“Rebel Heart” is unlike any other album in Madonna’s discography. Instead of creating a brand-new aural persona as she’s done so many times before, “Rebel Heart” is very much the first Madonna album that’s actually about Madonna, with a majority of these tracks commenting on her own history and accomplishments with varying degrees of success.
While there is the usual glut of mindless sex jams and trend chasers that have so characterized her last three full-lengths, those few meta moments that actually work reveal a rare poignancy that hasn’t been seen since 2000’s “Music.”
Take “Holy Water,” for example. Madonna sounds very much at home with aggressive sentiments, blatantly toying around with religious iconography while having a bit of provocative fun. During a breakdown near the end, she somewhat inexplicably interpolates the entire “Ladies with an attitude” verse from “Vogue,” presumably to give weight to the song’s theme of owning your own sexuality. While the verse fits nicely over the song’s mid-tempo electro throb, this is a rare case of Madonna acknowledging her own legacy, leaving these well-worn tropes out in a window display for all to see.
“Rebel Heart” has a profoundly human element to it, one that paints Madonna more as a person than a product, itself a minor miracle. With this album, Madonna has dropped the overt hit-chasing to instead take on her most radical incarnation yet – that of an actual, relatable human being, flaws and all.