Sprawling is the best way to summarize Madame X, Madonna’s fourteenth album. Inspired by the music she was exposed to while living in Lisbon, Portugal, the record is the singer’s Graceland, set to fado instead of afrobeat. Recalling many of the staples from her past — gospel choirs, Erotica era vocal stylings, flirtations with Latin and house music — the album is an amalgamation of just about everything Madonna has experienced throughout her nearly forty years in the spotlight, her statement of intent after all the hurdles she has overcome. At times zany and ludicrous, Madame X is as unflinching in its existence as its creator; no one should have ever expected anything otherwise.
Experimentation is at the heart of Madame X’s genesis. Supported by the Bakucadeiras of Cabo Verde, “Batuka” is a pensive call-and-response about America’s political climate. “Dark Ballet” is Madonna’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” hopping from dark pop to a pitched-up sample of “Dance of the Reed-Flutes” from The Nutcracker to spoken word all over four minutes. But nothing is more audacious than “God Control:” a six-and-a-half minute opus that tackles the national emergency that is gun reform that ties together balladry, pure disco, and ‘80s rap to create the strangest song in the singer’s extensive catalog.
Accused in the last decade of her career of trend chasing, this claim has only been marginally true (see 2012’s MDNA); more often than not, Madonna takes said trends to their logical conclusions in a juggernaut's hands. The charge is especially untrue of this record, where the singer fully embraces the Latin influences that have permeated throughout her discography. It is on these tracks that she sounds the most relaxed, a sense of joy and genuine fun heard in her voice on highlights like lead single “Medellín” and “Faz Gostoso” — both collaborations with authentic Latin musicians.
Though the album is easily Madonna’s most political since 2003’s American Life — whose producer, Mirwais, returns for seven of Madame X’s fifteen songs — it also appears to be one of her most autobiographical. While subjects such as love, life, and empowerment are a through line across all of her releases, they feel more palpable here. The Swae Lee-assisted “Crave” is a duet about the dangers of needing someone in your life; “Extreme Occident” meditates on how far the Queen of Pop has come from her humble beginnings; and she’s “Looking for Mercy” on the penultimate track. For the first time in many records, the singer is being vulnerable with her audience, willing to (briefly) shed the tough exterior she’s been forced to manifest as an aging woman in the music industry. Ironically, under the guise of the Madame X alter ego, Madonna has revealed more about herself than listeners thought possible.
Standout tracks: “God Control,” “Killers Who Are Partying,” “Faz Gostoso,” “Looking for Mercy”