Release Year: 2015
Madonna’s had a lot of hardship with this album with it being leaked and her overreacting a bit on social media. But now it’s finally here and it’s pretty damn good. It’s still not the best of her later career, but it’s a huge improvement from her 2012 album MDNA. You’ll find all bits of Madonna here: classic Madonna, cocky Madonna, dance queen Madonna, even vulnerable Madonna. There are some tracks that just don’t flat out work, but somehow she manages to make the weak ones sound good.
The album opens with the stellar track “Living for Love.” This is the Madonna fans have been waiting for since 2008. Though she’s had two more albums since then, there were few songs from them that you would call Madonna classics. This new single is definitely one of them. It has everything a great Madonna song should have mainly because its dance centric, which is what she excels at. It’s memorable, fun, upbeat, and has an uplifting message about pulling yourself through the hard times and letting love in your life. With the positive theme and the back-up singers having a somewhat gospel feel the track may remind you of “Like a Prayer,” which could be part of the reason why it’s so good. It’s the best track on the album and one of the strongest of her career.
From there the record continues on a strong path. “Devil Pray” sounds haunted and slightly Western with the music and vocal style. Even though there’s sensual music during the chorus that makes you want to wiggle your hips, the whole thing comes off as bleak, especially when Madonna sings “I’ve been swimming in the ocean/Till I’m almost drowned/Give me something I can believe in/Teach me how to pray.” The track “Ghosttown” isn’t the strongest song about the society coming to an end, but it grows on you after a while. Madonna goes with a ska/reggae style on “Unapologetic Bitch.” It sounds like a terrible idea, but it works better than it should. Her vocals flow with the quick tempo and she remains tongue in cheek throughout the whole thing.
Things start to get a little iffy on “Illuminati,” which pokes fun at the conspiracy that believes several celebrities are involved. The way she comes off as cold and robotic paired with the dull almost ridiculous chorus of “Everybody in this party/shining like Illuminati” turns you off, but the upbeat synthpop music is so irresistible it’s hard to hate it. “Bitch I’m Madonna” sounds like she’s trying way too hard to be bad ass when she doesn’t have to try at all. There isn’t a catchy or memorable hook, but again the music is what grabs you. It returns to the dubstep she exploited on her previous album, but it’s upbeat, fun, and makes you want to shake your rump. “Iconic” is just confusing. It begins with an unnecessary speech from Mike Tyson saying how great he is and then finds Madonna singing about herself as an icon. But nothing about the track is that memorable. The best part of the track is the lyric “I-can, I-con/ two letters apart” just because it’s interesting wordplay. The song is kind of flat in terms of music and lyrics. Chance the Rapper couldn’t even make it with a weak rap that includes a line about Madonna reminding him of Michael Jackson, which is so wrong on many levels.
From here the songs become forgettable. “Bodyshop” uses a mechanic motif to describe sex, which is unappealing in so many ways. What’s even worse the music is light, almost fluffy, which doesn’t match the vibe of the record.“Holy Water” talks about the joys of oral sex and actually isn’t that bad, but the metaphor is awkward and lyric “Yeezus loves my pussy best” is just wrong. She’s had way better and clever songs about sex. The best part here is a short reference to “Vogue,” which almost feels out of place. “Joan of Arc” finds the singer talking about how she’s human after all and sometimes the words do hurt her. It’s an interesting track, but comparing herself to Joan of Arc may be overdoing it a little bit. By the time you reach the closing track “Wash All Over Me” you’re just uninterested. The song itself isn’t terrible as it deals with change, heartbreaks, and accepting it all, but you kind of tune it out hearing the previous mediocre tracks. It’s one of those songs you have to give another chance to in order to appreciate it.
The super deluxe version of the album features bonus tracks, but just about all of them are filler. There isn’t one that’s worth your time or makes you think it’s as good as anything on the album. There are more cringe worthy songs about sex in the form of “S.E.X.” and “Best Night” and even though “Veni Vidi Vici” features cool references to her past hit singles it’s still kind of dull. The worse is “Autotune Baby,” which is exactly what it sounds like. It takes a crying baby and autotunes it for the basis of the music. While listening to it your only thought is why is this happening. For most of these bonus tracks, Madonna would’ve been better off keeping them hidden.
Overall, the album gets 7.5/10. It’s definitely an improvement from her last release, but it’s still full of flaws. There are some amazing songs here that finds Madonna in her element, but there are others that are awkward, ridiculous, or just weak. Perhaps the problem is length. If she would’ve stopped at ten tracks, she would’ve had a good album with a few questionable songs. Instead, she has a decent album with some great songs, some decent ones, and a bit of filler. I do applaud her for experimentation. If the album tells you anything is Madonna knows how to stay relevant, which is better than hearing her repeat previous career moves all the time.