Madonna, “Madame X” (Interscope)
Her new record is suffused with a sense of place — Portugal, where she has lived in a castle-like estate near Lisbon for much of the past few years.
She has role-play on her mind. Madonna, 60, has described the Madame X of her album as a secret agent. She has been toying with identity for decades; her upcoming tour will put her in theaters, all the better to highlight that the acting is in her singing.
Nobody listens to a record by Madonna — as you would, say, a record by Drake or Cardi B — for an explicit accounting of her off-screen activities; this album, like “Like a Virgin,” deals proudly in concepts.
Which isn’t to say that Madonna didn’t want “Madame X” to sound like Drake or Cardi B. As she did on 2015’s “Rebel Heart,” the singer assembled a team of in-demand producers and songwriters, including Diplo, Mike Dean and Jeff Bhasker; Quavo of Migos, Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd and Colombian singer Maluma each turn up for a duet.
And though it’s clear that Madonna’s surroundings informed the album — “Faz Gostoso” is a cover of a 2018 hit by Portuguese artist Blaya — it’s also true that the throbbing Latin-pop beats in “Medellin” and “Bitch I’m Loca” are in keeping with a current Top 40 shaped by “Despacito” and “I Like It.”
As always, she’s singing about the dangers of giving into love and about the need to resist phony authority; in “Killers Who Are Partying,” she runs through a list of all the marginalized communities she feels the need to protect — the latest in a long line of Madonna songs about the many responsibilities women are asked to shoulder.
The problem on “Madame X” is that neither the post-trap grooves nor the winding melodies are sturdy enough to make this stuff stick. She seems to have assumed that the force of her personality would put the songs across. But as a piece of emotional philosophy, “Crazy,” to name one flimsy new tune, has nothing on “Crazy for You.”
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
Jonas Brothers, “Happiness Begins” (Republic)
The now-adult Jonas Brothers are making grown-and-sexy music without losing their kiddish charm. The trio’s fifth studio album — the first since 2009 and the solo careers of Nick and Joe — finds the brothers tackling more risqué, emotional turf than before. There’s a reason that the irresistible vocal harmonies, sumptuous melody and stop-starting rhythm of “Sucker” gave the Jonases their first No. 1 single. The same can be said of the vocal unity that fuels the down-tempo “Cool” and the ardent pop of “Every Single Time.” Plus, anyone looking for Nick and Joe to up the ante on who’s got the creamier falsetto can listen to “I Believe” and Joe’s steamy “Hesitate,” each written for his respective bride.
A.d. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Raconteurs, “Help Us Stranger”
• Mark Ronson, “Late Night Feelings”
• Willie Nelson, “Ride Me Back Home”
• Hollywood Vampires, “Rise”
• Hot Chip, “A Bath Full of Ecstasy”