Madonna – Ray of Light

The latest music from dance divas Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears vear off into electronica territory, but they never rise to the level of work that Madonna has been putting out for years.

Madonna is one of the few pop artists that regularly crank out albums – completely thought out listening experiences, instead of just a collection of tracks. This 1998 release is no exception.

On Ray of Light, Madonna works electronica artist William Orbit, and the result is one of the best combinations of the electronica and pop worlds ever put to CD. Orbit brings legitimate electronica chops to the coupling, while Madonna adds that special sauce that gives it mainstream appeal. She also takes Orbit’s music to higher levels by giving the electronica some pop sensibility.

The CD starts out with “Drowned World/Substitute for Love”. From the very first notes, you can hear Orbit’s influence. The sounds he brings to the album are similar to those on his Strange Cargo releases. This track builds to a slow dance groove, while the lyrics reflect on how easy it is to find everything but love. The song has great builds and drop-outs, builds to an exciting climax, and is a great taste of what’s to come.

The title track, “Ray of Light”, put trance into the pop. The track is upbeat trance, but with an added pop twist. Madonna creates a verse-chorus structure that adds some motion to the music, and also makes it very accessible, without compromising the dance/trance aesthetic. The lyrics take off from the trippy music:

“Zephyr in the sky at night I wonder
Do my tears of mourning sink beneath the sun
She’s got herself a universe gone quickly
For the call of thunder threatens everyone

And I feel like I just got home
And I feel
And I feel like I just got home
And I feel”

“Skin” is another trip to the trance world. This has a darker sound than “Ray of Light”, but continues her pop twist of electronica. “Nothing Really Matters” is one of the weaker cuts – there’s much less of an electronica influence. This cut has trite lyrcs “Nothing really matters…love is all you need”. If the music were better on this track, the words might have sounded profound, but over music that rehashes her 80’s hits, it sounds fairly insipid.

Fortunately, the next track “Sky Fits Heaven”, jump back into trance territory. This track is interesting in the way that the versus sound very much trance/dance, but the choruses sound very pop. It’s almost like Madonna and Orbit traded off writing the music for the verses and the chorus.

“Shanti/Ashtangi” is one of the trippiest cuts on the track. Orbit lays down some distorted beats, and throwns in an “Indian” through the use of samples and tabla percussion. Madonna’s lyrics are daring for a mainstream dance artists – they’re religious, and aren’t even in English:

“Vunde gurunam caranaravinde
Sandarsita svatma sukhavabodhe
Nihsreyase jangalikayamane
Sansara halahala moha santyai
Hala hala
Ahahu purusakaram sankha cakrasi
Ahahu purusakaram sankha cakrasi
Dharinam dharinam sahasra sirasam
Dharinam dharinam sahasra sirasam
Vande

(Translation:
I worship the gurus’ lotus feet
Awakening the happiness of the self revealed
Beyond comparison, working like the jungle physician
To pacify loss of consciousness from the poison of existence
In the form of a man up to the shoulders
Holding a conch, discus and sword
Thousand headed, white
I bow respectfully
Peace”

“Shanti/Ashtangi” manages to be trippy, danceworthy, and spiritual at the same time.

The pace lags a little towards the end of the album. A couple of weaker tracks, “The Power of Goodbye”, and “To Have and Not to Hold”, never really take off. Madonna closes off Ray of Light with “Mer Girl”, a slow, abstract tune that really shows Orbit’s influence. This cut is daring and makes no accomodations to pop.

If there’s a real criticism to be made of this CD, it’s the lyrics. Madonna’s strongest at songs that are straightforward lyrically, or at the sex-charged dance tunes that she’s best known for. Songs like “Candy Perfume Girl” sound interesting, but may lead to a little head-scratching if you think about them too much.

Madonna’s singing on Ray of Light is strong. The CD comes after her work on Evita, and the voice training she did for that movie seems to have paid off. Her vocals are strong and expressive, throughout. Orbit seems to have been inspired to do some of his best work, and definitely left his mark. Together, they made Ray of Light one of the strongest pop electronica albums yet.

2 thoughts on “Madonna – Ray of Light

  1. This album as many people around the globe have said is the most amazing album ever created from any artist just for ambracing electrocia~pop together! with it’s even huge comming from a pop dance diva Ms, MADONNA the queen of reinvention of all times.

    this album it’s hard to love but hardest to leave one time it has taken place on you. it’s beautiful that on every single spin you gave it, you found new things to enjoy and to learn. this it’s my all time favorite album. i just have an opinion: to have and not to hold must never got part of the whole thing.

    and comming from madonna who will never do twice a thing i know this is a unique piece that she won’t do again not even better as we know she could.

    Trujillo. Honduras C.A.
    [email protected]
    (sorry if u find something wrong on what i wrote i’m still learning the language)

  2. Leonardo

    Thanks for the feedback.

    You’re right – it is a great album – one of her bests. It’s not as immediately accessible as some other album, but it does offer a lot every time you give it a new listen.

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