Rebel Heart Live

Madonna

Eagle Rock, 2017

http://www.madonna.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/08/2018

You know how some shows are better with the visual component? Madonna is forefront on that list, especially now that her music has tried to become faceless, soulless EDM without lyrical bite.

Free of the DVD that accompanies this package, the music suffers quite a bit; it’s clear that the repetitive EDM beats of her new intentional-hit material are meant to be experienced, not just heard.  Worse still are the lyrics of the new songs, which sound now like a stab for continued relevance rather than a declaration of female power, with plenty of cursing thrown in to appeal to the kids or something. Good luck telling “Bitch I’m Madonna,” “Iconic,” “Holy Water,” and “Unapologetic Bitch” apart, because the repetitive EDM beats sure won’t help. You’ll forget how the songs sound immediately, but you won’t forget how they made you feel…but that’s the trend, and now that Madge is chasing trends instead of setting them, she’s doing what she has to do. I get it.

What is far more effective is when she presents her better new material and reworks her older material for a new audience. I was not a big fan of Rebel Heart or MDNA, but songs like the acoustic “Devil Pray” and the strident “HeartBreak City” have made me rethink those two a bit. “Rebel Heart” also is strong and “Living For Love,” while not as good as the others, is still injected with more personality than the Big Electronic Madonna-Is-The-Best tracks mentioned above.nbtc__dv_250

Regarding the old material, it’s hit or miss, as Madonna has tried to evolve these songs for a new audience instead of recreate them. Most effective is “Burning Up,” a 1983 tune reworked with a louder, newer beat and some great guitar work that breathes new life into the song. “True Blue” is presented without a dance beat, just Madonna (and all the fans) singing with light percussion and a ukulele (I think). “La Isla Bonita,” “Dress You Up” and “Into The Groove” are all presented in a row in a sort of Latin-inspired medley, which works for those latter two more than one would expect.

“Deeper And Deeper” and “Music” aren’t all that different from their studio versions, while “Candy Shop” remains embarrassing and the computerized reboot of “Material Girl” removes all personality from the song. However, the entire show stops on a dime toward the end for the singer’s acoustic take on Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose,” sung in the original French with reverence and without a trace of irony. It’s proof that Madonna actually can sing (which is always a good reminder to the haters) and that she’s as effective in an intimate performance as she is with elaborate costumes and dance routines. This is the direction one expected her career to go, instead of saddling the world with “Bitch I’m Madonna” and whatnot.

The closing “Holiday” and “Like A Prayer” are as strong an encore as one would expect, not radically reworking the songs but not hewing too close to the originals either. As with the other legacy tracks, both performer and rapturous audience give the songs their all.

I would have liked to see something from Ray Of Light here, although its warm spiritual personal nature may not have meshed well with all the elaborate costumes and Queen Bitch imagery on display. I also wish that “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore,” performed live for the first time, had been included over dreck like “Iconic.” The single-disc version of this show also should be avoided, as it leaves out some of the highlights above in favor of the newer material; go for the double-disc, and probably grab the DVD while you’re at it so the songs make sense with the visuals.

The thing is, Madonna remains interesting as a performer and a songwriter when she focuses on her strengths, and her interest in reinterpreting her older material while staying true to it keeps the songs fresh. Unfortunately, because all sides of her current persona are on display on Rebel Heart Live, the disc is less successful than one would hope. Longtime fans will find some rewards among the tracks, but casual fans are not missing much by skipping this one.

Rating: B-

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