A mishmash of sounds, themes, computer-altered vocals, and a sense of pseudo-importance. Madame X is trying to be everything, but at the same time not saying very much. An album that wants to bask in glory, but ultimately leaves the listener feeling numb, and quite frankly – bored. Madonna is better than this.
YMR Album Rating: ** (2/5)
Madonna is sometimes forgotten as an artist that has produced many great albums. Attention is normally focussed on her well known hits, sexual politics, her image, and most recently, her age. The latter becoming such an omnipresent staple in both mainstream and social media, that it clearly resembles blatant discrimination.
Her best albums are the ones in where she has pushed herself, and has not sanitised herself into stereotypical contemporary pop norms. Think of Like A Prayer (1989), Erotica (1992), Ray of Light (1998) and Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005) – grand albums in where she has challenged herself musically and lyrically, and has produced works seemingly personal but yet delivered with such conviction and vibrancy. Madonna is a great, and in some cases, an under appreciated albums artist. It is a wonderful experience going through her catalogue and discovering her gems and foibles.
Madonna has also co-penned some wonderful songs, ranging from the heartfelt ‘Rebel Heart’, the empowering ‘Express Yourself’, the loneliness of ‘Bad Girl’, the evocativeness of ‘Oh Father’, the revelation of ‘Secret’, to the tongue-in-cheek ‘Music’ – so many songs that have defined her artistry, and have propelled her as one of the world’s biggest artists. Madonna exudes confidence, but also shows her vulnerable side – and after the unfortunate hacking of Rebel Heart (where it was released earlier than anticipated), she has now delivered Madame X – studio album number 14 – the next chapter in her fruitful career. Any album released by Madonna is a big release – and deserves to be scrutinised and absorbed as a major piece of work.
Madame X has Madonna singing in Portuguese, Spanish and English. Musically the album is a melting pot of various musical styles and samples, including disco, reggaeton, Latin pop, fado, Indian music, African drumming, classical morphed into electronica, gospel choirs (reminiscent of her song ‘Like A Prayer’) – songs that stop and start, and in some cases taking tangental and disparate directions. There seems to be a lot of calculation in the tracks, almost laboured to an ill-focused mire. However, there are a few tracks where Madonna seems to be organically authentic.
Madame X features Quavo, Swae Lee, Maluma, Anitta – where Madonna is again collaborating with the “up and coming/emerging” contemporary artists as she had done with her recent batch of albums. However, their contributions don’t sound convincing, as if their hearts weren’t in it. A sense of sterility, as opposed to real emotion – featuring like “rent-a-voices”.
Madonna indicates that : “Madame X is a dancer. A professor. A head of state. A housekeeper. An equestrian. A prisoner. A student. A mother. A child. A teacher. A nun. A singer. A saint. A whore. A spy in the house of love. I’m Madame X” – in some ways, Madonna has seemingly modelled herself as the muse on this album – which might sound narcissistic but is appropriate, as she is definitely an inspiration. However, the conceptuality of the songs either seem to be ill-conceived, not successful or in some cases include daft lyrics such as “Sipping my pain just like champagne” on ‘Medellín’ – Madonna has tried to fuse the lyrics with political statements and social observations – but again, it seems all a bit incoherent and well….disparate. Akin to fusing together statements that sound poignant, but essentially are just statements coupled together for “statement” sake.
‘Dark Ballet’ – a paean of some sort to Joan of Arc – it starts off well, but then it sort of gets lost with computer-altered and indecipherable lyrics. Admittedly there are some beautiful keyboard motifs in the song, but again, there seems to be a lot of forethought to make the album sound ‘experimental’. ‘Future’ is credited to five songwriters, but well, it’s all a bit trite. ‘Batuka’ contains African drumming, and is seemingly a comment about Trump with the lyric “I said a little prayer/Get that old man/Put him in a jail” – I think artists during times of inequity and bigotry can make change through their music – music matters, and it can inspire movements and drive people to make change – but this song is just awful.
The theme of ‘Killers Who Are Partying’ focuses on the devastation of hate and inequity – “I will be gay, if the gay are burned/I’ll be Africa, if Africa is shut down/I will be poor, if the poor are humiliated/And I’ll be a child, if the children are exploited” – the simplicity of this song is its strength, and it is probably one of the highlights of the album – where she has encapsulated the song with Portuguese influences. Similarly ‘Extreme Occident’ is also effective – seemingly autobiographical – “No, I wasn’t lost/It was a different feeling/A mix of lucidity and craziness“, an almost existential reverie about life and about being Madonna (perhaps an ‘American Life’ Part 2?).
Madonna is an amazing artist/entertainer and she seems to have had a flurry of creativity – however, despite its calculated broad ambition Madame X misses the mark. Layers and layers of disparity with an album that promises a lot, but fails in the execution.
Madame X comes in a standard and deluxe version of the album and exclusive album bundles with limited edition merchandise are now available direct from https://www.madonna.com.