selecting this as a single and video release is a brave choice. Madonna clearly states that she doesn’t want to follow the music industry rules, believing that the public is not completely conformed and will give a chance to something different from mainstream and by what I see, it’s working. Both fans and critics love it!
03 God Control. After an intro with a piano + vocoded acapella a full choir joins in and it’s still not clear what direction this will take. Then violins lifted straight from 70’s discomusic start and it becomes clear this is the dance hit from this album. Musically an homage to the years a teenage Madame X started to see that Michigan was a place she couldn’t fit in, the track also brings to mind some Chic/Nile Rodgers influences with those little guitar moments.
The lyrics are about gun control, a theme Madonna deeply cares about and that couldn’t be left out of this album. In an interview with Reuters she said: “When you think about the amount of people who have died, been killed, have been wounded, whose lives have been changed irrevocably because of the lack of gun control in America, it’s such a huge, huge problem”. She digs the subject with a song in which (like already done previously) she mixes funny, bright music and melody, almost sounding as a nursery rhyme at times, with a dark and somber lyrics.
This is the sort of song perfect for a video treatmente, and if the rumour about a clip packed with Drag Race queens having been filmed already turns out to be true, count me in!
04 Future. This is the fourth track that previewed the album. It didn’t came out with a real music video, but Madonna performed the song at the Eurovision Song Contest Final in May. The message of the song is that, to live in a better world, we should change the way we are thinking and the way we deal with others. That we are all the same, and living together in harmony is inevitable, so “not everyone is going to the future, not everyone is learning from the past” and “not everyone that’s here is gonna last”.
To make the message stand out at the Eurofestival in Tel Aviv, Madame X had a pair of her dancers secretly wearing Palestinian and an Israeli flags on the back of their costumes, embracing as friends as they climbed a set of stairs at the climax of her performance.
Produced with Diplo, Future features Migos rapper Quavo and musically it has reggae influences mixed with some hip hop and catchy trumpets in the chorus.
05 Batuka. This is the most difficult track of the album, because it deals with a genre the general public is not usually exposed to. Batuka or Batuque is both a music genre and dance. Apparently it originated in Cape Verde centuries ago, probably a local adaptation of an even more ancient musical genre from the African continent.
At one point the Portuguese administration even forbid Batuka performances because it was a way for slaves to rebel. This is not single material but it’s an interesting journey to a different country, a journey to a different century.
You can feel the pain in the voices of the singers and you can feel that by singing they ease their pain. Batuka features Portugal’s Orquestra de Batukadeiras, an all women ensemble from Cape Verde, another bold album choice that not everyone will digest, but if you really can’t, you can make it more pleasing to yourself by seeing it as “Madonna meets The Lion King”!
06 Killers Who are Partying. Another favourite of mine, a hymn to all the people in the world that are discriminated. Madonna says she is all those people, she is all minorities, she’s gay, she’s Africa, she’s poor, she’s a child, she’s Islam, she’s Israel, she’s she’s a native indian, she’s a woman. A nostalgic mandolin plays throughout the whole track with Portuguese influences and part of the chorus has Portuguese lyrics. Strangely enough, the title is not mentioned at all during the song.
07 Crave. The third single release from Madame X and the second video release. Crave is a hip-hop meets RNB song, tecnically can be called trap pop. It features newcomer Swae Lee and it shows she can do contemporary American music the right way.
The lyrics are about an intoxicating love story. To my taste maybe it should have had less vocoder and on first listening I had the impression she is singing with her grillz on, but the hook is very catchy and memorable: “You’re the one I crave and my cravings get dangerous. The feelings never fade I don’t think we should play with this”.
And even though this track has nothing to do with the latin influence of the other songs on the album, it has been noted that the essence of Fado, the Portuguese genre of song infused with a mood of melancholy, mournful tunes and a feeling of resignation, can be found in the lyrics.
08 Crazy. A song that begins with chords played by an accordion lifted straight from Édith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose, a classic that she played live with her mandolin on the Rebel Heart Tour, and that shares the same feel (but not lyric idea) with this track that can call a traditional love ballad about love and the crazy things we do for love.
Lyrically in between Take a Bow and You’ll See, the story of someone who feels hurt and betrayed by a lover but about to gain the strenght and self respect back (Pill off my weakness layer after layer). The song is mostly in English but in the chorus she repeats the same concept twice, first in English then in Portuguese. Her voice is strong and basically no vocoder at all on this one.
Definitely one of the album’s highlights with great “traditional” pop-single potential that could also be turned into a great dance hit like it happened wih Frozen.
09 Come Alive. Come Alive plays on familiar grounds. Another track that could have come from the past. This one has lot of the feel of the Rebel Heart album, the melody and arrangment remind me many times of Body Shop, but the Jeff Bhasker/Mike Dean touch takes it to a completely different level. The sampled violins in the style of Don’t Tell Me and the gospel choir in the end make it really nice and enjoyable.
10 Extreme Occident. This one seems that songs present in every musical at the beginning, in which the main characters sing in a quiet way about the place in life they are now, how they came there and most of all what they want from the future. Mandolins and piano and few strings accompany her no filter clear voice for most of the track, then a syncopated loop comes in for a more dramatic climax. Life is a circle….
This is the first bonus track of the Deluxe Edition.
11 Faz Gostoso. Meaning something like “So Delicious” or “Eye Candy” in English, Faz Gostoso is a rework of a song by Portuguese artist Blaya, a huge summer hit released last year. Madonna does a cover very close to the original, translating the verses in English but leaving the chorus in Portuguese. The song structure stays virtually the same and features Brazilian pop star Anitta as a guest.
An addictive tune thar musically stays quite true to the original arrangement.
12 Bitch I’m Loca. The lovely Maluma comes back to this twelfth track and M is crazy indeed on this one. As a fan of Latin pop music myself I appreciate the fact this is actually a real Latin pop song, it’s autenthic, as 90% of it it’s actually sung in Spanish and not like those fake American hits having just dos palabras here and there, pretending to be Latino.
The chorus is all in Spanish and the verses really only have tiny English parts just to make sure the Gringos don’t feel left out completely (very nice of her). The reggaeton-ish rhythm is paired with funny and tongue in cheek lyrics. This is basically a sultry and sexy dialogue starting with Maluma telling us that “She only uses Chanel, she mix it well with her Cartier jewels, they say that her ex-boyfriend left her because she wasn’t faithful, she likes younger men like me and it shows.”
The songs ends with M and Maluma calling themselves by the nicknames they gave each other and a subtle and gentle pun on words that goes something like this:
M: So nice to meet you Mr. Safe.
Maluma: So nice to meet you Mrs. Crazy. Where do you want me to put this?
M: Um, you can put it inside.
Thank God this is not another Spanish Lesson (from Hard Candy, 2008) in which Madonna didn’t have a clear idea that Spanish and Italian are indeed two different languages.
13 I Don’t Search I Find. This is the track that brings us back to familiar roads. Lirycally and musically an homage to her Erotica years.
I don’t know if this can also be considered a proper homage to Shep Pettibone, as I suspect they aren’t close friends anymore, still all his production features are there: song intros and stops with snapping fingers, sampled violins, house piano parts, spoken parts à-la Rescue Me, echoed vocals and odd melodies. Fever, Goodbye to Innocence, Deeper and Deeper, Rescue Me, Words and Thief of Hearts are all in there and in the first listenings this makes us all go back to 1992, to the first listen of Erotica, which was perceived at the time of release by many fans and critics a risky, lenghty, strange, misunderstood, pretentious, freaky piece of an album.
By now Erotica is considered almost unanimously one of the best works and a milestone in her multifaceted career. To me, the message that this song brings me is that it’s better to enjoy and appreciate now the things life brings you and not 30 years later, if you still have the chance. Anyway a great walk back down to memory lane.
14 Looking For Mercy. A nice, straightforward ballad, yet very theatrical. A track that could have very well been on both Ray of Light and American Life. The Masterpiece-like way of singing, the ad-lib reminiscing of The Power of Good-bye, the heartfelt lyrics belted out, makes you find the familiar Madonna behind the Madame X character.
This is the second bonus track of the Deluxe Edition.
15 I Rise. The second advance single from Madame X is an inspirational song and sort of an anthem. It starts with an emotional sample of a speech held by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor, Emma Gonzalez. Madonna’s vocals on this song are very strong and musically is a very well produced Urban Pop song.
The chorus is a simple mantra: “I rise, I rise / I rise up above it, up above it / I rise, I rise / I rise up above it all.”
Madonna said she wrote I Rise as a way of giving a voice to all marginalized people who feel they don’t have the opportunity to speak their mind: “This year is the 50th anniversary of Pride and I hope this song encourages all individuals to be who they are, to speak their minds and to love themselves”.
- Medellin Madonna & Maluma 4:58 (Madonna Ciccone, Mirwais Ahmadzai, Maluma Londono & Barrera)
- Dark Ballet 4:15 (Madonna Ciccone & Mirwais Ahmadzai)
- God Control 6:19 (Madonna Ciccone & Mirwais Ahmadzai)
- Future feat. Quavo 3:54 (Madonna Ciccone, Thomas Pentz, Brittany Talia Hazzard & Quavious Keyate Marshall)
- Batuka 4.57 (Madonna Ciccone, Banda & Mirwais Ahmadzai)
- Killers Who Are Partying 5:29 (Madonna Ciccone & Mirwais Ahmadzai)
- Crave feat. Swae Lee 3:22 (Madonna Ciccone, Khalif Malik Ibn Shaman Brown & Brittany Talia Hazzard)
- Crazy 4:02 (Jason Evigan, Madonna Ciccone & Brittany Talia Hazzard)
- Come Alive 4:02 (Jeff Bhasker, Madonna Ciccone & Brittany Talia Hazzard)
- Extreme Occident 3:42 (Madonna Ciccone & Mirwais Ahmadzai)
- Faz Gostoso feat. Anitta 4:06 (Carmo, Nuno, Oliveira, Seabra, Vieira, Rodrigues & Madonna Ciccone)
- Bitch I’m Loca feat. Maluma 2:51 (Madonna Ciccone, L. D’Elia, Maluma Londono, Barrera, JAMES, Rodriguez & Stiven Rojas)
- I Don’t Search I Find 4:08 (Madonna Ciccone & Mirwais Ahmadzai)
- Looking For Mercy 4:50 (Madonna Ciccone & Brittany Talia Hazzard)
- I Rise 3:44 (Jason Evigan, Madonna Ciccone & Brittany Talia Hazzard)