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simbiosis

4-5stars.gif from MusicOMH. :excited: 

Madonna – Madame X

(Live Nation/Interscope/Maverick) UK release date: 14 June 2019

by Nick Smith
published: 12 Jun 2019 in Albums 

Madonna is back with her first new music in four years, the product of her lived experiences in her new home city, Lisbon, which she has described as “a melting pot of culture musically, from Angola to Guinea-Bissau to Spain to Brazil to France to Cape Verde”. In the Portuguese capital, she says, “I found my tribe, and a magical world of incredible musicians that reinforced my belief that music across the world is truly all connected and is the soul of the universe.”

Her resulting 14th album implores us to take a ride with her new persona and her many and varied guises – “a secret agent… 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 *****. A spy in the house of love. I am Madame X” – and the results are at once stupefying and tremendous. This record is a true cathartic journey from the expert of such travels, with brilliant past collaborator Mirwais doing much of the driving. Most of this sprawling album, sung variously in English, Portuguese and Spanish and with an astonishing array of musical flourishes, is truly experimental, and captivating with it. 

The rhythmic, wistful and ethereal Medellín, a duet with Colombian superstar man of the hour Maluma, opens proceedings yet is hardly indicative of what’s to follow. Dark Ballet, basically Frozen meets John Carpenter, is next up, and evokes particularly the horror master’s sinister and marvellous soundtrack from Halloween III: Season Of The Witch with some unexpected and rather fantastic piano work and powerful lyrics, coupled with a video starring Mykki Blanco.

God Control is her call to arms – literally. Starting off as a mid-tempo diatribe exploring the state of gun control in America with a magnificent choral backdrop, the track then inexplicably weaves into a thumping disco night in Studio 54 with gunshots ringing out, all with a deft string-laden nod to Love Don’t Live Here Anymore. If Madonna wants us to wake up, we certainly have. This song shouldn’t work, and yet it absolutely does. It’s sublimely ridiculous.

Tracks precursing the album’s release include the retro and slick R&B lick Crave, with Swae Lee, and the dark and trippy Future featuring Quavo, which has Diplo‘s fingerprints all over it. Elsewhere, Killers Who Are Partying is likely to be one of the more controversial moments. Madonna has always been a champion of minorities and name-checks a good many of them here, from Africa to Islam via Israel to a woman who was raped, with some hard-hitting lyrics in support. The starkly defiant and beautiful Extreme Occident explores a push and pull between herself and her critics. Even now, while often praised for her ability to reinvent, this is now something she is derided for. The hypocrisy of her detractors in this regard is astounding.

Yet there’s space amongst it all too for some more straightforward moments. Batuka and Faz Gostoso, for example, could almost have been lifted from a Nelly Furtado album. And there are some shades of vintage Madonna and they shine brightly on what is largely an experimental album. Come Alive is spectacular, uplifting pop with soaring and wondrous harmonies and a sweeping blueprint that draws you in. I Don’t Search I Find is straight out of the ’90s, a kind of canny hybrid between her own smash Vogue and Alison Limerick‘s Where Love Lives. Crazy has a gorgeous retro feel and would not be out of place on Ariana Grande‘s latest album with some canny lyrical self-references, while Mercy is Madonna at her most cinematic, but also her most vulnerable and isolated.

The album’s closer is the powerful and introspective I Rise. An emotional intro from advocate for gun control Emma González, survivor from the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, opens the door to an anthem calling the marginalised to rise above the constraints of the dictatorial society we increasingly appear to be living in. It’s an uplifting end to one hell of a journey: bold, bizarre, brazen and beguiling, Madame X is Madonna living her Latin American Life. Brilliant.

Edited by simbiosis
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DavieX
4 hours ago, Hades said:

Only 2 mixed reviews so far. The rest are positive although Pitchfork won't be a soft reviewer.:selena:

Even those "mixed" reviews say that the album is Great.  Is like they couldn't bring themselves to give her another star for some reason.  LOL

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Hades
10 minutes ago, DavieX said:

Even those "mixed" reviews say that the album is Great.  Is like they couldn't bring themselves to give her another star for some reason.  LOL

This album deserves a 85 at least.

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simbiosis

AllMusic 4 Stars:excited:

https://www.allmusic.com/album/madame-x-mw0003274282

Madame X is the rare album from a veteran artist that puts earlier records in a different light. Ever since the 1980s, the conventional wisdom about Madonna claimed she brought trends from the musical underground for the purpose of pop hits, but Madame X -- a defiantly dense album that has little to do with pop, at least in the standard American sense -- emphasizes the artistic instincts behind these moves. The shift in perception stems from Madonna embracing a world outside of the United States. While she's been an international superstar since the dawn of her career, Madonna relocated to Lisbon, Portugal in 2017, a move that occurred two years after Rebel Heart -- an ambitious record balanced between revivals of old styles and new sounds -- failed to burn up any Billboard chart outside of Dance singles. These two developments fuel Madame X, an album that treats America as a secondary concern at best. Madonna may address the political and social unrest that's swept across the globe during the latter years of the 2010s, but her commentary is purposely broad. Perhaps Madonna errs on the side of being a little bit too broad -- on "Killers Who Are Partying," she paints herself as a martyr for every oppressed voice in the world -- yet this instinct to look outside of her experience leads her to ground Madame X in various strains of Latinx sounds, trap, and art-pop, music that not only doesn't sound much like the American pop charts in 2019, but requires focused attention in a manner that makes the songs not especially friendly to playlisting.

Madame X has its share of colorful neo-disco numbers and shimmering chill-out tracks, but they're painted in dark hues, and they're surrounded by songs so closely cloistered, they can play like mini-suites. Case in point is "Dark Ballet," an ominous number that descends into a sinister, robotic rendition of Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Reed Flutes" section from The Nutcracker -- an allusion that recalls not the future, but the dystopian horror show of A Clockwork Orange. Such darkness hangs heavy over Madame X, surfacing fiercely in the clenched-mouth phrasing on "God Control," but present even on the bobbing reggae of "Future." The murk does lift on occasion -- "Come Alive" gains levity from its clustered polyrhythms -- but the somber tenor when combined with fearless exploration does mean Madame X can be demanding listening. The rhythms are immediate, but the songs aren't, nor are the opaque productions. While this thick, heady confluence of cultures and sounds may demand concentration, Madame X not only amply rewards such close listening, but its daring embrace of the world outside the U.S. underscores how Madonna has been an advocate and ally for left-of-mainstream sounds and ideas throughout her career.

 

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simbiosis

Boston Globe - no score, but very positive, so likely in the 70s or higher. :tony:

Madonna unbound on ‘Madame X’

https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2019/06/13/madonnaalbum/IdjGquaCB1mDYgXgawpIGJ/story.html

Madonna has always been pop’s reigning chameleon, with each album (and movie) in her body of work representing a specific epoch in her MTV-era reign over the genre. But on “Madame X,” her 14th studio album, she makes her multifaceted nature explicit, linking the title character’s many guises (secret agent, dancer, equestrian, nun, et cetera) to the hooky album’s overall concept.

“Madame X,” released on Friday, begins with Madonna whispering the cha-cha beat, the opening to first single “Medellín.” That song, when it debuted in April, was notable not only for its incorporation of Latin pop but for its relatively chilled-out vibe; Madonna, her voice digitally tweaked yet still bearing wistfulness, sang of feeling like a teenager once again, reveling in her naivete and, ultimately, feeling as if she’d freed herself from the shackles of constant scrutiny. Given that Madonna has been the pop-music equivalent of Don DeLillo’s most photographed barn in America almost since her crash-landing into MTV nearly four decades ago, feeling free of expectations — whether they’re to collaborate with the American pop chart’s current big names, as she did on her previous three albums’ lead singles, or to age “gracefully,” whatever that might mean to the person saying it — is a liberation with great consequence.

And, truthfully, Madonna’s recent work has been at its best when she’s allowed herself to get a little weird; take the kaleidoscope-dream aura of her “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” tie-in song “Beautiful Stranger,” the gnarled synths on her James Bond theme “Die Another Day,” or even the giddy soy latte-shouting rap on her 2003 single “American Life.” A good chunk of “Madame X” has Madonna collaborating with Mirwais Ahmadzaï, the producer-slash-muse who worked with her on the latter two songs, and their creative spark provides some of the album’s most compelling moments. “Dark Ballet,” another Ahmadzaï collaboration and the song that follows “Medellín,” is a chilly indictment of the world where Madonna is channeling Joan of Arc while also taking on 2019; its back half, which hinges on a synth-sparkle rework of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed-Flutes,” hints at ominous things to come, imploring the cognoscenti wearing clothing by the cult streetwear brand Supreme to wake up, before returning to its refrain of “it’s a beautiful life.”

It is, to be sure, a lot. But it’s also nice to hear Madonna taking the lead in charting out pop’s possibilities after a few albums where she worked with collaborators who were almost too close to the current zeitgeist (Timbaland and Pharrell on 2008’s “Hard Candy”; Diplo and the late Avicii on her last album, 2015’s “Rebel Heart”). Latin beats and influences from her adopted homeland of Portugal abound. She does dip into the current zeitgeist of trap — on “Crave,” a collaboration with Swae Lee of the brotherly hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd, but she bends it to her will, adding acoustic guitars and a wounded vocal performance to the genre’s insistent snares. But for the most part, “Madame X” lets Madonna run wild, whether it’s between the disco and the anti-gun protest on “God Control” or around the manic atmosphere of “Faz Gostoso,” a reworked version of the Brazilian-Portuguese singer Blaya’s hit. “Come Alive” is a steely protest song that opens up into a gorgeous chorale, its titular plea tweaked to sound like it’s resonating throughout the world.

Madonna may be pop’s pinnacle of shape-shifting, but she’s never stopped believing that pop songs can change the world. While it chafes against pop-musical expectations and outright defies them at times, “Madame X” does embrace that planet-altering ideal lyrically as well as musically, making it Madonna’s most compelling album in years.

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simbiosis

The Line of Best Fit - 8 in 10 :firega:

Madonna sounds reinvigorated on the excellent Madame X

https://www.thelineofbestfit.com/reviews/albums/madonna-madame-x-album-review

Anarchic free-spirited roots are resurrected and recalibrated on the latest instalment in Madonna’s four-decade career which has yielded innumerable conceptual incarnations and abundant controversy.

Her provocateur credentials are revitalised to an extent on Madame X, with socio-political themes embedded in its essence and current societal discord interpreted through an inimitable dystopic lens. A chameleon-like reputation for reinvention is secured and self-referenced, as she occupies various personas, such as a head of state, a freedom fighter and a spy in the house of love. This consistent transience extends beyond its premise to a multilingual scope; fluidly flitting between English, Portuguese and Spanish, delivering lyrical wit with an economy that has proved a definitive trait of her oeuvre.

A renewed impulse to harness the creative process, and its potential collaborative alchemy, can be attributed to a recent relocation to Lisbon; utilising the Mediterranean base to reawaken an organic avant-garde artistry. She indulges in a cross-cultural interplay of styles in this respect, embracing world beat eclecticism with a hitherto seldom seen scale of ambition in her back catalogue. Discernible Latin and Middle Eastern influences reverberate throughout, interspersed with the subversive yet accessible sheen which graced her gilded '80s and early-'90s output. The collective production expertise of Diplo, Mike Dean and seasoned collaborator Mirwais, is further capitalised upon to maximum potential, a combined mastery which affords an undiluted dazzle.

“Medellín” and “Bitch I’m Loca”, alongside Colombian artist Maluma, both burnish with Latin-laced lustre, a recurring motif that can be traced to True Blue’s “La Isla Bonita”. Electronica intonations interlace elsewhere on the lead single, harkening to Music-era ebullience. Comparative melancholia is deployed to vivid effect on “Dark Ballet”, brimming with a fracas of authoritarian tyranny and personal torment, straddling between the ominous and fantastical, its Joan of Arc-inspired spoken-word bridge rendered with sobering intent: “they are so naïve / they think we are not aware of their crimes / we know, but we are not ready to act”. Resonating with striking '70s-style strings, the disco-drenched “God Control” leans towards Daft Punk-esque vocoded vitality, its closing refrain of “Wake up” serving as a controlling theme; a looming portent underlying the fifteen-track album length.

Pairing with rapper Quavo for the reggae-infused “Future” proves a peppy off-beat excursion; mystique lurking beneath its surface veneer, emblematic of the encrypted subtext underscoring each word and syllable. In adopting the mantle of freedom-fighter on “Extreme Occident”, the global zeitgeist is brought to the forefront, intertwining with autobiographical introspection on occasion: “I came from the Midwest / Then I went to the Far East / I tried to discover my own identity”. Fleeting moments of such self-reflection are scattered with exacting purpose and impact on Madame X, tears in a veil that offer a confessional glimpse behind the songwriter’s enigmatic shroud. “I Don’t Search I Find”, in contrast, reverts to relatively conventional dancefloor-destined fare, slick '90s house trading on a jaunty sugar-coated bounce that will undoubtedly sate the Queen of Pop’s long-term acolytes.

Closing an album immersed in cultural relevance, “I Rise”, featuring the refrains of Parkland school shooting survivor Emma González in its prologue, represents an explicit, clarion call for reform in relation to ongoing gun violence in the United States; Madonna’s capacity for tight and searing social commentary remaining undiminished. This adaptive prowess is also witnessed in tandem with artists such as Swae Lee, indicative of a willingness to embrace contemporary talent; presenting a standard of innovative, unconstrained zeal, rather than a simple act of conformity. Madonna is not merely returning to her origins on this fourteenth album, a regenerative fervour thrives on Madame X, traversing a gamut of disparate genres, stirring curiosity and wonder with rhapsodic intensity.

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simbiosis

Just adding a couple more that have just been published, and they are glowing! :legend:

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Idolator https://www.idolator.com/7803119/album-review-madonna-madame-x?view-all&chrome=1

Score: 4.5/5

Madonna’s ‘Madame X’ Pushes The Boundaries Of Pop

Madame X is a radical body of work, but perhaps not in the way Madonna intended. She rails against injustice and oppression with the fervor of a preacher, imbuing the album with a righteousness that is palpable. As brave and commendable as that is, the Queen of Pop’s musical missives lack nuance. Rather, it’s her complete defiance of genre that makes Madame X genuinely groundbreaking.

From the promo video that announced the era, we know that Madame X is, among other things, a nun and an equestrian. She can also add sane scientist to her resume. The pop icon concocts a collection of songs that blend reggaeton, dancehall, pop, hip-hop, afrobeat and fado — all without losing sight of her mission. As the living legend knows better than most, music makes the people come together. And she’s determined to forge unity and resistance, one pop-hybrid at a time.

In some ways, Madame X can be divided into two parts. In one column, there are the wildly experimental, often politically-charged anthems produced by Mirwais. In the other, we’re treated to more accessible pop offerings largely crafted by Mike Dean and Billboard. They are both equally compelling, but the former has proven to be more polarizing. Which, I suspect, would please Madonna no end. After all, her track record with Mirwais is as eclectic as it is immaculate. Together, they have created everything from radio hits to electro-pop oddities like “Impressive Instant” and “X-Static Process.”

The collaborators obviously share a passion for stretching the boundaries of pop, and that trend continues on Madame X. Take the album’s lead single. “Medellín,” a dreamy duet with Maluma, was met with mild confusion upon release. (Few expected Madonna to return with a five-minute, bilingual bop about a Colombian city). Amusingly, it turns out to be one of the record’s most accessible cuts. The track’s quirks are offset by a plethora of hooks and an unabashed romanticism that is disarming.

A more daring, equally successful experiment is “God Control.” An instant fan favorite, this might be the only song in existence that addresses gun control and youth unemployment over disco beats. It’s sprawling and perhaps unnecessarily baroque, but it burns with ambitious and anger. And still manages to be pop. A quality that “Dark Ballet” is lacking. Instead, the oddball anthem offers a little Tchaikovsky, heavily-distorted vocals and a scathing sermon on the state of humanity. It’s a little heavy-handed, but nonetheless mesmerizing.

Less successful are cuts like “I Don’t Search I Find” and “Extreme Occident,” which don’t propel Madonna’s moral agenda forward, or work as straightforward pop songs. They do, however, offer a degree of self-reflection, and tell you more about the enduring hitmaker’s relationship with Father Time than that bogus New York Timesprofile. The same can not be said for “Killers Who Are Partying,” which finds our heroine exclaiming platitudes over an admittedly lovely, fado-inspired arrangement. The intention is as admirable as the execution is ham-fisted.

Mirwais and Madonna truly excel, however, when they are showcasing another aspect of Madame X. Namely, that she is a student and world traveller. “Batuka” is a plea for change that (successfully) combines a choir, African instruments and a Portuguese drum collective. It’s dynamic and utterly compelling. That description also applies to bonus tracks “Ciao Bella” and “Funana.” The former finds Madonna at her most playful and fun, while the latter is a rush of pure energy. There are a couple of frivolous, world music-inspired bops on Madame X. Unfortunately, they are hidden on Disc 2 of the deluxe edition.

The rest of the album is less experimental, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Crave” stood out as the best buzz track from Madame Xand it still ranks as the only cut that really caters for radio. The production, courtesy of Mike Dean and Billboard, is on-trend and Swae Lee adds a hip-hop sensibility that makes it accessible to an even wider audience. The producers work similar magic on “Faz Gostoso” featuring Anitta. It’s actually a cover of a 2017 hit by BLAYA, but there’s nothing dated about this explosion of dance beats and sexy lyrics.

Another highlight is “Come Alive.” Co-written by Starrah (one of seven songs she contributed to the album), the hip-hop-tinged bop boasts one the most instant choruses on Madame X. The involvement of Jeff Bhasker (Beyonce’s 4) is strongly felt on the lush, horns-filled production. He also had a hand in the excellent “Looking For Mercy.” It’s not a coincidence that Madonna introduced Rebel Heartwith a song called “Living For Love.” This is a bookend of sorts. Instead of the outward search for companionship, the hitmaker is now focussed on her relationship with God. Wisdom is in short supply in pop music, but this is brimming with it.

While there’s an urban sheen to many of the songs not produced by Mirwais, world music is still very much front and center. Take the Latin-pop fusion that is “Crazy.” In another artist’s hands this would be surefire radio fodder, but Madame X makes it a culture-bridging banger. And then, there’s the hilarious “Bitch I’m Loca,” which is best described as a (low-brow) sequel to “Medellín.” I also recommend hunting down “Back That Up To The Beat.” It’s yet another gem tucked away on Disc 2 that mashes everything from euro-dance to ’90s R&B. Pharrell really stepped outside his comfort zone on this one.

Again, this half of Madame X falters ever so slightly when it becomes political. Album-closer “I Rise” is well-intentioned, but it didn’t need a children’s choir to bludgeon the point home. “Future,” a dancehall-lite collaboration with Quavo, is no less subtle in its messaging or execution. The latter also highlight’s Madonna’s heavy use of autotune, which begins to feel a little overdone as the record enters the home stretch. It should be noted that while the Queen of Pop addresses the bigger picture like never before on Madame X, she also looks inward.

In many ways, Madame X is Madonna’s most personal album to date. She’s speaking her truth, while revealing more of herself than ever. It might not be the collection of bangers you want, but it’s what we, as a society, need. The fact that she can stoke the flames of rebellion in a way that is original, vulnerable and inclusive (in the truest sense of the word) is a pop miracle. But, then again, Madonna has been rewriting the rule book since 1982. And she isn’t going to stop any time soon.

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UPROXX https://uproxx.com/music/madonna-madame-x-review/3/

No score, but very positive

Madonna Fights Loneliness With Her Global Music Community On The Defiant ‘Madame X’

When Madonna began giving interviews to promote her fourteenth studio album, Madame X, she revealed one of the bigger influences on the album wasn’t musical, but deeply personal. “The whole inspiration for this record was completely and utterly based on going out in Lisbon and trying to make friends,” she told Apple Music. Madonna reiterated this fact to the author of a lengthy New York Times profile, and added that she was lonely living in Portugal, where she moved in 2017. “It’s quite medieval and feels like a place where time stopped in a way, and it feels very closed. There’s a cool vibe there, but where I was living with my kids, I felt very cut off from a lot.”

Loneliness isn’t necessarily a new focus or state of being for Madonna. The New York Times once observed that 1994’s Bedtime Stories touched on the topic, while in a 2014 interview, Donatella Versace relayed the advice she gave Madonna for a Versace photo campaign: “I told her she didn’t have to be just sex…’I want you to be like I know you: a vulnerable person, someone who’s afraid, someone who suffers from loneliness, but is strong, determined and fearless at the same time.'” And many of her best songs — the crystalline torch song “Live To Tell,” plush R&B ballad “Take A Bow,” the shattering electro-pop hit “Frozen” — exude deep melancholy that’s rooted in heartache and desolation.

Yet throughout Madame X, Madonna grapples with this loneliness in much bolder ways than she has in the past — by seeking out a global musical community, by aligning herself with the resistance, and by looking in the mirror and assessing the consequences of her actions. More often than not, this makes for absorbing listening, as the album’s brash, extroverted moments are balanced out by subtle (and subtly moving) contemplation.

On an obvious level, Madame X is her most explicitly political record. “God Control” is a no-holds-barred condemnation of inaction around gun control, while “Batuka” makes a veiled reference to government corruption (“Get that old man / Put him in a jail / Where he can’t stop us”). And “I Rise” starts by sampling a speech from Parkland school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez before blooming into a song about being a survivor and standing strong.

The sound of Madame X — the title refers to a nickname legendary dancer Martha Graham gave a rebellious young Madonna, who was then embracing her chameleonic identity — is also defiant. It’s easily her densest pop record, and one that’s deeply uninterested in fitting in the (far too) narrow sonic lane of the US Top 40. By now it’s clichéd to say an album “reveals itself only after repeated listens,” but in the case of Madame X, it’s the truth.

That’s mainly due to artful, smart arrangements: The album’s manicured details — Madonna’s whispered “1, 2, cha-cha-cha” on “Medellín”; the way her vocals align with measured, plucked strings on the soulful “Crazy”; and the fluttering, restrained guitars on “Killers Who Are Partying” — burrow into the subconscious instead of slamming into it. “Come Alive” is even more nuanced. As Madonna reiterates her disinterest in fitting in (“I can’t react how you thought I’d react”) and repeats the titular phrase, the song layers on holy signifiers — stoic church organ, orchestral synths, an angelic choir — that signal both a sonic and literal rebirth.

More than anything, however, Madame X is keen on embracing diverse, vibrant music cultures. Naturally, her adopted home is a major inspiration: The Portuguese all-women group Orquestra Batukadeiras reinforces the trap- and Afrobeat-driven “Batuka” with sturdy, soulful call-and-response vocals, while “Faz Gostoso” is a faithful remake of Blaya’s 2018 No. 1 Portugal hit, with Brazilian musician Anitta providing mellifluous additional vocals.

Madame X also boasts two collaborations with Colombian superstar Maluma, highlighted by the languid reggaeton strut “Medellín,” which finds her switching seamlessly between Spanish and English lyrics, and the more playful dancefloor firestarter “Bitch I’m Loca.” She alternates between singing in English and Portuguese on the string-plucked ballad “Crazy,” while “Future,” her collaboration with Migos prinicipal Quavo, is percolating, booming dancehall.

In the best move of all, Madame X features multiple collaborations with Mirwais, her first songs with the French producer since the rubbery dance jam “It’s So Cool” surfaced on 2009’s Celebration. His presence is a welcome one, as their work together (which includes the hits “Music” and “Don’t Tell Me,” as well as a few songs from 2005’s Confessions On A Dance Floor) is almost uniformly compelling. Madame X is no exception: The superlative “I Don’t Search I Find” is a humid electro-disco strut that’s one of her best dance songs in years, while “Dark Ballet” combines rainy-day piano trills, a digitally manipulated interpolation of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance Of The Reed Pipes” from The Nutcracker, and splotchy trip-hop beats. And in one of the album’s cleverest moments, “God Control” morphs from a gospel choir-driven elegy into a soapy, string-swept disco anthem that juxtaposes some of her most pointed commentary: “A new democracy / God and ****ography.”

These Mirwais collabs are a reminder that weirder Madonna has always been fascinating — see: her cybernetic James Bond theme “Die Another Day” — in large part because these curveballs illustrate her immense creativity and willingness to challenge herself. But especially on recent records, she’s started to become hyper-aware of nonconformity’s sometimes-unpleasant byproducts — namely, isolation and loneliness. As a result, throughout Madame X, Madonna sidelines her larger-than-life stances in favor of serious introspection about faith and identity.

There are no easy answers or solutions, as she discovers. “Extreme Occident” hints at anguish that her deliberate reinventions were misconstrued as personal failings (“The thing that hurt me most / Was that I wasn’t lost”), while the poignant “Looking For Mercy” comes in the form of a plea to God asking for survival and support: “Every night, before I close my eyes / I say a little prayer that you’ll have mercy on me / Please, dear God, to live inside the divine / Not like I want to die / Teach me to forgive myself, outlive this hell.”

“Killers Who Are Partying” wrestles with even more complexity. Madonna first sings of assuming the burdens of various oppressed groups (“I will be poor, if the poor are humiliated”). As accordions swell, she intones, “I know what I am / And what I’m not,” before switching to Portuguese and singing mournfully, “O mundo é selvage / O caminho é solitário,” which in English translates to “The world is wild / The path is lonely.” The crucial pivot, however, comes when she issues a challenge: “Do you know who you are? / Will we know when to stop?” The song ends up both an expression of solidarity and a reminder that robust individuality doesn’t negate personal responsibility or insulate anyone from loneliness.

It’s heady and painful stuff, and a continuation of the themes and realizations she explored on 2015’s unfairly overlooked Rebel Heart. The rub, of course, is that Madonna isn’t always associated with this kind of insecurity, as her indomitable façade and strong personality have always overshadowed her attempts at self-reflection. As she put it herself recently to British Vogue: “People have always been trying to silence me for one reason or another, whether it’s that I’m not pretty enough, I don’t sing well enough, I’m not talented enough, I’m not married enough, and now it’s that I’m not young enough.”

Unsurprisingly, the idea of martyrdom also crops up on Madame X, just as it did on Rebel Heart. Both albums feature songs referencing the historical martyr Joan Of Arc, who was burned at the stake, although the tunes offer starkly different perspectives on the icon. The hesitant narrator of Rebel Heart‘s “Joan Of Arc” recoils from being placed on a pedestal, as she doesn’t feel ready or self-confident enough to assume such power, while the ferocious Joan Of Arc depicted in Madame X‘s “Dark Ballet” is comfortable in her skin (“I can dress like a boy, I can dress like a girl”), and battle-ready because of her faith: “I will not renounce my faith in my sweet Lord / He has chosen me to fight against the English / And I’m not afraid at all to die ’cause I believe Him.”

It’s not a stretch to see that this pair of songs also represents Madonna’s ever-shifting views of herself — one day she feels unworthy of being an idol, and the next she’s raring to go to embrace her bulletproof nature. These slippery perspectives make her music endure: Even when she’s playing a character — or amplifying the various facets of her own personality — she’s never afraid to embrace and verbalize her own contradictions. But Madame X especially is a reminder that Madonna has always been far more human than perhaps for which she’s given credit. The good news is, by revealing vulnerability, she’s created much richer art: Although born from loneliness and separation, Madame X offers resonant emotional and musical connection.

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