Madonna was two decades old in her music career when she welcomed motherhood with open arms and gave birth to her first daughter Lourdes. She found spirituality and peace in Kabbalah. Both gave her a ground to stand on and a vantage point to see the world in a different way. For an era, she threw fame and pleasure out the window. This is an extraordinary event considering her ambition and unending pursuit of the world’s riches.
Artistically, she ditched Babyface as a collaborator. This was a bold move considering he was responsible for her mega hit “Take a Bow”. William Orbit became her partner-in-crime. Sonically, she decided to go full electronica. “Ray of Light” became her seventh studio album.
Madonna’s path and mine crossed when “Frozen” and “Ray of Light” hit the television screens. The former was a visually stunning piece of art. It was shrouded in mystery and kept me longing. I can say the same for its understated but haunting melody. The latter was the catchiest piece of EDM you could get your hands on in the 90s.
All the encounter I had with the album were with a kid that lacked perspective. What were melodies and bops then are now pieces of literature that shape my identity. I have seen the boundaries of music and decided to look past them. Most of all, I’ve gone through laughter and successes, tragic and heartbreaking experiences, that three decades of existence have afforded me.
I digress because Ray of Light resonates more today than it did before. Not only has the sound defied aging. It captures the universal and timeless experience of enlightenment and awakening.
It’s a bonus that “Drowned World/Substitute for Love”, “Nothing Really Matters” and “Ray of Light” opened the public’s eyes to her newfound appreciation for life’s treasures. The real reward is how these tracks take you on your own journey of self-discovery and fulfillment. They act as catalysts in us sifting through life’s wreckage.
Nothing on the radio sounds like “Frozen. None then, none today. That, along with “The Power of Good-bye”, serves as a reminder that she makes more than just dance music. She is a balladeer and a shapeshifter. People often forget but she was behind the number one hit “Crazy for You”.
Now, drawing inspiration from people in your personal life is commonplace. Back then, and years into the TRL era, the approach that paid off would be to appeal to a teenage demographic discussing teenage problems. They certainly didn’t bother about motherhood or the perils of fame.
Nevertheless, she chose to bare her life and expose her vulnerabilities. Ray of Light is more naked than what Erotica and Sex combined could make her. She made a record (“Swim”) about overcoming darkness in this world. She was in the studio the same day her friend Gianni Versace got murdered. She expressed her thoughts about two women in her life that made her who she was then – her daughter and mother – in “Little Star” and “Mer Girl”.
In my view, the unsung heroes of this album are “Skin” and “Sky Fits Heaven”. If released in the 90s, they would’ve ruled the clubs and left blood on the dancefloor. The EDM experience I get is not headbanging. Instead, the songs put you in a state of trance and a mode of introspection. They elevate the listener into heavenly territory. Pink once wondered if God is a DJ. Maybe these two would’ve made the playlist.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t skip a track on the album. “Shanti/Ashtangi” is unconventional and in the most extreme way possible. The song alone cannot make a dent on an otherwise solid and consistent tracklist.
Ray of Light is a defining album for the Queen of Pop. I would say it’s a defining album for any artist. To date, this opus ranks as one of my all-time favorites.
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