OOH now we are really on the road. We continue on to the first Madonna album I ever bought, shortly after its release in 1998. I was buying a lot of CDs at that time, and while I liked Frozen enough to get the cassette single, Ray of Light (the song) really blew me away and I had to get the album.
This still sounds amazing years later. I was very pleased to realise this, as it had started to fade a little last time I listened to it, but now I’ve almost rediscovered it. Oh and how gorgeous is the artwork?
09 Drowned World/Substitute for love: I never really GOT this before, certainly not when it was the rather unusual choice for a 3rd single. A real late bloomer for me, but I’ve really started to love it now. Maybe it’s because I’ve become so accustomed to tedious “fame isn’t that great, boo hoo” eye-rollers from many major stars since.
Is this two songs though? I mean is the intro the “Drowned world” bit? I don’t know, for some reason I’ve never questioned the backslashed title. Anyway it might seem a bit of an insubstantial song, but I love the different stages to the song musically, especially when it kicks in a bit towards the end. A DELIGHT.
07 Swim: I’m used to albums being front-loaded, but this seems to be the opposite. I mean I like the song, I love Orbit’s production on it, especially introducing guitars without it becoming a ‘thing’. The lyrics are a bit preachy and over the top though, are students REALLY raping their teachers? Chillax! I always thought the judges were burning the preachers, oops.
10 Ray of light: OMG. At one point I was saying this was my favourite song of all time, and maybe it’s not QUITE there right now (how can you even answer that question?), but certainly it’s up there, and a formidable song/video package too. I think the video is what really sold it to me, a frantic amazing mess of hippy Madonna and time-lapse insanity. Joyous as ever, and about as relaxed as she’s going to get on this album, or EVER. ANNA FRIIIEEEEELLLLL *shrieks*
07 Candy Perfume Girl: Glad to get this one over with, the weakest link from an otherwise amazing album. I like the beat to it, that’s something they really got right with the whole album. The song itself doesn’t really feel like it’s going anywhere, nonsense! I do like the GIRL… BOY…GIRL…BOY wind-down at the end though.
09 Skin: I was proper into this when I first got the album, and now I’m totally there again. I can sort of relate, Marge is getting a bit paranoid, horny and worried that her crush has realised all this already. Or that’s what I read into it anyway. A really balls-out club track too, love it. I always thought of Music as the dancier album of the two but I really have to re-think that. Again, I love the production so much.
10 Nothing really matters: I really feel bad that this was the last single, but glad that it got released at all. AMAZING video, I love it to bits, and the song is amazing too. Another clubby one but more commercial than Skin. I just love her voice on this, and how it really gets a really dirty beat thing towards the end to replace its great but “a bit Todd Terry” beat in the first chorus. I really can’t imagine this without the video, but that does no harm to its appeal, it’s another superb package.
09 Sky fits heaven: OMG it just doesn’t let up does it? Best run of three songs since Like a Prayer, probably better than that. Again, we are back in clubland… I feel like her vocals on this whole album aren’t as strong as I thought. But in saying that, they suit the album perfectly, I just feel like there was this impression that post-Evita she was some great VOICE. Still, she fits the feel of the album and doesn’t get too swamped by the busy arrangements, so it’s fine by me.
08 Shanti/Ashtangi: Now I suppose this should be a bit of a dud, but it really isn’t, I don’t know why. I can’t imagine any other artist managing to get me to do karaoke to SANSKRIT, so mad propz for that. VANDE-E-E-E-E *beat*. Quite fond of the Bhangra-dance-lite vibe, a surprise hit. OOHHMM SHANTI
10 Frozen: So this is the big song from the album, though I can’t help but think that’s a slightly undeserved title. I mean sure it’s great, the video was amazing, but I don’t know, I guess I just prefer uptempos. Still, it is an orchestral showstopper, and it put her back on top so I can’t really complain. I’m getting a bit of a second wind with this one, it’s just got some lovely understated production: plenty of strings (particularly at the end), some sparse electronica, her chanty vocals. Again I think it’s a song like “Ray of light” and “Nothing really matters” that I just cannot detach from the superb video.
08 The Power of Goodbye: Now this will probably get some hackles up, I really just don’t rate this so highly anymore. I LOVED it when I first got the album, particularly that gorgeous orchestral middle-8. But the vocals just aren’t really there, she gets out of her range and there’s just not much TO IT. I didn’t think the video was all that either, SORRY BUT I SAID IT. Still, mediocre on an album like this is still pretty hot.
08 To have and not to hold: Now THIS is more like it. I love the rhythm to this so much. Can someone with a bit of knowledge tell me what it is, is it BOSSA NOVA? I hope so. Anyway the vocals are a bit thin, and some of the lyrics are a bit tired (“like a moth to a flame”). Actually, why DO I love this? I feel like I’m talking myself out of it. But yeah, great track still.
09 Little Star: What’s with the rather serious-sounding intro? I love it though, in fact this probably demonstrates more than any other song how much I love the production. Some might think of it as rather aimless zips and beeps but I really love it. That’s pretty par for the course for Orbit, so in that respect I’m glad we never got Ray of light II as I think that would dilute what this album achieved somehow. Even a song about little monobrowed LOLA doesn’t sound as craptastic as many other stars’ song about their kids. For such a cold-sounding ethereal backing track it’s a very warm lovely track, especially the middle-8, how gorgeous is that?
10 Mer Girl: Now I’ve only just got into this in the last few years, a very minimal closing track, more Bjorky than Bedtime Story ever was. I get utterly transfixed by this every time. I never really go for poetry but this really feels like that’s what this is. It just seems to fit the music so well and I hang on every word.
We do get a sneak preview of the English Rose Madonna running past that mailBOX in Poppins-esque tones. Bit of a weird fantasy song, poor Marge is having a tough day, running away from home and falling into a grave. OH GOD I LOVE THIS, really vividly paints the scene for me, I don’t even notice the usual “mum died” musings. I love that whole “and the ground gave way beneath my feet” with that weird ambulance effect. AMAZING. Or maybe it’s just me.
WHOO! So that was that, I feel really re-energised in my love for this album now, I am glad I did this again. I was worried I was getting over this, but I’m glad to report this isn’t the case.
Hats off to William Orbit though, he had a good run, what with this, his hit single and All Saints’ two best singles by miles. The production on this is really amazing, this is totally her most coherent album up to this point, not just a collection of songs. But like I said before, I am a little glad that Ray of Light was a one-off, I think another album of the same old tricks would have been all-too-easy to make.
Keepers for the iPod: Drowned World/Substitute for love, Ray of light, Skin, Nothing really matters, Sky fits heaven, Frozen, To have and not to hold, The power of goodbye, Little Star, Mer girl.