Pop icon Madonna's thirteenth studio album, and best project in a decade, Rebel Heart is officially out in just four days now, and it's safe to say that we're all pretty overwhelmed with not only the quality, but also the quantity, of tracks she recorded this time around. Along with the twenty-eight songs the album boasts on its various incarnations, over fifty demos - some of which have ended up on the final cut, some of which haven't - have leaked over the past few months, pushing Madonna fans into pandemonium mode and providing for some of the most interesting, if not entirely consistent, listening from the past couple of years in music.
But how do we make sense of what can often be a rather confusing batch of leaks? Some songs have up to five different demos attributed to them available on the web (we're looking at you, 'Wash All Over Me'), while some are only available in demo form. Some have undergone massive transformations from their leaked demo form to their album version, not that these transformations are always for the best; and yet others are nowhere to be found on the album at all (like the impeccably shady '2 Steps Behind Me' - didn't this deserve a spot as at least a Japanese bonus track, Madge?). That's why we've created this list. Think of it as a fast ticket to the leaks that have been pouring out of Camp Madonna lately - you can skip the incredibly dodgy demo vocals on 'Holy Water' and the redundant vibe of the Pharrell-produced 'Back That Up', and jump right into the good stuff. You're gonna love this.
12. Living For Love
I'll be the first to say it - 'Living For Love' is nowhere near my favourite song from the Rebel Heart sessions. It's definitely not the strongest on the album, and nor is it the best representation of the project overall. That said, it did make a good comeback single with it's predictably uplifting message of self-belief (who's reductive now, Madge?), danceable beat and catchy, sing-along ad-libs. It also lends itself to some great choreography which is basically Madonna's greatest strength at this point, and which she served us with not only in the song's music video but also during her Grammy's performance (let's ignore that tragic BRITS showing, shall we?). At last sight, however, the song was only at #108 on the Billboard Hot 100 - a somewhat disappointing feat given how much promo and work went into the single release. Let's hope the weeks to come will see it's chart position improve.
11. Bitch I'm Madonna (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
The title alone will probably betray the fact that this is the album's most irreverent, ridiculous song, but in case you needed more proof, see what items in the following criteria you can check off:
Are we done here?
10. Hold Tight
This album is really at it's best when Madge is working in the realm of the high-energy, powerful and lyrically superior mid-tempo, as proven by exhibit #1, 'Hold Tight'. Singing along to mid-tempo tracks keeps the high pace of the album out while still providing for an interesting and unique listen, and showing that Madge doesn't have to buy into the up-tempo craze that's infecting radio stations at the moment. 'Hold Tight' has a vaguely reggae, slightly tribal feel, but it's kept modern by a nice post-chorus in which the queen stutters "Everything's gonna..." interspersed with sound effects of some African man screaming. Is this how Akon makes money nowadays?
10. Rebel Heart (Feat. Avicii)
As the title track from the album, 'Rebel Heart' was always going to have a lot to live up to, and for the most part it succeeded - at least in demo form. Our guts tell us that the demo version of this song was originally meant to be the opening track on the album, given the atmospheric vocoder during it's intro and the slow build-up into amazingness which we've come to associate exclusively with Avicii (keep reading for more on this). Bizarrely, though, Madonna ended up scrapping the incredible production from the DJ to make way for a newer, more acoustically-based version of the song on the final album. The lyrics are just as introspective and nostalgic on the final version, but the excitement just isn't quite there.
9. 2 Steps Behind Me
We first heard about '2 Steps Behind Me' way back in early 2014 when it was listed by an insider source as a Lady Gaga diss track, and one of the first recorded for the album. Madonna may deny the fact that the song is aimed at her fellow pop princess, but the lyrics don't lie: check out lines like "Did you study way hard enough, trying to be a bust?/Yeah that's cool and all now get in line/Tickets are gonna cost". Sis has clearly done her research on those Born This Way Ball tour deals. Despite that, the song is actually pretty great; there's not too much sonical development throughout the whole thing, with just one simple relenting beat keeping the whole thing going, but the melody is super catchy and the synths are giving us disco realness. In a weird way, though, we're actually kind of happy it didn't make the album. Madge seemed to put an end to the infamous Gaga feud early this year when she praised an Instagram photo of her peer, and officially releasing the song on an album would definitely have started up another round of endless shade throwing between the artists and their fanbases. Somehow, this song was released in just the way it was meant to be.
8. Addicted (The One That Got Away)
It was a close call between the album and demo version of 'Addicted', and to be fair they're pretty similar for the most part. The only noticeable differences come in the hazy, echoey synths present in the demo version which are quite a bit sharper in the album version (somewhat of a mistake given how tinny they sound), and the glorious quasi-disco vocoder in the chorus of the demo you don't get in the final song. Really though, any version of this track is bound to impress, with both featuring the same punchy chorus, electric guitars, and dance break. It may not be quite on par with the Avicii productions, but it's definitely not far from them either.
7. Body Shop
Remember that scene in 'Big Girls Don't Cry' where Fergie is prancing around a car in a barn and wearing only a cowboy hat, a tied up flannel and daisy dukes? Well, 'Body Shop' successfully manages to take that one scene and make a song out of it. Basing an entire song around car metaphors may seem kind of overdone, but the production manages to make the somewhat cliched, kitschy lyrics less Rihanna's 'Shut Up And Drive' and more Shakira's 'Gypsy'. Out of all the slower, folky songs on the album, this one has to be our favourite; there's a simplistic sweetness and tenderness to it that's hard to dislike. And for once, Madge's admittedly thin vocals aren't actually ill-suited to one of her slower songs. We're officially in love.
6. Joan of Arc
'Joan of Arc' is probably the best down-tempo song Madonna has recorded in years - yards better than 'Miles Away' and worth much more than 'Masterpiece'. She's always been at her best when exploring and subverting religious imagery, and she's at her best here with lyrics dedicated to the world's foremost feminist icon such as "I don't wanna talk about it right now/Even hearts made out of steel can break down./I'm not Joan of Arc, not yet/I'm only human, oh yeah." 'Joan of Arc' keeps up the bass-heavy gypsy pop we heard in 'Body Shop' but with a slightly more defined beat, matching perfectly with the themes of soldiering on heard in the lyrics. For an even slower change of pace, try the leaked acoustic version - you won't regret it.
5. Holy Water
It's safe to say that 'Holy Water' had a lot to live up to, after Q.O.P.'s (that's Queen Of Pop for the uneducated peasants among you) continuous teasing of the track on Instagram, often accompanied by a provocative picture of herself and her modern day narcissistic, attention grabbing counterpart, Natalia Kills. It's even more well established that the first leaked demo of the song disappointed somewhat, with incredibly weak vocals and a very Kills-esque refrain of the tacky and tryhard "bitch, get off my pole". Luckily, the song had much more to give than this lackluster first attempt, and the album version improved on the demo in every way possible. Importantly, there's an impressive middle eight built up to throughout the whole song in which Q.O.P. self references with a sample of the perpetually danceable 'Vogue' - a little cocky, sure, but who's complaining about an excuse to hear that jam again? It's the kind of narcissism that's good for a glass of wine, a snigger, and a whole lot of dancing.
Even in it's first admittedly messy inclusion in the first batch of leaks a few months ago, 'Illuminati' always stood out as a total jam. Influenced by those ridiculous comments you see on YouTube which call everyone with a nose a devil worshipper ("Noses are shaped like triangles! Triangles are similar to pyramids! Aliens created pyramids! Aliens are evil! The devil is evil! Everyone with noses is a devil worshipper!"), Madonna channels her 'Erotica' incarnation here with a serve of some tongue in cheek spoken word realness that simultaneously mocks and educates said YouTube trolls. The only thing that could ever have improved the song was some cleaner vocals and a harder beat, both of which were brought to the table in the final album version with a restructured production courtesy of Kanye West and long-time collaborator Mike Dean. What more could you want?
3. Devil Pray
Here's one Avicii collaboration that actually did make the album, and we're incredibly glad it did. 'Devil Pray' is a nice meeting point between the irreverent, mindless dance tunes on the album; the rebellious, often religious, gypsy-like slow jams; and the uplifting acoustics that have all fused together here to form Chemical X. The song begins with some chilled-out, percussive guitar strumming, before a surprise twist in the form of one of the most random lines on the album, "We could do drugs and we could smoke weed and we could drink whiskey". But it's not until the pre-chorus beat that things start getting really interesting, and it's not until the chorus that nirvana is achieved. It starts with a simplistic beat overlaid with a pitched refrain of "Oooh, save my soul" which is then again layered with some extra atmospheric beats and Madonna's own vocals. We dare you not to grind to this.
2. Wash All Over Me (Feat. Avicii)
As our first unofficial taste of the album when it became the first track to leak, 'Wash All Over Me' was always in prime position to impress - and that it did. Offering us a brand new sound from the Queen, totally detached from the repetitive trance beats of 'Celebration' or the rather irritating, tinny synths present throughout much of MDNA, the song instead serves us with great production courtesy of Avicii and a surprisingly deep message about submitting to whatever life has in store for you. By now, I think we've established that Avicii is basically the master of a perfect build-up and an epic post-chorus breakdown, and he proves it here with an impeccable post-chorus that consists of Madonna repeating "let it wash all over me" and an ultimate moody yet movable dance break that is bound to get your heart racing. It's pretty close to pop perfection.
1. Borrowed Time (Feat. Avicii)
Here's another scrapped Avicii collaboration whose ultimate rejection on the album broke everyone's heart. Despite positive fan reaction to the tune, Madge decided to opt once again for a more acoustic version of the track on the final release, a choice we can't help but think of as a mistake. Remember how we said that Avicii was king of the breakdown? Well, he's in fine form here with a break that sounds like the best summers of your life distilled into musical form. The synths are fun and airy, the lyrics are just deep enough to believe in and yet not too deep as to be depressing, and queen's vocals have never sounded better. Are Avicii's publishing fees just too high, or what? We honestly can't think of any other reason as to why this total jam would be left off the album.
What's your favourite song on Rebel Heart? Are there any standout tracks you think we missed? Let us know in the comments below or over at the forum!