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Madonna throws away pop identity, dignity on ‘Rebel Heart’

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Madonna throws away pop identity, dignity on ‘Rebel Heart’

By Stephanie Roman / Staff Writer

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Rebel Heart

Grade: D+

It might be difficult to imagine how 56-year-old Madonna could reach a lower low than her Super Bowl halftime show supported by the laughably condemned LMFAO, but perhaps her prolonged musical career made such a case inevitable. Rebel Heart, Madonna’s 13th full-length album, hits that unlucky number in too many unfortunate ways.

An artist that somehow still floats around in the wake of new female pop icons (Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, etc.), Madonna’s record seeks to steal everything hot in the industry and then proceeds to butcher it. Not much about Rebel Heart evidences rebelliousness — or even a twinge of heart.

The effort starts off with “Living for Love,” a politely blasé, repetitive and tonally undifferentiated textbook pop song. The following few tracks lack all distinctive features too, as Madonna’s monotone, unconvincing and exhausted-sounding voice merely covers up the poorly-constructed synthesizers and simulated drum kit. 

Both “B*tch I’m Madonna” and “Unapologetic B*tch” evince painful reactions — Madonna really should consider apologizing for the reggae and dubstep she scrambles into “Unapologetic B*tch,” then follow that with a second apology for the faux saxophone and police sirens overlaying “B*tch I’m Madonna,” which actually resembles flatulence more so than fantasia.

Nicki Minaj, famed rapper and wacked-out cultural figure known for her sexually explicit lyrics and crazy regalia, drops in for a brief verse to help remind Madonna who she is on “B*tch I’m Madonna” (Nicki raps “It’s that go hard or go home zone, b*tch/ I’m Madonna, these hoes know”). Some critics have a tendency to compare Madonna to the “artpop” of Lady Gaga, but Minaj might be a more fitting analog, as Gaga’s “Sound of Music” tribute at the Oscars this year showcases real sensibility and talent, rather than mediocrity masked by an elaborate wardrobe.

Situated between these gems is the unintentionally campy “Illuminati,” which serves as a primer on all of the figures whom society suspects are Illuminati agents (“It’s not Jay Z and Beyoncé/ It’s not Nicki or Lil Wayne/ It’s not Oprah and Obama, the Pope and Rihanna/ Queen Elizabeth or Kanye”). Overprocessed with autotune, Madonna answers, “The All-Seeing Eye is watching tonight/ That’s what it is, truth and the light.” It appears “Illuminati” intends to educate listeners on the elusive society, but its straight-faced seriousness ironically belies its joke.

Even more ridiculous than the Illuminati and Nicki Minaj is Madonna’s “Iconic,” featuring Mike Tyson — yes, the boxer Mike Tyson. Tyson opens the egregiously synthetic electronica with some ad-libbed lines, “I’m the best the world has ever seen/ The best ever/ I’m somebody you’ll never forget.” The whole song cries for recognition for the fading stars, but auspiciously features the considerably less iconic voice of 21-year-old Chance the Rapper, who smoothly charges in and seizes control from Madonna and Tyson to salvage the track.

But Rebel Heart isn’t a totally desolate waste. Tucked away at the very end of the album are its two most palatable tracks: “Inside Out,” the first and only catchy and sing-songy pop movement, and “Wash All Over Me,” a slow, sweet ballad that reminds everybody that Madonna does still possess some capacity to sing. Of course, these tracks close out what seems like a monstrously long marathon of 14 songs — and if that’s not enough, the deluxe version comes with an additional five songs, four of which you’ll want to skip. Although the titular “Rebel Heart” merits a listen, it comes insanely far too late on the deluxe version to redeem the album.

Madonna’s latest venture borrows too much from modern music and then unsurreptitiously blends it into an ungainly, bland paste she slathers end to end. A disjointed, directionless and ineffective pastiche of genres, the diva forgets that her wordsmithery is part of what made her a tour de force in the 1980s. Now, her writing’s punctuated with excess and aggrandizement, like this masterpiece from “Holy Water”: “B*tch get off my pole, b*tch get off my pole/ You can’t buy this at no luxury store.”

The luxury store won’t take it, and someone should tell her that MTV doesn’t buy this stuff anymore, either.

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Madonna throws away pop identity, dignity on ‘Rebel Heart’