Ray Of Light


Warner Brothers Records, 1998




Motherhood, vocal lessons and a uniquely talented producer-collaborator (as opposed to a simply "hot" producer-collaborator) has resulted in the crowning jewel of Madonna's formidably-experimented career.

This album uses electronica as its playground, done with the help of sound engineer William Orbit who had previously elevated the ass-dragging "Justify My Love" into a more cerebral and sensuously textured remix. Although the themes are more diverse, it's not a huge departure from the freely experimenting spirit of Erotica . But this time she hasn't bitten off more than she can chew.

The ready-to-explode club hit title track has some major textures going on (and on and on) to make the sound eager to be danced to, radioed and remixed. I can hardly type this with all the dancing I'm doing to this song; it has an engineered sophistication "Vogue", in my (former) opinion her best dance track, regretfully lacked. Divinely-textured "Sky Fits Heaven" might as well be a b-side; both tracks are undoubtably electronica.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Frozen" has an Enya-like quality with its moving strings and Madonna exploiting a new exquisite vocal range. The lyrics aren't up to par with the rest of the album but such is the price for bel canto; note that she's compensating lyrics for music when it was usually the other way around. Bjork would be proud of "Skin", an epic landscape of desire "Bedtime Stories" didn't quite grasp.

Her ballads have a new enhanced feel resulting in songs which are Madonnally radio friendly without a hint of regurgitation. "The Power Of Goodbye" and "Swim" are Sarah McLachlan in quality but with that distinct melodic stamp of Madonna Ballads. "Little Star", a lulluby to her daughter, is exquisitely crafted in the tradition of "This Used To Be My Playground" and "Rain". Touched with a little sythnthesizer magic, of course.

World music influences echos everywhere throughout Ray Of Light, but it's most obvious in the tracks "To Have And Not To Hold" and "Shanti/Ashtangi" (the latter sung in Sanskrit). The ambience is exotic but not devoid of Madonna and Orbit's efforts at bringing the melody into a level of purity unheard of in a Madonna album until now (don't even think about "La Isla Bonita").

What to make of the astonishing imagery of "Mer Girl". I know I should say something about it but I choose to leave this for you to ponder over.

Austere, remarkably underproduced and without half the hooks Bedtime Stories was artfully tailored to, Ray Of Light shows obvious progress even for Madonna. Like Erotica, every spin makes it better. My advice to those Eurodance fans is to just keep playing it; because underneath all that electric pizazz, the lady can still make a groove.

Rating: B+

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© 1998 JB and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.