Album Review

Madonna, ‘Rebel Heart’: Track-By-Track (Part Two)

Rebel Heart

The last time we left off with Queen Of Everything Madonna‘s 13th studio album Rebel Heart, the record had only leaked in full once, and Snapchat and Grindr were still only being used for nudes…and “networking.”

My, how much has changed.

By now, we’ve all watched Matadonna’s spectacular, rose-colored return among sexy minotaurs on Snapchat (and then on YouTube, like normal people) in “Living For Love,” stared in awe as she extreme back-bended her way up toward the heavens on the stage of the Grammy Awards and signed up for Grindr in hopes of some NSA discreet fun with Madge.

There are now three more songs from Rebel Heart to enjoy, officially. (You know, in case you didn’t hear it in demo form or semi-finished form already.)

Like the last Rebel Heart track-by-track, let’s take this one song at a time.

“Hold Tight”

If ever there were ever a pop star who could speak to perseverance with any kind of authority, it’s Madonna. “Hold Tight” is a simple, powerful statement of romantic determination, crafted alongside MoZella and “The Rhythm” maker MNEK. “A million miles later, we walk through the valley of the darkest night/We made it through the fire/Scarred and bruised, but our hearts will guide us,” she assures. The production on this track is superb — it feels modern without being “current,” filled with pounding drums and thunderous, tribal-like beat drops. “Everything’s gonna…Woooosh! In a way, it’s like a faster cousin to Coldplay‘s epic “Princess Of China.” The dramatic, us-against-the-world bridge is especially gorgeous: “I don’t want to breathe air that you’re not breathing/I don’t want to hear if your heart’s not beating/If you hurt then I wanna be the one that’s bleeding…” It’s already one of the finest moments on Rebel Heart.

“Joan Of Arc”

If you took a listen (or ten) to the Rebel Heart demos, you’ll already know that “Joan Of Arc” was given a makeover. It’s now a richer, more propulsive production than the somber and slower first take, which has caused some grumbling among fans. (What doesn’t?) That being said, the emotional tone of the track hasn’t been lost: The fact is, “Joan Of Arc” is possibly Madonna’s best ballad since “Miles Away” (which is only sort of a ballad, for that matter) — or really since the Music or Ray Of Light era. There’s a sting of vulnerability throughout the melodic, guitar-led tune that cuts extra deep: “I don’t want to talk about it right now, just hold me while I cry my eyes out/I’m not Joan of Arc, not yet…” Madge might be in an #UnapologeticBitch most of the time, but there’s something refreshingly real when she drops the hashtags and simply allows herself to be…human. “Each time they write a hateful word, dragging my soul into the dirt, I wanna die/Never admit it but it hurts.” Gulp.

“Iconic (feat. Chance The Rapper & Mike Tyson)”

Let’s get this out of the way: The Mike Tyson feature isn’t a rap, thank God. He’s actually Madge’s hypeman, delivering a brag-filled ramble about being the best above the roar of a cheering crowd. And it works! Well. The usage of Tyson is no doubt troubling given his track record, but it works in the context of his career as a boxing legend — I’ll just leave it at that. The blood, sweat and tears perseverance anthem is all sorts of classic Madge: Work hard and shine your light like a beautiful (lucky) star! She’s no stranger to using boxing to illustrate her point, either. (See also: The Hard Candy visual campaign.) Along the way, she channels Muhammad Ali (“standing in the wings, a butterfly that stings“) and delivers echoing nuggets of encouragement (“I can’t, icon, two letters apart“) above marching drums and booming bass, resulting in a confidence-boosting compliment to a grueling gym workout. The ominous beat drops are certainly more ‘on-trend’ than, say, “Hold Tight,” but the song still feels (mostly) fresh and strange, as opposed to the late-to-the-party dubstep/EDM excursion on MDNA. Later on, Chance The Rapper comes in and fits a surprising amount of food for thought into a quick verse about idolatry. It’s a thrilling, weird and semi-embarrassing-yet-ultimately-empowering centerpiece of Rebel Heart that feels as bold as a song called “Iconic” by Madonna should. Only Madonna would.

More to come when the album drops, officially, in March.

‘Rebel Heart’ will be released on March 10. (iTunes)