A Heartfelt Sensual Rebellion ... Rebel Heart by Madonna

In more than 30 countries, whether you like it or not, or whether you know it or not, Madonna is a household name, just like Glade air fresheners or Campbell canned soups. 

Never had I been to any record store that does not stock her albums, be it the debut self-titled record to the MDNA. 

In a way, Madonna — her music, her style and her oftentimes tabloid-documented antics — has been part and parcel of the contemporary culture, regardless where we live. 

While it is undeniable that this immaculate lady of pop has the inevitable Midas touch when it comes to spurning radio and chart busting singles, it seems to me that her ability to do so has been waning in the past few years, starting with the release of “Hard Candy”, her final record with her long-time recording company Warner Bros Music. None of the songs really leave everlasting impact or the evergreen appeal like her old body of works does. Think hit songs such as "La Isla Bonita", "Like a Virgin", "Burning Up", "Everybody", "Papa Don’t Preach", "True Blue", "Express Yourself" … the list could go on and on but I know you do get the picture. 

Take her not-so-recent hit “Give Me All Your Luvin’” which featured Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. Although the song may not require heavy servicing thanks to her greater-than-life star power, the impact of the song was rather short lived. 

Yes, you may hear the song blasting on the stereos for the first few months but after a while, the radio stops playing the song and subsequently, it went into a state of oblivion. Even up till the official release of Rebel Heart, none of her songs from the MDNA albums were played on the radios. Yet surprisingly, her old works from True Blue and even Music have received a lot of airplays from local stations such as Mix FM or Light n Easy. 

Now, let’s drill into Rebel Heart. Lyrically, Rebel Heart, her second album with Interscope Records, is a juxtaposition of love, spirituality, motivation, self-admiration and a dash of sex – all are known to be Madonna’s renowned recipe for success. There’s also a subtle political hint in the album, just like her previous release “American Life”. 

Sound-wise, Rebel Heart features a lush and eclectic musical composition with electronic-driven sounds, a result achieved through her collaboration with top-notched music producers cum DJs du jours such as Avicii and Diplo as well as superstars Kanye West and Ryan Tedder as part of the song writing team. 

In this album, Madonna seemed to be pouring out her heart’s content, thus making it a real personal album compared to previous releases. Every song written and sung were from the artist’s genuine point of view. 

Furthermore, almost all songs featured in this album mirrors the unpredictable relationship that she had with men. Of course, it would be fun for us to play “guess who’s the man” when listening to the tracks. 

One can say, “Oh, that guy must be Guy Richie”, the other may opt Jesus Luz as the alluded man but at the end of the day, only Madonna who has the answer to all of our speculations. 

“Living for Love” for example is a strong post-breakup anthem. Probably a favourite among feminists, listening to a snippet of “Living for Love” would take us back to the days of “Like a Prayer”. Even the song itself has strong nuances from the hit 1989 single taken from the album of the same title, such as the use of choir and the sweet backing vocal provided by Annie from London Community Gospel Choir. 

While I have no doubt that “Living for Love” may end up just like “Give Me All Your Luvin” or “Girl Gone Wild” where its airplay lifespan may be short and oblivious, nevertheless, the beauty of the song lies in the delivery of a strong general message: Despite she had endured a bad relationship, she refuse to go down and she will continue to soldier on.  

On the other hand, “Heartbreak City”, which also revolves around one of her bad relationships, talks about the price she had paid for love and her regret for opening her doors too wide for her lover. In the end, he left her and she had no choice but to clean up the mess that he made. 

The second track “Devil Pray” has a strong allusion to her catholic childhood. Apart from that, there’s also a possibility that Madonna and the songwriters may have derived their inspiration from the age-old legend of Stingy Jack, a mythical character from Irish folklore who is also associated with Halloween’s Jack-o-lanterns. Legend has it that instead of being fooled by the devil, Jack fooled the devil and made the devil spared his soul for another 10 years. Perhaps, the sparing of his soul can be equaled to forcing the devil to pray. 

In “Ghosttown”, the singer puts herself in the shoes of her lover. Like a clairvoyant, she sensed that her relationship may come to an end soon but she is determined and very well-assured that their relationship will stay strong. 

Even the title itself speaks of a great metaphor, where no matter what will happen; even if the entire world decided to abandon the planet, Madonna and her lover will stay together, as if they were about to live their lives in a ghost town. Similar ideas also applied to the track “Hold Tight”.  

While tracks such as “Unapologetic Bitch”, “Bitch I’m Madonna” and “Iconic” are inevitable exhibits of her strength, listeners could sense her mortal obscurities and her desire for true love as a woman in tracks such as “Joan of Arc”, “Inside Out” and “Wash All over Me”. Now listen carefully to “Unapologetic Bitch” and you may find a faint similarity to Rihanna’s “Pour It Up”, especially on the way Madonna sang the first few verses. 

In “Illuminati”, Madonna tried to set the record straight with her listeners that Illuminati is not as what the media had spoon fed them all these years – a mysterious cult or movement involving various symbols and alleged personalities, including the diva herself. 

Instead, she pictured the Illuminati as a group of glamorous people that glitters. In a way, thanks to Madonna’s perspective, Illuminati has gotten themselves a positively polished image.  

As usual, Madonna unleashes her overt sex vixen persona in tracks such as “Holy Water” and “Body Shop”. In the former, she pictures herself as a one-stop shop that could fulfill any man’s pleasure and her kisses taste like holy water.

Although without any qualm that the song may get into trouble with Vatican should it be serviced as a single, nonetheless it is a song that makes the essential crux of Rebel Heart – a forbidden concoction of merits and mortal sins.

Overall, Rebel Heart exhibited great improvement, both musically and lyrically. Compared to her previous efforts such as "Confessions on a Dancefloor", "Hard Candy" and "MDNA", Rebel Heart to me is a semi-serious album that was wholeheartedly produced from her mind and her heart. 

You could immediately feel the profoundness of its soul the moment you listen to its first track “Living for Love”. 

There is so many layers of emotional facet within this album because the voice that you are about to listen to is not a voice that lives up the character that dwells in the plot of the songs. 

Rather, it is the voice of a real woman who bleeds when she’s cut. And to unveil it, all you have to do is take your time and listen to it. 

*Photos taken from various Internet sources. 

Rebel Heart is available now at all record stores, online retailers and iTunes. In Malaysia, the album is distributed by Universal Music and available in two formats – Deluxe Edition and Super Deluxe Edition.


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