Artist: Madonna featuring Maluma
Album: Madame X (Due in stores June 14th)
With over 35 years in the pop music game, is there anywhere left for Madonna Ciccone to trek?
It’s a rhetorical question, of course. For the woman whose artistic wanderlust has functioned as a collective soundtrack for the world, a new Madonna album is always an event. However, the last eleven years haven’t been kind to the singer-songwriter’s output.
Hard Candy (2008), MDNA (2012) and Rebel Heart (2015) have all borne the brunt of Madonna’s obsession with maintaining her grip on a contemporaneous “edge” that she assumes she’s lost. In reaching for that so-called prize, Madonna’s hold on her own self-made standard of music excellence has slipped. However, Madame X—Madonna’s fourteenth studio recording—is likely to improve the perception of her latter day discography with its promises of a bold concept, high profile features and a luxe visual campaign upon its June 14th release.
But what about its music? This leads us to “Medellín,” the first single for the project.
On its face, “Medellín”—its title taken from the city in Colombia of the same name—is a balmy, world music inflected number that is seductively disarming in its midtempo execution. With its relaxed pace set against a sensuous, stream-of-consciousness lyrical scheme, the song isn’t a miss by any means. But it’s far from a home run.
Madonna requested the company of French producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï—the man who helped her assemble the one-two superlative punch of Music (2000) and American Life (2003)—to assist in the drafting of “Medellín” and its forthcoming parent LP. One can only assume that Ahmadzaï is following Madonna’s muted lead here as repeated listens reveal that the track’s electronic element is too sharp. Given Madonna and Ahmadzaï’s previous bouts with marrying organic and inorganic musical matter, that they didn’t follow that pattern here is a missed sonic opportunity.
Then there is the Maluma guest spot. The Colombian vocalist drops in some handsome ad-libs throughout the composition, but one is left with the feeling that Madonna would have been better served carrying this single alone.
In all, “Medellín” is an affable pop confection that stages a dichotomous balancing act between understatement and shrewdness—an indication that Madonna is aware of her abilities, but struggling to translate them into the modern pop landscape.
For more of Quentin Harrison’s perspective on Madonna’s recordings, check out his book ‘Record Redux: Madonna,’ available physically or digitally. Additional books in his Record Redux series cover the discographies of the Spice Girls, Carly Simon and Donna Summer. Harrison’s forthcoming book ‘Record Redux: Kylie Minogue’ will be available in November 2019.