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Madonna, Madame X track-by-track review: ‘Intriguing Gaga-esque weirdness’

Madonna, Madame X track-by-track review: ‘Intriguing Gaga-esque weirdness’

1 Medellin

You’ve doubtless heard Madame X’s undeniably fresh lead single; a relaxed, catchy Latin bop that’s better than Living For Love/Give Me All Your Luvin’ combined. It’s the first of many nods to the Spanish sexiness of 1987’s La Isla Bonita.

It has the edge on 4 Minutes, too – thanks to Maluma, whose gruff, sexy guest vocals throw Justin Timberlake’s in the squeaky shade.


2 Dark Ballet

The moderate tempo continues as Madonna returns to themes of gender/sexism explored in 2001’s What It Feels Like For a Girl.

‘I can dress like a boy, I can dress like a girl,’ she spits before a lone piano; a beat kicks in, processional darkness falls. Then, it transforms into something playfully futuristic: ‘Say that I’m a witch and burn me at the stake’ she teases through an operatic vocoder.

It’s a bizarre, defiant moment, exuding the same ferocious attitude of, say, Human Nature, or that recent Instagram post.


3 God Control

Unwieldy but brilliant, God Control is a melded-together pop epic.

It contains countless genres/ideas/references across six minutes, and lyrics that lift up the downtrodden – sometimes intelligently (‘an abnormal fraternity, and I feel more than sympathy’), sometimes inelegantly (‘I think I understand why people get a gun, I think I understand why we all give up’).

It opens with cold, computerized vocals that lack diction – à la Music – before a transcendent choir conjures Like A Prayer. Then, an about-turn into glossy Confessions-era disco, paired with majestic violin arrangements that had me craving the orchestral opening of Papa Don’t Preach.

Plus, there’s a talk-rap that’s part-American Life, part-Gaga’s G.U.Y. Oh, the reductive circle of pop!


4 Future

After Medellin’s disappointing chart performance, a strong promotional single would’ve helped Madame X. Despite its trendy dancehall vibes, arresting trumpets and Quavo’s velvety vocals, did the plodding Future do the job?

Still, it’s thrilling to hear Madonna sing of endurance and survival (‘Not everyone can come into the future, not everyone that’s here is gonna last’) and reference one of her most iconic hits (‘Don’t tell me to stop, ‘cause you said so’). How many artists get to do that?


5 Batuka

Madonna’s vocoded vocals skip between just a few notes on the call-and-answer tribalism number, Batuka. Conversely, freestyle backing vocalists sing with possessed passion.

Still, it works, as world music clashes together to elevate a fiercely political message: ‘get that old man, put him in jail, where he can’t stop us, where he can’t hurt us.’


6 Killers Who Are Partying

Madame X’s clunkier lyrics are mercifully confined to a few songs. As the title suggests, Killers Who Are Partying is one of them.

It’s not about partying, but another lyrical preoccupation of Madonna’s: injustice. The opening gambit – ’I will be gay, if the gay are burned’ – is well-meaning but doesn’t land. A mysterious, circus-like melody doesn’t help. Next: ‘I will be Africa, if Africa is shot down,’ and ‘I will be poor, if the poor if the poor are humiliated’. It gets worse.

This might’ve worked as a one-minute interlude. But at 5.46 minutes, it’s an album low point. Avoid.


7 Crave

Featuring twangy guitars and gentle rap from Swae Lee, this languid ode to obsessive love was the second single from Madame X. For my money, it’s too indistinct, and the delivery is wishy-washy.


8 Crazy

It’s a little faster than Crave, but Crazy is still simple and sparse, so the two bleed together a little too easily.

There’s at least more oomph in Madonna’s voice here, as she takes negligent lover to task in English and Portuguese. I also love the concertina.


9 Come Alive

After a mid-album slump, this is a poppy little palette cleanser.

‘I don’t want your opinion, who you talking to? Stand up now, I don’t wanna blend in’ she lulls gently to a pretty tune. I love when Madonna’s rebellious spirit is bathed in warmth and happiness. (Rebel Heart’s title track being a another example).

Fun, fast and sweet, Come Alive has an unexpected ending that’s sonically divine.



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10 Faz Gostoso 

Translating from Portuguese to English as ‘makes delicious’, Madonna takes control of the steering wheel (and hits the gas) with the fiery Faz Gostoso. It could be a vintage Jennifer Lopez song, and takes the album in a new direction.

An exciting, surging dance track featuring a charismatic turn from Brazilian pop star Anitta, the words aren’t poetry – ‘move your body, I said come, do it good, you know how I like to party’ – but they’re issued with enough urgency and passion to separate the song from the shallow immaturity of party tracks like Bitch I’m Madonna.


11 Bitch I’m Loca

This intense reggaeton banger is Maluma’s second guest spot. He’s as sexy here as on Medellin – especially his cheeky laugh at the end. In fact, even his pronunciation of Madonna’s name makes my knees weak.

Where Medellin and umpteen others are unpredictable and experimental, Bitch I’m Loca is direct. It’s a pulsating, heatedly sexy dance duet reminiscent of Chantaje, Maluma’s Shakira duet, but with a weaker hook. (I also just accidentally played it over Shakira’s Loca, and liked the effect).



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12 I Don’t Search I Find

Again, I initially had thoughts of Gaga at her most ridiculous. (Specifically Venus’ spoken word/spacey-‘we-have-lift-off’ opening). But once it gets going, disco stomper I Don’t Search I Find is a class of its own. It’s like a Confessions number that criminally ended up on the cutting room floor.


13 I Rise

One of my biggest bugbears is repetitive choruses. I Rise is absolutely guilty of this. Namely: ‘I rise, I rise, I rise up above it,’ spoken like a mantra to admittedly hypnotic effect.

But elsewhere, this self-empowerment anthem features heartfelt lyrics that feel autobiographical, suggesting Madonna has the strength and resilience to withstand the demented commentary around her of late.

‘There’s nothin’ you can do to me that hasn’t been done,
Not bulletproof, shouldn’t have to run from a gun,
River of tears ran dry, let ’em run,
No game that you can play with me, I ain’t won.’

The most striking feature is the spine-tingling opening – the rallying cry of a young activist.

‘Us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works!’ Emma Gonzalez, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, is heard telling a crowd. ‘We call BS!’

Using the February 2017 Florida shooting, where 17 people lost their lives, as a jumping off point is risky. It wouldn’t have gone down well on some of Madame X’s lesser tracks, but I Rise is a robust, powerful ballad – and, like the majority of Madame X, it has backbone.


Madame X is out tomorrow, Friday 14 June

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