No huge jaw-droppers on Madonna's latest, but production nods towards the 'Hard Candy' days give a promising insight into what's to come
There’s a political fire to Madonna’s latest track.
It opens with the voice of Emma González, an American activist who survived the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. “Us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works,” González says, through tears in the opening moments. “We call BS”
That impassioned moment of ‘I Rise’ becomes the recurring motif Madonna repeating the title as a mantra atop warm strings. Though some of the lyrics seem a little like a flick through an inspirational quotes book – “Freedom’s what you choose to do with what’s been done to you,” is borrowed from the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, while the title brings Maya Angelou’s poem ‘Still I Rise’ to mind – the overall intention here isn’t #hashtag #empowerment. Instead ‘I Rise’ gets at a vaguer kind of hopefulness: “We can get it together, We’ll rise up, we can get it together” it ends.
While lead single ‘Medellín’ sounds unlike anything Madonna has done before, riding the new-generation Latin pop wave with a whispered cha-cha-chá, charismatic guest star Maluma and brightly layered production, ‘I Rise’ bridges the gap that leads back to her previous records. There’s robotic late-noughties shades of ‘Hard Candy’ in every frosty burst of synth, and the heavy vocal treatment – Madonna’s voice modulating cartoonishly – and orchestral washes of string nod back to the warmer, more contemplative moments of previous record ‘Rebel Heart’. Considering the involvement of producer Jason Evigan (who produced that album’s whopping ballad ‘Ghosttown’) perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s worth noting that it makes deliberate sonic references to the past, just as Madonna’s ‘Madame X’ persona seems to reference strongly defined eras from previous records. It will be intriguing to see how this stacks up with the rest of the record.