Saturday, 23 May 2015

50 albums to take to my grave #22: Ray Of Light

Not expecting this one, were we? I wrestled over whether 'Like A Prayer' or 'Ray Of Light' would make this list. Both are absolutely worthy of being here, but my self-imposed rule of only one title per artist means I was forced to choose. In the end, I went for 'Ray Of Light'. For me, it's the most musically and vocally dynamic record of Мadonna's career. It's credited as being the album that brought electronic music to the forefront of mainstream culture. I don't care about that so much, but it did make me sit up and take notice of her again.

'Ray Of Light' is rich and varied in its sounds and moods, yet it never veers too far off the pop path Мadonna had travelled down in her 15 year career up to this point. However, it was more mature than anything she had done before, whilst remaining as relevant as ever. For me, electronic music can far too often drift into nonsensical computerised nothingness - no soul, no heart, no feeling. Here though, the electronics are used to amazing effect. Sky Fits Heaven is devastatingly powerful, belying the delicate melody Мadonna sings over the top. That contrast is stark but boy does it work well. The title track, one of the best tracks in her entire repertoire, is dynamic and exciting. Мadonna's vocal is astounding, showing off a range even she probably didn't realise she had.

Her spiritual studies play a part in the overall feel of the album too. There are a lot of references to South Asian mysticism and the Kaballah, in particular on Shanti/Ashtangi, where her reading of a Hindu prayer in Sanskrit over a driving electronic rhythm sends shivers down my spine. This meshing of the ancient with the modern may not have been entirely new, but it was practically unheard of for a mainstream pop superstar at the time. Then there's the ambient closer Mer Girl, which could in all honesty be a Björk track. No bad thing.

Ultimately though, as you probably know, for me he most important thing is: bugger the technical stuff, are the songs any good? Fortunately, 'Ray Of Light' comes up trumps here too. Aside from the aforementioned ones, Swim, Frozen and The Power Of Goodbye rate right up there among her best work. It's not surprising 'Ray Of Light' picked up so many plaudits in 1997. What is surprising is how good it sounds 18 years on. It's certainly dated much better than 'Like A Prayer', as great as that record is.

Some of you probably haven't got this far down this piece. In fact, some of you probably just read the title and got the hell out of Dodge as fast as you could. Deal with it. I stand by my choice. 'Ray Of Light' is an awesome piece of work and one that I'm proud to hold up as an all-time fave.


  1. The one and only Madonna album in my collection. All you naysayers and doubters check it out, TheRobster is spot on!

  2. Agree. This is a great album, though William Orbit is owed much of the credit. There were a few instrumentals floating around a few years ago that really showed how good the music was on this album.

    Acid Ted blog

  3. Acid Ted is correct. I've always felt this was a Madonna/Orbit record, just it's follow up was a Madonna/Mirwas collaboration (with some left over Orbit compositions for good measure). I think that for me, Bedtime Stories was the ultimate Madonna album. The use of multiple producers created a nicely varied collection of songs and got her away from the Patrick Leonard/Nile Rogers sound.
    But in the end, none of her work is essential enough for inclusion in my casket.