Madonna releasing a new record is always an event. No pop star on the planet causes the kind of commotion that the Queen of Pop does when she announces a new project. With 13 albums under her belt so far, Madonna still knows how to grab the spotlight and her 14th studio album Madame X has been receiving plenty of attention. After throwing everyone off guard with the Latin rhythms of lead single Medellín featuring Colombian superstar Maluma, Madonna has thrown her weight behind this album in a way that we haven’t seen her do in quite some time.
Named Madame X due to a nickname she was given when she was younger, the album was inspired by living in Lisbon. Ahead of its release Madonna has released five tracks from the record, each one sounding completely different from the last. The hip-hop influenced Crave featuring Swae Lee, the Jamaican dancehall groove of Future featuring Quavo, the powerful anthem I Rise and the bonkers Dark Ballet suggested that the Latin feel of Medellín wasn’t going to be the driving sound of the album. Now Madame X is here in its entirety, it’s clear that Madonna has made a record she’s passionate about and created a collection of songs that strive for creative fulfilment rather than commercial success.
For much of the record Madonna has worked with her American Life collaborator Mirwais and Madame X certainly has plenty in common with that album. She’s also worked with Diplo, Billboard, Jason Evigan and Mike Dean. Across the record Madonna tackles a variety of themes including equality, politics, loneliness and sex. In many ways this is her boldest album in quite some time, probably since American Life, and stylistically it jumps all over the place.
Once the breezy summer jam Medellín is done, it’s time for the album’s craziest track Dark Ballet, previously known as Beautiful Game. The song starts in a typical Madonna style with plenty of auto-tune and hard-hitting lyrics before sampling The Nutcracker Suite: Dance of the Reed-Flutes and transforming into something completely different. Madonna speaks about love, loneliness and crimes in a bedtime story-like manner before the song returns to the sound it started with.
From that point on, all bets are off on Madame X. God Control begins with more heavy auto-tune before a church chorus kicks in and then unexpectedly the song turns into a 70s disco anthem. Despite some dodgy rapping and lyrics, it’s one of the highlights of the record and at over 6 minutes long, it’s sonically one of the most interesting songs here. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on the record, Madonna throws another curveball on the beat-driven tribal rhythms of Batuka.
Elsewhere on the record Crazy opens with an accordion before fleshing out into a rather nice moment in the middle of the record, Come Alive adds beats to world rhythms giving a different edge to Madonna’s penchant for a dancefloor filler, and I Don’t Search I Find pays more than a little nod to Vogue. Brazilian superstar Anitta appears on the cover of Blaya’s Faz Gostoso and Maluma makes a second appearance on the fun reggaeton influenced Bitch I’m Loca.
Killers Who Are Partying is a song that’s come in for a lot of criticism. It’s true to say that the message is coming from the right place but the lyrics are clunky. The song is one of the weaker songs on the record but at 15 tracks long (if you have the deluxe edition) there’s always going to be a couple of songs that you’re not going to like.
Madame X isn’t the album I was expecting after the release of Medellín but there are plenty of moments that shine brightly on it. The auto-tune is overly heavy at times, which makes it near impossible to hear Madonna’s actual voice but this is a bold body of work that continues to push the envelope. Few performers are as outspoken and honest as Madonna and Madame X sounds like the most energised collection of songs she’s released since 2005’s Confessions on a Dancefloor. With more listens, you’ll find lots to unpack and the album will sink its teeth into you in unexpected ways.
Track list: 1. Medellín (feat Maluma) 2. Dark Ballet 3. God Control 4. Future (feat. Quavo) 5. Batuka 6. Killers Who Are Partying 7. Crave (feat. Swae Lee) 8. Come Alive 9. Extreme Occident 11. Faz Gostoso (feat. Anitta) 12. Bitch I’m Loca (feat. Maluma) 13. I Don’t Search I Find 14. Looking For Mercy 15. I Rise Record label: Interscope / Live Nation / Maverick Release date: 14th June 2019 Buy Madame X