Back in December 2014, the Internet was still repairing itself from the assault of Kim Kardashian’s nude photo shoot when 13 demos in various stages of completion from Madonna’s upcoming thirteenth LP Rebel Heart surfaced. This was met with severe backlash from Madonna herself, who broke an iPod and posted the picture on Instagram likening to situation to terrorism.
Despite the leaks, she insisted some of the tracks would not be used and the ones on the final album would be tweaked. Less than a week later, the floodgates opened, and by January 2015, not only had nearly every single demo from the recording sessions leaked, but so did an unmastered copy of the super deluxe edition.
While she remained quiet about the final batch of leaks, more and more information surfaced about how the record was supposed to be a double disc with one being Rebel and the other Heart. Though the product was not a double disc, the thematic duality of the record coupled with some of Madonna’s most genuine lyrics makes Rebel Heart her most sonically interesting release in the last decade of her 30+ year career.
Instead of focusing on working with a single producer much like her first few albums, the album includes production from Avicii, Diplo, Kanye West, and Ryan Tedder. The album opener “Living For Love” is a deep house cut that features a piano part played by Alicia Keys, background vocals by MNEK and a grandiose bridge. The album juxtaposes the concept of empowerment between a menacing bassline and an unrelenting beat, a common theme repeated throughout the duration of the record.
“Joan of Arc” showcases the vulnerable side of Madonna is a poignantly reflective first verse “Every time they write a hateful word / dragging my soul into the dirt / I wanna die / never admit it but it hurts.” It’s interesting to hear her deconstruct the image that media has constructed for her. My only complaint with the finished track is the seemingly out of place drums that weren’t present in the leaked demo.
“Iconic” and “Veni Vidi Vici (feat. Nas)” are two of the album’s most self-referential songs, the first being a trap track – yes, you read that correctly – with a spoken intro by none other than Mike Tyson and a rap verse by Chance the Rapper. The latter song sees Madonna’s voice somewhere between spoken word and singing as she describes her career by interpolating the titles of her previous singles (I opened up my heart / I learned the power of goodbye / I saw a ray of light / music saved my life) within the verses. If you listen closely you can hear a small “Ray of Light” sample and the horn section from “Holiday” during Nas’ fiery guest verse.
“S.E.X” is an interesting turn in the momentum of the album as it recalls the Erotica era with more spoken word, this time in a laundry list of objects needed for S&M: twisted rope, a leather mask, fish nets and raw meat. It’s a jarring transition before the orchestral “Messiah” but it stands as a testament to how Madonna strives to rebel ageism in the industry.
At 19 songs, the deluxe edition is one of Madonna’s longest albums clocking in at 74 minutes and is certainly one of her most diverse. Grab a listen when the album officially drops tomorrow.