We wouldn’t necessarily expect the Queen of Pop (and shock) to grow old gracefully but her recent half-hearted gatecrashing and way off-key Eurovision guest appearance certainly raised some red flags in terms of quality and relevance. Readers will be pleased to know there is much better than the Quavo featuring ‘Future’ she performed on the night on her new album. But, with some favourable reviews from trusted sources only published at time of writing there is a niggling feeling Madame X the album could be the accompanying car crash and the temptation is to go in hard. Jumping on the fashion for all things Latino, Madame X’s opener, the call and response duet that is ‘Medellin’, is at times sparse and then utterly danceable like Raksu, who at least have a shred of authenticity about them if not the same record sales, and sets the tone for an album of stratospheric highs but stupefying and unfathomable lows.
While talk of a reinvention might be a bit wide of the mark, Madonna is still moving with the times and ‘Dark Ballet’’s stop-start percussion is bang on trend although the avant-balletic vocoder and spoken word segments, while original, are utterly ridiculous. She may be getting obligatory high marks from the newspapers but Madame X often struggles to maintain any kind of natural rhythm as ideas and styles pile up on each other and are seemingly shoe-horned in wherever there is space.
After the Eurovision performance it will be no surprise that auto-tune is ever-present on Madame X but the singer is getting older and perhaps her voice is not what it used to be. Having said that, ‘God Control’ is the first certified banger here landing somewhere between ‘Ray of Light’ and ‘Like A Prayer’ with a drop of disco and old-school hip-hop thrown in for good measure, and we all know Madonna Ciccone is more than just a voice, it’s the image and delivery too.
Production is slick and zeitgeisty throughout as you would expect but on tracks like the aforementioned ‘Future’ and ‘Batuka’ there is not much else other than the Latino/African vibes that are thematic throughout (for ego positioning purposes the general ‘world’ theme is reminiscent of ‘Earth Song’ era Michael Jackson). Madonna the martyr makes an appearance on an otherwise overlong ‘Killers Who Are Partying’ with suspect lyrics verging on cultural appropriation creeping in, but very Madonna nonetheless. ‘Crave’ borrows heavily from Taylor Swift‘s ‘Red’ while ‘Crazy’ is painfully now like Little Mix or whoever but coming from the 60 year old it sounds limp and, well, just lite.
Elsewhere there is the cute one with metaphorical political reconciliations and dramatic autobiographical introspection which could have been fully epic but inexplicably choosing the ‘less is more’ option (‘Extreme Occident’) and the “move your body” one (‘Faz Gustoso’) which is a little unbecoming for a lady of her, shall we say, stature. But then when she is a bit more refined (cf. Kylie) on ‘I Don’t Search I Find’, although the heavy vocoder still brings to mind Cher, the post-house backing is arguably her biggest musical leap forward since ‘Ray Of Light’ and ‘Vogue’, and should provide some huge remixes in this summer’s clubs. And that is quickly followed by ‘Looking For Mercy’’s pulsing beat and pleading vocal and is more classic Madge.
So, while Madame X is ambitious it is over-confident at times and with the deluxe version at fifteen tracks and 65 minutes it could easily have been streamlined but that still would leave too much generic Latino filler as she plods, many will say, a typically Madonna path with too many yes-men around her perhaps. She should be fine to be added to a few hundred Spotify playlists in Puerto Rico though I’m sure.
Madame X is out now on Interscope Records.