Before last week, I was one of those people who would have laughed if someone would have told me that I would both own and at least partially enjoy a Madonna album. Although I liked random tracks throughout her career, I never thought that I would actually plunk down the cash for a whole disc of her music. Those who have managed to hear her first single, "Frozen" or even last years "I Want You" (with Massive Attack, probably her best track ever) already have a good idea of the direction that her music has gone. While there's still an overlying pop sensibility to Ray Of Light, it's more adventurous than her past work. For the album, she enlisted the help of electronic artist William Orbit (who has done remix work for her in the past).
The whole disc finds itself in an electronic ebb and flow of trademark Orbit sounds, and it helps highlight the vocals (which are as emotive as ever) of Madonna even more. Whether she's chanting in"Shanti/Ashtangi," or screaming out at the end of the title track, the listener gets the fullest extent of her range and then some. While this definitely isn't an electronic album for purists, there are nice ambient moments in "Drowned World /Substitute For Love," the house-infused "Nothing Really Matters" and the trancey-sounding "Skin." It also doesn't take much to sense that the thick and fast beats on "Sky Fits Heaven" will soon be tearing up dancefloors all over the place.
As always, the major problem I have with Madonna is her lyrics and singing. While I really enjoy the music on the release (I'd actually like to hear an instrumental version of it), her lyrics are the usual vapid crap and I'm sure she now pictures herself as a house diva with the way she yelps in some of the songs. It's not so bad when she's singing in another language (as on the aforementioned "Shanti/Ashtangi," because I can't understand what she's saying (although anyone who knows the language would probably be annoyed by her use of it), but on the other tracks her silly vocals become an earsore. Loyal fans of her more sedate stuff may find themselves a bit tested, but she'll probably manage to snag quite a few new listeners with Ray Of Light.