I think my main problem with Hard Candy, which more than delivers on its promise to provide the bops, is just that it feels too straightforward in execution. MDNA, despite a couple weird turns, also feels like Madonna is not challenging herself like we know she can. It's not until Rebel Heart that she started getting artistically spunky again, but even that album feels like it's kinda holding back and coloring inside the lines. As I've said before, it's a straightforward pop album with a kooky surface (whereas Madame X is genuinely one of the most left field albums she's ever done). I like Hard Candy a lot and love Rebel Heart (and I have time for a handful of tracks on MDNA), but I feel like they all continued a pattern of Madonna sticking too close to pop and dance that started with Confessions (as immaculately crafted and sonically adventurous as it could be) and started fraying around the edges with Rebel Heart. Madame X completely breaks that pattern, which is why I get kind of annoyed when some fans lump it in with her other recent records. Rebel Heart did lay a bit of groundwork for Madame X, but Madame X is just operating in a whole different dimension from all her work post American Life. This is not to say that experimental Madonna is necessarily the best Madonna, but Madame X really was what I had been craving from her.