Friday, October 29, 2010

363. Ray of Light- Not actually an album about a guy named Ray.

Album: Ray of Light
Artist: Madonna
Year: 1998
Genre: Pop


1. Drowned World/Substitute for Love
2. Swim
3. Ray of Light
4. Candy Perfume Girl
5. Skin
6. Nothing Really Matters
7. Sky Fits Heaven
8. Shanti/Ashtangi
9. Frozen
10. The Power of Good-Bye
11. To Have and Not to Hold
12. Little Star
13. Mer Girl

Madonna is a bit of a surprise package I must say. I had her pretty much tagged in a box, it was labeled "not for me" and had a small note on the side that said "major attention seeker". This survey is the first time I've sat down and actually listened to any of her albums. I'm surprised to say the highlights of her career are more enjoyable than I'd given her credit for. Ray of Light is actually not bad. I'm not going to relabel the box "my new favourite thing" but its definitely made me realise that she's more than just a collection of headlines, failed adoptions and increasingly ropey erotic photographs.

Ray of Light is a pop album and consequently Pop in all it's sensibilities. The producer is effectively a co-creator since the music utilises whatever he and Madge feel best suits the songs. There are instruments sometimes and at other stages there's just noises created by machines. But at no point does Maddey get herself swamped by the backing and risk becoming just a face in a video clip. She apparently undertook a lot of vocal training before the album and was consequently eager to show off her singing ability. She does this by varying her style and proving she can put her stamp on whatever she decides to turn her mind to. Madonna actually has quite a sweet voice. I know this probably isn't news to her legion of fans but for those of us who only knew her through Like a Virgin it's quite a shock. Drowned World (Substitute for love) is a slow tempo number that would fall in a heap if the person at the centre couldn't hold the attention of the audience.

She's got a commanding presence that Madonna. It leads me to wonder if she has that authority on an album because of her own voice or because she's such a larger than life individual. In a few albums I'll be reviewing an album by The Yardbirds. I love their music and I can sing every word on the album in question but I can't formulate a picture of what the lead singer looks like. He's an anonymous figure in my mind. But I can picture Madonna quite clearly, sometimes she's even wearing clothes. Does the fact that she's such a personality make these songs more accessible or would it have an impact even if it was a debut release by an otherwise anonymous entity?

Either way the point is that the songs on Ray of Light are definitely Pop but it's music that I didn't hate listening to, which means it must be a pretty exceptional example of the genre.

Highlight: The Title Track
Lowlight: Mer Girl

Influenced by: Madonna's desire to be taken seriously.
Influenced: People who take Madonna seriously.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I'm sorry, Madonna fans, but after having been fans of Madonna for years, we've had enough of hearing this queen of controversy, showing off her body just so she can win men and sell zillions of albums. Mother hates her now (except for some of her early works?), and I don't think she can sing. No matter how much she recovers from the attitude she used to have, it's apparent she'll never change."

-That's just weird: "Mother hates her now" -what the hell does that mean? Does anyone else picture this reviewer looking a lot like Normal Bates?

So did you embrace Madonna's Ray of light or would you rather sit in the darkness? Let me know below.


  1. (this is a re-direct from the review comment from "Trans-Europe Express" by Kraftwerk (#253)

    (This is going to be shorter btw)

    OK, I have to admit, I have not heard this album in its entirety (though I am planning on getting it someday). I have heard a few tracks, and, even from that, I realized that the production is stunning. (In fact, "Ray of Light" is actually very well-known for it's production by Madonna, William Orbit, et. al.) I bring this up because, like Eno's work, it is notable for using synthesizers that enhance the sound by bringing out warmth, vibrancy and idiosyncrasy to the music, as opposed to making them sound like a cold and detached product of industrial design (like what krautrock bands like Kraftwerk, etc. tried to do). I mean this album is what brought Madonna back to becoming relevant. As I can tell, the critics lauded it, and I think it even won a Grammy (yes I know the Grammy's suck, but anyways...).

    So, even though it is (understandably) not your favourite, I am wondering what you think about the production. Maybe you used them, but, if not try putting on a pair of headphones, which may help you take note of the high production values.

    I am also going to re-direct you to my review comment for "Another Green World" by Eno (#433), as I have published similar commentary:

    1. I've always felt production should be a bit like film editing- you only really notice it if it's badly done. If done well then production should just help to bring out the best in the songs and the musicians. My general rule is that if I'm noticing the production it's too prominent.