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Philippine Star‘s resident music critic Baby Gil takes on Madonna‘s Rebel Heart:

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“Very powerful. I cannot think of another female pop artist who can mix fun rhythms with rhythms with strong messages as well as she does. This is truly the Queen of Pop in action.”

I checked and found out that it has not really been that long since Madonna last released an album. MDNA came out late in 2012 while her latest Rebel Heart was released just last March. In fact, the interval between the studio albums MDNA and Hard Candy from 2008 was even longer. Four years. So, why did it feel like Rebel Heart was the most awaited Madonna album to come after a long, long time?

I can think of a few reasons. For one, we are now dealing with an older Madonna. Her fans and I am sure, also her non-fans were curious to find out if the now 57-year-old Material Girl still has what it takes to come up with an album that would break barriers, cause controversies, generate fun and sell millions of copies. She is now, after all, also coming up against a new generation of supposed pop divas. So, they were all awaiting Rebel Heart with bated breath.

Then there was that leak, which should have been a pop artist’s worst nightmare. If I remember right, at least eight cuts from the new album were leaked to the Internet. Something like that can affect sales in a big way. Instead of being beside herself with grief, Madonna took that in stride and released a few tracks herself, telling her fans in the process that these ones are legit. And then there was that awful fall during the Brits awards, while millions watched. But which as she said, thanks to her workouts, she survived unscathed.

Well, if Madonna’s body is in such tiptop shape and able to breeze through dangerous accidents, then I say that her music chops are also in excellent form and made Rebel Heart so worth looking forward to. Truth to tell, I did not think it would happen at this late stage of her career, but Madonna has made an album that is so much better than any she has done before. Rebel Heart, while torn between contrasting emotions, is a cohesive whole about the person that Madonna is. Music-wise, it is a compelling mix of the old and the new, and an interesting collage of various rhythms that Madonna seems to have decided to simply get into.

She is, as always, fearless. No resting on withered laurels for this girl. She gives her listeners everything. Rebel Heart has electro-pop, house, club, reggae, ska, dubstep, even gospel choirs thumping through a most generous helping of 19 new songs. She co-wrote them all. And she has enlisted some of the biggest producers around today to put the package together. Check out the credits and you will find names like Kanye West, Avicii, Mike Dean, Diplo, Dahi, Carl Faulk and Charlie Heat. Why, she even has Nicki Minaj singing along and boxing champ Mike Tyson providing sound bites.

But while the infusion of these popular music figures brings her music up to date, the Madonna of old is also well-represented. This is mostly in the religious references in her lyrics, rendered more dramatic by her singing, which she does now in the lower registers. The effect is quite authoritative. Very powerful. I cannot think of another female pop artist who can mix fun rhythms with rhythms with strong messages as well as she does. This is truly the Queen of Pop in action.

The title of the album is also very well chosen. It says that Madonna is a rebel who listens to her heart. She has always been a rebel, constantly pushing the envelope and initiating changes that have over the years kept popular music fresh. But she is also all-heart, writing and believing in songs that speak of hope in the darkest times. Remember Like A Prayer, Express Yourself, Vogue, Papa Don’t Preach? They sound deceptively fun but strip the lyrics of the music and you will find incisive social commentary and inspired messages.

The pounding first single, Living For Love sets the tone. It makes for a majestic entrance. From there Madonna goes into Devil Pray, where she tackles hallucinatory experiences and then segues into the sad, but hopeful ballad and second single Ghosttown. The album pretty much stays within these parameters, dance floor, Illuminati, to ballads, Joan Of Arc, and dance floor again, Iconic. It is a tightrope act, but Madonna sustains her grip smoothly throughout doubtless because she anchors the whole collection on her being the great Madonna. Being that licenses her to do anything and be everything.

Rebel Heart also includes Unapologetic Bitch, Bitch I’m Madonna, Hold Tight, HeartBreakCity, Body Shop, Holy Water, Inside Out, Wash All Over Me, Best Night, Veni Vidi Vici, S.E.X., Messiah and Rebel Heart.


* thanks to CMP member Jo Nadz for the heads up

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