I usually don’t do this, but in preparation for this album’s review I checked out the Critical Reception section on its Wikipedia entry. And I actually kept doing that, going backwards through Madonna’s discography for a decade or so. And what I found is that every album Madonna releases post-fame-apex is “generally well-received by critics.” And every time those critics say it’s Madonna’s strong return to form after a couple of clunkers and that she’s hearkening back to her early hits and blah blah blah it’s literally the same damned section with every single album.
This time, though, one critic noted that Madonna “doesn’t sound desperate” anymore. And that’s where I’m like, whoa, no, you’re wrong, she sounds super desperate here. Just beyond the gratuitous and ridiculously conspicuous drug and sexual references, you’ve got modern hip-hop era boasting that, while it may fit a young rapper trying to make it in a tough industry on mostly just their rhymes (though I find it off-putting in those situations, too, but I’m old), does not become the greatest pop star of a generation. The most egregious example of this is “Bitch I’m Madonna” (which they actually rhyme really nicely with a taunt-y “Na na na na na”), and you can probably pretty much guess how that song goes, with Madonna and her girlfriends out on the town “makin’ all the ho’s know.” And then, two songs later, you’ve got “Joan Of Arc,” where Madonna takes on the martyr’s role while simultaneously explicitly saying she’s not…says she dies every time you take a picture of her…just two songs after she was “Bitch I’m Madonna” now she can’t take your criticism. FFS.
But, like I always do, Fat Clown has soldiered through to tell you what nobody else can, or nobody else is willing to do. I’m here to tell you what this album really is: a pretty-good grower.
Here’s the deal. You have to accept that Madonna is simultaneously a past greatest pop star, a current talented musician, and always somebody who deeply needs to be relevant in a very now way. And so once you get past the “notice me notice me” bits (and, hey, those have always been there, to be fair) and the ridiculous boasting, you get a handful of legitimately good songs, a handful of harmless filler, and then about half of it is the crap you’re trying to get past.
Like the featuring of Mike Tyson on a song where he screams that he’s never gonna fall again and if he does he’s gonna come back because he’s the greatest ever and how the hell did Mike Tyson get this role? (Consider these lyrics from “Iconic”: “I can/Icon/Two letters apart”…how are those two letters apart? Seems like one to me.) Or take “Holy Water” (please) where it’s her pussy juice that’s the holy water and you’re supposed to bless yourself and genuflect and (it means eat her pussy DO YOU GET IT?!? because if not she comes back with “Yeezus loves my pussy best” FFFS [sic]). Or “Body Shop,” where she makes Bruce Springsteen’s worst sex-as-car-as-sex analogies look like fucking Walt Whitman. (“I heard a bump and then a knock/Ah ah/You work at a body shop/You can keep it overnight/You can do whatever you like/…/You can polish the headlights/You can smooth out the fender”…I think she even mentions a fucking gasket at some point). For some reason that song makes me think of like a mash-up of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” video and Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” video but A-Rod is the mechanic and Madonna is, natch, the lusty customer.
Lyrically this feels like it was written by a seventh grader. Most of it’s just stupid (see “Iconic” and “Body Shop” above), but often times it just doesn’t make sense. “Unapologetic Bitch” is a breakup song a la “I Will Survive,” which is fine, and I can see how all the nasty things you’re saying about your ex might make you a b-word, but where does the “unapologetic” come from…I mean, you kind of have to have something you’re supposed to apologize for and, that’s just not presented anywhere. Then there’s “Illuminati” which name drops a bunch of celebrities and says “everybody shining like Illuminati,” so it’s like she’s playing with “illuminate,” but then she also mixes in bits about an all-seeing eye like she really is talking about the Illuminati and IT MAKES NO SENSE.
So, anyway, I can listen to this and only really cringe on “Joan Of Arc,” Iconic,” and maybe “Unapologetic Bitch” and “Holy Water” if I’m listening to the lyrics. But look, there are four hate tracks, all in the fourteen tracks on the standard album (I’m reviewing the deluxe version with five bonus tracks, too). I hardly ever hate songs and I hate four of these. I just can’t justify this collection’s existence, despite its somewhat redeeming qualities.
Mix: “Living For Love”
Like: “Devil Pray,” “Ghosttown,” “Bitch I’m Madonna,” “Inside Out,” “Best Night”
Meh: “Hold Tight,” “HeartBreak City,” “Holy Water,” “Wash All Over Me,” “Veni Vidi Vici,” “S.E.X.,” “Messiah”
Dislike: “Body Shop,” “Rebel Heart”
Hate: “Unapologetic Bitch,” “Illuminati,” “Joan Of Arc,” “Iconic”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading