I remember Madonna’s Ray of Light for not having bought it in CD. CDs then were expensive for a college student like me and I remember buying The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in CD, and buying Ray of Light in cassette to fit them into my budget. Hence, Miseducation went down in my personal history as my first-ever CD purchase. (Miseducation also ended up winning over Light for Album of the Year at the 1999 Grammy’s.)
Last weekend, I decided to revisit Ray of Light and I’ve been listening to it on loop since then. What a truly beautiful work and collaboration between Madonna and William Orbit. Madonna’s lyrics in this album are simple and pure, and it’s amazing how Orbit’s electronic music doesn’t drown them out, but instead, even heightens the emotions surrounding her words. That’s not something I can say about most dance albums and singles today. (I mean, I like, “boom-booboom-boom bass” but it’s just nowhere near eloquent as Madonna’s work in this album.)
She wrote this album after having given birth to Lourdes (hence, Drowned World and Little Star) and right at the peak of her spiritual discovery (Shanti/Ashtangi and Sky Fits Heaven), so there’s a lot more calmness, introspection, and positivity in her songs. Even with dark themes, like in Frozen and Mer Girl, Madonna sings them meekly. I like practically all songs but these are the ones I love:
This has to be the best example of how the lyrics and electronic music blended beautifully. I love how this started, with what sounded like bombs falling in distant shores, and how they repeat in loop like dementors wailing, and suddenly, you find yourself relating to her sadness—and you’ve never even been hounded by the paparazzi. (Although at some point, I’m sure we’ve experienced being “in crowded rooms, feeling so alone.”)
The song features a sample from “Why I Follow the Tiger,” with words by the poet Rod McKuen. Full lyrics below, which I got from his website. Again, it’s this rich layer of meaning and interpretations coming from the purest of words (in this case, in a collaboration) that I love about her songs in this album.
With that guitar intro, you just know this is going to be one good song and an exceptionally brilliant day.
Previously, I just danced to this song but it was only last Sunday when this line hit me:
and the way she screams and wails and celebrates it really does hit it home, all the way to Nirvana.
I think I’ve just decided on what to write on my epitaph.
The song is good, but it’s the video directed by Chris Cunningham that took it even further. (This is also the video responsible for the henna tattoo craze; I also thought this was the period that Madonna last created revolutionary music videos.)
I love the simplicity of the special effects, particularly that series wherein she’s manipulating her cape and contorting in such spectacular ways. (I originally tweeted that Oliver Theyskens apparently designed her dress, but I’ve also been seeing Internet writeups that it’s John Paul Gaultier.)
According to Wikipedia, her character for this video is based on the Irish mythological goddess, Morrígan, who is often considered a trinity. As a war goddess, she takes the shape of a crow, as which she “would either inspire fear or courage in the hearts of the warriors.”
Ultimately, all of this is really just an impressive way to tell someone, “Manhid* ka.“
*Literally translates to “numb”