Madonna disappoints with the messy ‘Rebel Heart’

Self-sacrifice: Madonna forgot the hooks for Rebel Heart.

Two stars

Madonna Rebel Heart

Back in December, Madonna responded to online leaks of demos for Rebel Heart by rush-releasing six songs from the album, a move that ran counter to the typically meticulous marketing and planning that goes into everything she does. Now that the entire album (19 songs on the deluxe edition) is out, that sense of hurried desperation hasn’t gone away—it only intensifies listening to this sprawling, chaotic mess of an album, the singer’s worst since 2003’s American Life.

Like American Life, Rebel Heart is consumed with Madonna’s own image, whether it’s bragging about how hard she parties (“Bitch I’m Madonna”), rehashing her career (“Veni Vidi Vici,” with lyrics that incorporate past Madonna song titles) or advertising her sexual prowess (“Holy Water,” with awkward lyrics about oral sex that recall cringe-inducing Erotica track “Where Life Begins,” including the deeply unfortunate line “Yeezus loves my pussy best”). Self-reflection and self-aggrandizement have always gone hand in hand with Madonna, and on classic songs like “Human Nature,” she’s managed to smartly combine both. But Rebel Heart is full of empty, clumsy braggadocio; at times, Madonna is reduced to just listing things that sound edgy or trendy, like celebrities (“Illuminati”), drugs (“Devil Pray”) or sex paraphernalia (“S.E.X.”).

Even when her lyrics have been lacking, Madonna has usually been great at crafting pop melodies (or recruiting collaborators who can), but Rebel Heart is shockingly devoid of memorable hooks. All that the 23 songwriters and 14 producers manage to do is clutter up the sound, lurching from grating, repetitive beats to cloying synths.

Rebel Heart closes with the title track, a lovely and understated look back at Madonna’s life and career, which starts out quiet and guitar-driven and builds to a lush, anthemic finale. In just over three minutes, it accomplishes what the rest of the album fails to in 74.

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