I approach reviews from a neutral space each time I sit down to write them and let the body of work speak for itself.
When an artist like Madonna releases an album though, it poses some serious challenges.
Legends of pop music like Madonna face major expectations around what fans, music lovers and critics want.
How does an artist balance these expectations with making what they want?
The secret? Doing what you want anyway!
‘Madame X’, studio album No.14, is about storytelling for Madonna. While there are a lot of nods to Portuguese and Spanish influences, it’s the lyrical content I was relatively impressed by.
Aiming to talk about things that might have challenged other artists through her personas, I found the stories quite compelling, especially when they gelled with the music written to accompany them.
The more I listen to ‘Medellín’, the more I grow to like the simplicity in its production. The latter stages of the song see many more layers added to the beat which for me just beefs up the intensity. Lyrically it’s about protecting one’s queen while being somewhere foreign, which is kind of empowering I think.
But boy does the album take a turn for the wacky and downright strange. While the lyrics are strong throughout, the music is all over the place.
There are a lot of ideas floating around and it honestly makes the flow of the album make no sense. Not to mention it feels like she’s just throwing everything and the kitchen sink at this to see what sticks; it’s just too much.
‘Dark Ballet’ had the potential to blend stunning classical with modern pop and instead feels like a low rent ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
Then you have random club beats that feel totally out of place with the lyrics on songs like ‘I Don’t Search I Find’. It feels like a leftover from ‘Confessions’ and feels totally out of place amongst the other songs.
And then suddenly you find yourself up to songs like ‘Crave’ and ‘Crazy’ where Madonna SOUNDS like Madonna again. These two songs are excellent and for me highlight a great application of restraint. She sounds brilliant in the songs, the lyrics and music match and that Spanish influence is back in focus again after a bit of a detour.
There are other songs which show promise like ‘God Control’ (why she sounds like she’s singing with lock jaw I’ll never know) and ‘Come Alive’ (another club banger, but for some reason this one sounds less out of place).
The degree of autotune used absolutely kills me, however. When gently sprinkled around, it doesn’t detract from Madonna’s voice. But when she (or her producers) are heavy handed with it, it feels wrong on so many levels.
On ‘Future’ it at least aligns to the story she’s telling and works, but everywhere else? Just dial it down a few notches please – it’s hard to tell what note she’s even trying to hit in some cases.
I know she can do what she wants, but the stylised autotune is too much and ruins some great songs.
For me, ‘Madame X’ divides straight down the middle.
On one side you have excellent stories connected to great performances and on the other is a messy junk drawer of songs.
I respect the heck out of Madonna for doing her thing.
I just wish she’d take the advice of Coco Chanel and take a few things off before she lets her music leave the house.
VERDICT : 3/5.
MUST LISTEN : Crave, Crazy, Medellín, Looking For Mercy.