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Madonna: The rebel with heart’s musical redemption

“If Living for Love takes us to church, Devil Pray drags us down to the front pew and makes us want to fuck the pastor…”madonna-rebel-heart-promoBarry Church-Woods reviews Rebel Heart

Last month, someone leaked a couple of new Madonna tracks. She got angry. By last week, a total of 13 demos; works in progress towards her new body of work that’s been in development for the past year had leaked. She got very angry. Two days ago, in response to the leaks, she released a pre-sale of her album with access to 5 or 6 brand spanking new tracks, depending on where you are in the world. The move came with the statement:

“I was hoping to release my new single ‘Living For Love’ on Valentine’s Day with the rest of the album coming in the Spring. I would prefer my fans to hear completed versions of some of the songs instead of the incomplete tracks that are circulating. Please consider these six songs as an early Christmas gift.”

It took a couple of days for this mega-fan to stop bleeding from the a-hole with excitement at the news; but now I’ve had time to calm down and really dig into the tracks; here’s the review. large In an interview with Billboard this weekend (one of just three M participated in to promote the pre-sale of Rebel Heart), Keith Caulfield posed a question asking if team Madonna had considered releasing two EPs instead of an album. This struck me as much more interesting than many of the other questions as it’s a solution I’ve often discussed to the disjointed feeling to the MDNA album and indeed even that of Hard Candy.

The High Priestess of Pop responded that there will be one album, but originally they had considered a double set showing the duality of the work; one showing her rebellious side, the other, her emotional turmoil. The six tracks now readily available when you pre-order the album are a perfect showcase of the concept and show Madonna at her very best as she offers 1) throwback to remind people where she sits in the world and 2) innovation that helps her defy her ageist detractors.


The opening track and lead single for Rebel Heart is Living for Love. For some insane reason (mainly charting rules), the track isn’t available in the UK, though is available as a pre-sale option not associated with the album.

This issue aside, the only reason it is an issue at all is that WE ALL WANT IT NOW! This song is Madonna at her absolute best. It’s classic Madonna vocals with throwback house piano (provided by Alicia Keys), a gospel choir, Diplo and MNEK production and a backing vocal by Annie that makes your bits tingle in the best way possible.

It’s also a breakup song that pretty much says – ‘Meh. I’ll get over you’ and I’m assuming, has Brahim Zaibat blushing in the way Guy Ritchie must every time he hears the opening banjo on Love Spent.

This song has also done the unthinkable in the UK and got Madonna back on the notoriously ageist Radio 1 playlist (though that may not last).

If Living for Love takes us to church, Devil Pray drags us down to the front pew and makes us want to fuck the pastor it’s so good. It’s an unapologetic throwback to the best vocals of Madonna’s career (American Life) and reeks of bourbon soaked conversations with God. The melody may or may not deliberately reference House of the Rising Sun, but the distorted pitch bending and vocal looping after the chorus make this a solid, contemporary stormer of a song. Halfway to the park on my iPod, I’m regretting that I don’t own a pair of snakeskin boots.

Then this. Ghosttown. Just as you think it can’t get any better musically or vocally, Madge takes us to a post apocalyptic frenzy with one of the finest power ballads of her career. Think Live to Tell meets Wrecking Ball and you’re halfway there. It’s no surprise that the co-writers’ of this track’s credits include Leona Lewis, Rihanna and Beyonce. If this isn’t the song to give Madonna her biggest radio hit of the decade, then I’ll eat my own balls.


For months now, Madonna has been using #UnapologeticBitch on Instagram, and by default her other social media channels fed by her postings; so there’s a lot of expectation for this track to be good. Lyrically, it’s a sharp edged message to one of her younger, less affluent exes. Vocally there are moments that let you know she’s listening to a lot of Nicki Minaj – a past collaborator from MDNA (I Don’t Give a Fuck and Gimme All Your Lovin’) and a guest on a latter track from this set.

Musically it’s a hot mess of Dance Hall/Reggae inspired beats that could be lifted off of any 15 year old stoners ‘first foray into Reggae compilation mix-tape’. Remarkable it is not, but such is the pressure on Madonna’s cultural barometer, I would not be remotely surprised to see dreadlocks enjoying a renaissance in Soho by summer.

Illuminati on the other hand can only be described as this collections earworm. It’s got a strong hook and daft lyrics that make it immensely memorable. It also makes me need to part with my strong hatred of everything Kanye for a moment as he’s the co-producer of these wonderful few minutes, where our lady name checks everyone from Rihanna to Queen Elizabeth to a bass-line dirtier than your mother.

Now for the big one. I’ve been waiting for this track for about six months now. Bitch I’m Madonna (featuring Nicki Minaj) sounds nothing like I could ever have imagined. It’s easier to think of Beyonce in a desert dressed like Tina Turner in Mad Max than come up with a visual storyboard of how this song will play out on music channels.

It reeks of Run The World (Girls) except Madonna’s not willing to hand the mantel over to half the global population. It’s ALL about her. How she parties hard. How her neighbours call the cops because she parties hard. How she goes hard or she goes home. It’s a far cry from the Sanskrit yogi with henna tattoos from the 90’s.

Of course it’s hard to take it seriously knowing she’s a macrobiotic fitness freak, but this is without a doubt one of the most joyful party friendly tunes she’s produced in years.

It also has an equally silly guest appearance from Nicki Minaj – clearly reward for and reference to her shout out of ‘there’s only one Queen and that’s Madonna… Bitch!’ in 2012.

All in all, these tracks aren’t without fault; but they are as close to pop gold as anyone else has come this decade. Here’s hoping this really is just a taster, and the other 13 tracks are just as strong.

Have you heard the tracks?  What do you think?  Let us know below. 

Like this?  Then you’ll love this: Unapologetic Bitch: a love letter to Madonna.        


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