Madonna always seems to battle between the mass and the personal. Almost four decades on the charts will surely make anyone mindful of chart performance but much of Madonna’s best work comes when her individual rebellious streak permeates the music or when she can marry the mass and the personal together. Madame X, her 14th album brings forth that individual rebelliousness and plasters it over the 15 tracks, giving us her most absurd body of work to date.
Many of the tracks here take ideas of mass pop song-craft and continue to subvert your expectations throughout, never happy to stay in one idea for too long. ‘God Control’, starts as a mumbled ballad about gun control, sung like the album cover with her lips sewn together, but soon becomes a disco banger that sonically wouldn’t be out of place on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and yet lyrically flits between political statements and how Madonna doesn’t “smoke that dope”. Even more straightforward offerings like lead single ‘Medellin’ with Maluma give the current sound of Latin pop and reggaeton a spikier edge.
This album is also Madonna at her most political since 2003’s American Life, to which this album almost feels like a sequel to. From women fighting against oppression in ‘Batuka’ to the sample of Emma Gonzales’s infamous we call BS speech used in ‘I Rise’, Madonna’s contempt for the political climate we currently find ourselves in is obvious. The politics can be misplaced though if always well meaning. ‘Killers Who Are Partying’ is her aligning herself with oppressed groups in society, but lyrics such as “I’ll be Israel, if they’re incarcerated, I’ll be Native Indian, if the Indian has been taken” is poorly worded at best, thankfully stellar woozy production on the track makes it a slightly easier pill to swallow.
There is some room for normality, despite the risks and the politics that define this album and these moments shine brighter given their stringent use on the tracklisting. ‘Crazy’ is a well-crafted, latin-infused pop song with a slow burning but catchy hook and ‘I Don’t Search, I Find’ is the closest we get to a straight up Madonna dancefloor banger, harkening back to the disco/dance pop of Confessions.
Madonna throws a lot at the wall with this record and much of it sticks with interesting ideas and creative production that is often well executed. It’s refreshing to see one of pop’s biggest risk-takers take one of her biggest risks in her career and it makes for one of the most daring albums you’ll hear all year.
Madame X is out now via Interscope Records.