Rebel Heart: The Reviews
The Rebel Heart album release is around the corner in the USA (and has already happened this morning in several European countries and Down Under), so the time is right to collect the reviews that are being published by the media around the world.
(This article will be updated as soon as more articles are in)
There are albums where it’s been difficult to remember that Madonna is a real person and not just a figurehead, a concept, a lightning rod. That’s not the case with Rebel Heart: it has surprising gravity, and doubles as a portrait of a lion approaching the winter of a career without precedent. It’s the realest, and the best, Madonna has sounded in quite some time.
Madonna has never gotten the credit she deserves as a musician, or as an album artist. Her essential interests are unchanging – dancefloor ecstasy, European balladry, 1960s pop classicism – but her expression of them finds new articulations. Rebel Heart has 14 producers working in seven different teams and still it sounds exactly like a Madonna album.
As a lyricist, Madonna has always had trouble making her personal songs universal. On the other hand, her persona has such cultural resonance at this point, it has become part of all pop fans. Her name is a metaphor for strength and endurance. That makes her potent enough to admit where she’s weak in “Joan Of Arc.” Here, she says that each critique drives her to private tears. In “Wash All Over Me,” she ponders either running from, or accepting the end of, her career. It’s hard to imagine Madonna expressing things like this before, let alone making them ring true. That’s “Rebel Heart’s” peak feature: It presents a 56-year-old woman who, in the best possible sense, sounds her age.
Rebel Heart is too long, too unnecessarily fussed over, to join the ranks of Like a Prayer, Erotica, and Ray of Light, but tucked inside this lumbering mass of songs are 10 to 12 tracks that would, under any other circumstances, make for Madonna’s best album in at least a decade.
There’s something bracing about Madonna’s insistence that she belongs in exactly the same place she’s been for more than 30 years – at the forefront of mainstream pop, asserting her supremacy over anyone who dares challenge her – and something impressive about her steadfast refusal to do the kind of things every other artist four decades into their career does: no unplugged shows with the singer sitting demurely on a stool and emoting to an acoustic guitar; no deviation into the Great American Songbook; no album that cravenly attempts to recreate the sound of her best-loved early work. You can understand why she sees that kind of thing as a one-way ticket to the knacker’s yard, why she’d rather prove she can still talk dirtier or come up with more outrageous braggadocio than any young pretender. But at least half of Rebel Heart proves it’s not as stark a choice as that. She can come up with songs that are both mature and reflective and that function as fantastic pop music, and they’re all the more potent because they sound like they’re being made entirely on her own terms.
Millennials will cringe, but Madonna just makes a far better basqued polemicist than she does a wise elder stateswoman. The indecorous segments of Rebel Heart locate her sense of wickedness high in the mix.
The Times: Madonna: Rebel Heart
The album ends with the title track, a combination of country rock and electronic pop. “I’ve spent time as a narcissist… trying to be provocative,” sings Madonna before telling herself, “Never look back. It’s a waste of time.” It sums up the message of this flawed but vibrant album: still in the game, still pushing forward, now in a position to reflect on all that has happened with sagacity.
Rebel Heart is Madonna’s best album since 2005’s Confessions On A Dancefloor, probably because she is at her most relaxed and natural. (…) Famous for not giving away too much of herself, the singer also explores a surprisingly wide range of moods and emotions, from the crudely defiant to the quietly confessional. Her lyrics are uncomplicated, but there are revealing flashes of intimacy.
It’s a sonic nakedness that’s more revealing than any flirty flash of boob or buttock.
Madonna’s influence on modern pop culture is something that can never be taken away from her. For over 30 years the Bay City native has pushed the mainstream’s envelope, stamped down doors for female artists, and has weaved through musical styles more times than she has turned her nose up at hydrangeas. It’s an achievement that very few – if any – will match again, but it leaves Madonna with the dilemma of expectation. What can she do next? The answer, according to new album Rebel Heart, is to have a few attempts all on one disc.
So yes, Madonna’s 13th studio outing can feel like a confused bag sonically as she continues to experiment with a host of modern music’s finest. But ultimately, when she’s wearing her heart on her sleeve, Rebel Heart is some of her most captivating work in years.