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
- Living For Love – putting this as Mix might be a stretch, but it is very good, and if I wanted to show somebody what Madonna was doing in 2015 that was worth listening to, it’s kind of the beginning and end of that. Easily the best song on the album. There’s a sampled male voice on here that sounds familiar but I can’t place it.
- Devil Pray – I can’t tell what this is about, but, in what is a harbinger of things to come, this is actually a pretty good song once you get past the weird incongruity of Madonna trying to be cool by dropping a ton of drug names.
- Ghosttown – Autotune done well.
- Unapologetic Bitch – Three good songs to lead things off and then straight in the crapper, with, not the worst song on the album, but one that’s super emblematic of some of the album’s worst qualities.This is dumb. It made me want to make a dumb rating. Cuz it’s kinda hard to hate on dumb, but, no, this song helped me find the ability to do just that.
- Illuminiati – Also super dumb. Lyrics make no sense.
- Bitch I’m Madonna – No, no, no, Sister. The whole point about you being Madonna is that you don’t even have to say it. You’re just. Fucking. Madonna. That’s awesome enough. You don’t have to boast about it.
- Hold Tight – kinda the definition of meh. Don’t think I could hum it if I weren’t listening to it.
- Joan Of Arc – eye-rollingly pathetic
- Iconic – ridic. Mike Tyson.
- HeartBreak City –
- Body Shop – dumb. for some reason makes me think of A-Rod.
- Holy Water – FFS. “Bitch get off my pole.” Great beat. Stupid orgasm sound effects. Goes into “Vogue.”
- Inside Out – the peaking works here because it’s not everywhere. Too long, which almost keeps it from being like.
- Wash All Over Me – the last song on the standard release
- Best Night –
- Veni Vidi Vici – “Here are the names of all of my hits.” Also how is it a surprise to her when she made the news? Oh gee what a naif Madonna was.
- S.E.X. – ridiculous orgasm sounds. two songs of that?
- Messiah –
- Rebel Heart –