ReListen || Madonna – ‘Ray of Light’ (1998)

Madonna is known for her transformations as much as for her ever evolving sound. Visually speaking there have been many transformations but few have been as unexpected as the transformation in sound that occurred for the release of her seventh album Ray of Light in 1998. The signs had been there in the more mellow single ‘You’ll See’ released before the sessions for the album had begun but Ray of Light saw an expansion of the sonic directions with the then little known William Orbit as producer.

The very first statement of the album ‘I traded fame for love without a second thought/ It all became a silly game, some things cannot be bought’ is almost a spiritual rebirth, and perhaps was in many ways. Certainly, the spiritual themes explored on Ray of Light were not present in any serious form previously. For this listener though, Ray of Light is the first album from Madonna we truly love, whilst there are many earlier tracks worthy of repeated listen, Ray of Light marks the first album as a whole that has a true cohesion.

Perhaps it’s the excellent production work of William Orbit, adding something truly different to the pot or perhaps it’s the removal of the overly sexual elements that, whilst not bad in themselves were somewhat of a millstone of previous albums in their frequency of occurrence. Whatever the answer, a unified sonic and spiritual vibe underpinned by the continued pioneering of sound into a more mature dance/electronic area make Ray of Light a genuinely thrilling listen.

Nearly two decades since its release, few of the artist’s albums have even come close. (Indeed, when Orbit returned to produce half of 2012’s MDNA it was a seminal moment. As our review from the time attests, more Orbit would have made it a much better album.) The key moments are many, from the iconic video for the title track with frequent collaborator Jonas Ackerlund directing to the truly beautiful gothic vibes of Candy Perfume Girl, (made even more live with the extended outro as seen in the Drowned World Tour Film) and the ballad The Power of Goodbye, still not dimmed in its power even now.

Perhaps the key word here though is dates. Ray of Light was released in 1998 but it hasn’t aged at all. Compare this with earlier material that, although doubtlessly iconic, sounds very much of its time when listened to now. It’s one of Madonna’s most accessible albums to that quarter who listen to what some might term as ‘real music’ and that makes the key to its appeal. There is certainly a place for pop music and there is much to be said for its existence but when extra depth and out of the box thinking is added to the mix magic can happen. That is the magic of Madonna’s music from this album on (with some exceptions, it has to be said in the form of the hit and miss Hard Candy) and as we write this who knows what is brewing? 

Highlights: ‘Ray of Light’, ‘Candy Perfume Girl’, ‘To Have And Not To Hold’ 


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