Madonna’s 14th album ‘Madame X’ is her bravest, most interesting and entertaining release in over a decade.
It’s fair to say Madonna’s last two albums, 2012s ‘MDNA’ and 2015s ‘Rebel Heart’ had a lacklustre reception and subsequently have been looked back on in a similarly underwhelming light. ‘Madame X’, Madonna’s 14th Album, on the other hand though has had different, exciting energy surrounding it ever since it was announced. She’s stripped her process back completely, relying on more trusted producers and deciding against a room of writers which seemingly sucked the personality and quirkiness out of her last two records.
‘Madame X’ is a crazy concept record which could have only come from the mind of Madonna, the titular character is a ‘secret agent, changing identities, fighting for freedom’ her guises change from ‘dance teacher to mother, nun, teacher, saint. Whore’. The image and outfits across the artwork take my mind straight to ‘Killing Eves’ Villanelle. The concept despite how clever it is though feels like a lazy attempt to justify the fact the record is a melting pot of ideas, musical styles, collaborations and influences. This is by no means a negative, by blending Latin flamenco, Disco, Trap and Inspirational political pop, Madonna has made her most exciting and interesting album in decades. For once this decade she isn’t following the pack she’s gone back to innovating and leading the charge. This experimentation has been in part down to her recent relocation to Lisbon, initially to help further her sons fledgeling football (or soccer as Madge would say) career but she unexpectedly fell in love with the local music scene and its presence can be strongly felt throughout. Whether it's on seductive opener ‘Medellin’ with Maluma, light pop tune ‘Crazy’ or the fun and flirty ‘Bitch I’m Loca’.
The record is a dense and expansive listen clocking in at 65 minutes and well over 80 on the deluxe version, however this is in Madonna’s benefit due to the constant experimentation and switching of genres it allows each track to have a unique personality with a fair few of the tracks clocking in at over 5 minutes as they merge electronica and progressive pop, transforming and switching tempo at will. The perfect example of this is by far ‘Dark Ballet’ which mixes ‘The Nutcracker’ with inspirational speeches and electronic flourishes. Meanwhile ‘God Control’ is a Chic inspired disco smash that infuses gospel, religion and groove into a punchy political message which will smartly have you hitting the dancefloor to the sounds of a call to arms and protest to restrict America’s 2nd amendment, It’s bonkers and feels like being transported back to Madonna’s club origins. Unfortunately not all the political punches land a knockout blow ‘Killers who are partying’ is tone deaf and borderline insulting, it misjudges the room completely and Madonna comes across incredibly egotistical painting herself as a Mother Theresa like figure, however, it’s only a minor tarnish to the record.
Other highlights of the album include the smooth modern trap song ‘Crave’ featuring Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd whose vocals actually synch and harmonise with Madonnas really well, resulting in a modern, catchy pop song not too dissimilar to Swae’s own track ‘Sunflower’. Other collaborations on the record include Reggae Ska track ‘Future’ with Quavo which comes over more irritating then essential, Maluma makes another appearance on another sultry smash ‘Bitch I’m Loca’. Perhaps the most outright political statement comes in the form of protest anthem ‘I Rise’ which interpolates Parkland School shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez’s speech. There’s a genuine risk of this being a ham-fisted, offensive move but actually, the way Madonna has dealt with the subject of Gun control throughout the album comes from a very sincere and meaningful place.
At such an extended length there, unfortunately, a few filler tracks mixed in a little too much amongst the killer for my liking. ‘Batuka’ and ‘Crazy’ feel generic and fail to stand out, the tracks really needed to have put their own spin on their respective genres to make an impression. A lot of major records these days are front-loaded, it's, in fact, the last three tracks on the record for me that really peaked my interest ‘I Don’t Search I Find’ has a 90s pop flourish that is reminiscent of ‘Ray Of Light’ whilst ‘Looking For Mercy’ feels both tender and grandiose at the same time as it progresses and of course finale track ‘I Rise’ as previously stated hits all the right notes.
I can safely say this is Madonna's most exciting and interesting record in over a decade, it marks a positive creative resurgence for the Queen Of Pop who has no intention of relinquishing her crown.