Ray of Light
The Road from Naughty to Namaste
Once she stopped being the Material Girl and the transgressive wayward Catholic school student, after she'd exhausted every trickedout voguing move and played every sex-taboo card available to a media-exploiting mythmaking superstar, Madonna got saved. By yoga.
Ray of Light is the account of her awakening. Or, depending on the perspective, her atonement.
It presents la diva Ciccone at her most reflective: Where in the past, her lyrics were extensions of whatever imagemanipulation ploy she had in play, she's suddenly spouting cosmic truths—about devotion to higher ideals, about love as a redeeming force, about the merciless boomerang of karma. In these songs, love is something far loftier than the horny obsession she so expertly glorified on early singles, something precious and almost noble. She signals this change of heart, which allegedly grew out of her two-hour daily yoga practice, in the album's opener, which talks about how she confused the trappings of fame for love: "[I]t all became a silly game, some things cannot be bought."
With that, Madonna neatly flips the narcissism of club music into a soundtrack for the solo-journeying, ever-seeking higher self. She's aiming for the realm of the exalted, and amazingly, she hits the mark. The hustling loops, blipping electronic textures, and warm synthy strings created by electronic pioneer William Orbit (and others) cushion some of the most beguiling hooks she's written, among them "Nothing Really Matters" and the samba-tinged "To Have and Not to Hold." Ray of Light stands alone in Madonna's catalog, largely because the contrivances are kept to a minimum. And because for the first time since her debut, she comes across as fully immersed in the possibilities of the music, not the marketing tricks she'll use to sell it.
Released: 1998, Maverick/Warner Bros.
Key Tracks: "To Have and Not to Hold," "Ray of Light"
Catalog Choice: The Immaculate Collection
Next Stop: Sarah McLachlan: Surfacing
After That: Krishna Das: Breath of the Heart
Book Pages: 463–464