I had started listening to Madonna in the mid 1980s, and had enjoyed her music for quite some time. However, the interest waned a bit during the Erotica and Bedtime Stories eras; while I liked some of the music being released during those eras, I overall thought that the songs just weren’t as strong as the earlier material. When Madonna released “Frozen,” the lead-off single for Ray of Light, I was impressed. When the Ray of Light album was released on March 3, 1998, I gave it a listen at a listening station in an FYE. I was impressed enough by the clips that I heard, that I convinced my husband we should buy it. It turned out that we weren’t disappointed by our purchase. We liked how Madonna turned to William Orbit as a producer, and how she produced an electronic album that doesn’t feel cold and emotionless.
The first song on the album is “Drowned World/Substitute for Love,” which was released as a single outside of North America. This downtempo number has Madonna wondering why she thought fame was so important. The song opens with a male voice saying “You see,” which was sampled from “Why I Follow the Tigers” by The San Sebastian Strings.
The next song on the album is “Swim.” It’s a song about someone not wanting to carry the burdens of the world on their shoulders, and wanting to get away from it all. Next on the album is the title song, “Ray of Light,” which was released as the second single from the album. “Ray of Light” is an upbeat song that’s based on a song called “Sepheryn,” which was written by Clive Maldoon and Dave Curtiss; however, in Madonna’s version, the song uses a different melody and instrumentation.
Next on the album is “Candy Perfume Girl,” which is a midtempo song that leans more toward being upbeat. Lyrically, it’s a song where the speaker is desiring another person. This is followed by “Skin,” another midtempo track that leans more toward being upbeat. This is a song where the speaker is with someone, and they desire more from that person.
The next song on Ray of Light is the midtempo “Nothing Really Matters,” which was released as the final single from the album. In interviews, Madonna has said that her main inspiration for this song came from other people judging and dissecting her creative process. She also said that another important inspiration for the song was her daughter, Lourdes. Lyrically, this song is about how at the end of the day, nothing really matters except for love and for sharing love with others. “Sky Fits Heaven” is the next song, and is a midtempo song that leans more toward being uptempo. It’s a song about following your heart and following your dreams, but watching out for signs of trouble as you do.
“Shanti/Ashtangi” is a song that’s adapted from text by Shankaracharya, and is taken from the Yoga Taravali. Musically, this song is kind of interesting, because it has a hint of a Middle Eastern sound to it. However, I have to admit that this is a song that I don’t listen to a whole lot. It’s not a bad song, but it’s just not one that I find myself compelled to listen to. This is followed by “Frozen,” which was released as the first single from Ray of Light. There’s a “darker” undertone to this song, which is punctuated by some Middle Eastern percussion in the opening. Madonna has said that the lyrics are about “an emotionally frozen man.”
“The Power of Good-Bye” is next on the album, and it’s one of the few truly slow songs on the album; this was released as a single from Ray of Light. The lyrics of the song talk about a painful breakup, and these lyrics are given life through music that utilizes a lot of string instruments and electronics. The next song on the album is “To Have and Not to Hold,” which is a midtempo song that leans more toward being a ballad. It’s a song where the speaker is in love with someone, but this person doesn’t love the speaker in return.
This is followed by “Little Star,” which was released in the UK as a double A-side with “The Power of Good-Bye.” This upbeat song is about Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes. In the lyrics, Madonna talks about how Lourdes is such a gift to her, and asks for Lourdes to be protected from hurt and sadness. The final song on the album is “Mer Girl,” which is a very slow song with very little instrumentation. I have to admit that by far, this is my least favorite song the album. Luckily, it’s the last track on the album, and very easy avoid. While “Mer Girl” isn’t necessarily a bad song, I just personally think that it can be rather boring to listen to.
Even with “Mer Girl” and “Shanti/Ashtangi” on the album, I believe that Ray of Light is one of the strongest albums in Madonna’s catalog, and that later releases just haven’t been able to live up to the expectations created by Ray of Light.
I wrote this review after listening to a copy of Ray of Light that my husband and I purchased.