Ray of Light is Madonna's seventh studio album that was released on February 22, 1998 by Maverick Records.
- Drowned World/Substitute For Love 5:09
- Swim 5:00
- Ray Of Light 5:21
- Candy Perfume Girl 4:34
- Skin 6:22
- Nothing Really Matters 4:27
- Sky Fits Heaven 4:48
- Shanti/Ashtangi 4:29
- Frozen 6:12
- The Power Of Good-Bye 4:10
- To Have And Not To Hold 5:23
- Little Star 5:18
- Mer Girl 5:32
Following the release of her compliation album, "Something to Remember" in 1995, Madonna began taking vocal lessons to prepare for her role in the 1996 film "Evita." During 1996, she gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Lourdes. These events inspired a period of introspection.
According to Madonna in Q Magazine in 2002: "That was a big catalyst for me. It took me on a search for answers to questions I'd never asked myself before."
During the same period, she embraced Kabbalah and started studying Hinduism and yoga, all of which helped her "step outside [myself] and see the world from a different perspective."
Madonna felt that there was a "whole piece" of her voice left unused, which she decided to utilize for the album.
By May of 1997, Madonna had started writing songs for the album. She began collaborating with Babyface, who had first worked with her on her previous album "Bedtime Stories." They wrote a couple of songs together before Madonna decided the collaborations were not going in the musical direction she wanted for the album.
According to Babyface, the songs "had a 'Take a Bow-ish' kind of vibe, and Madonna didn't want, or need, to repeat herself."
After abandoning the songs she had written with Babyface, Madonna turned to musician Rick Nowels, who had previously co-written songs with Stevie Nicks and Celine Dion.
The collaboration produced seven songs in 9 days, but those songs also did not display the album's future electronic musical direction. Three of the songs: "The Power of Good-Bye", "To Have and Not to Hold" and "Little Star" appear on the album.
Madonna then began writing songs with Leonard (who had produced many songs for her in the late '80s).
Unlike her previous albums, Leonard's songwriting collaborations were accompanied by very little studio input. Madonna believed that Leonard's production "would have lent the songs more of a Peter Gabriel vibe", a sound that she did not want for the album.
Guy Oseary (the chairman of Maverick Records) then phoned British electronic musician William Orbit, and suggested that he send some songs to Madonna.
Orbit sent a 13-track digital audio tape to Madonna.
Madonna said: "I was a huge fan of William's earlier records, Strange Cargo 1 and 2 and all that. I also loved all the remixes he did for me and I was interested in fusing a kind of futuristic sound but also using lots of Indian and Moroccan influences and things like that, and I wanted it to sound old and new at the same time."
In early June before starting recording, Orbit met Madonna at her house in New York, and she played him the music she had worked on with other producers up to May 1997, which he felt sounded "slick."
They visited the Hit Factory later that week, where Madonna invited the producer to work on the album.
Orbit then sent her a tape of musical snippets he was working on, which were usually eight or sixteen-bar phrases and stripped down versions of tracks that would later be heard on the album.
Madonna listened to the samples, over and over again, until she was inspired to write lyrics. Once she had an idea about the lyrical direction of the song, she would take her ideas back to Orbit and they would expand on the original music ideas.
As most of the instrumental demos pre-existed, Madonna worked on the lyrics and melodies while at home or while travelling.
"Ray Of Life" was recorded over four and a half months at Larrabee North Studio in North Hollywood, California, beginning in mid-June 1997, the longest Madonna had ever worked on an album. For most of the recording process, only three other people were in the studio with Madonna: William Orbit, an engineer named Pat McCarthy, and his assistant engineer, Matt Silva
They started recording in Los Angeles, but the recording process was initially plagued with machinery problems, as Orbit preferred to work with samples and synth sounds, and not with live musicians. The computers would break down, and recording would have to be delayed until they could be repaired.
Orbit recorded the bulk of the album's instrumentation over a four-month period. Orbit recalls playing the guitar and having his fingers bleed during the long hours he spent in the studio.
After some errors in her pronunciation of Sanskrit shloka "Yoga Taravali" during the song "Shanti/Ashtangi", the BBC arranged for Madonna to take telephonic lessons to learn the basic correct pronunciation of Sanskrit words from eminent scholar Dr B P T Vagish Shastri. She then made the necessary pronunciation corrections on the album.
In an interview with MTV, Madonna recalled the recording of the album, and said her business partner Guy Oseary was a helpful friend, and that after she and Orbit played him the tracks, he, to their dismay, said nothing and left the studio.
Madonna said: "He really hates those icy strings. Right when I think the track's done, he sort of pushes us another step further. 'Maybe we should try this', or 'I really don't want to hear that'. And then of course, later on, it creeps in my brain, and I'm like, 'maybe I should have done a background vocal on that'. And then she comes in and happily does it, right?"
Orbit also recalled during an interview with Q magazine that Madonna recorded "Swim" the day her friend and fashion designer Gianni Versace was killed in Miami, Florida. He also commented that this is probably why the track has an emotional impact.
"Ray of Light" was a notable departure from Madonna's previous work, and has been described as her most "adventurous" record.
An electronica, trip hop, dance and techno-pop album, it also contains elements of several different types of music, including house, ambient, drum and bass, rock, new wave, eastern and classical music.
Vocally, the album was also a marked change from Madonna's previous work; as she underwent vocal training lessons for her 1996 film "Evita", her vocals exhibited greater breadth and range, as well as a fuller timbre.
In many songs, Madonna also abandoned the vibrato which was present in her previous work. Critically, it is said to have Madonna's most full-bodied vocals.
The album's opening track and third single, "Drowned World/Substitute For Love" is a downtempo ballad drawing influences from jungle, drum and bass and trip hop music.
The title is inspired by J.G. Ballard's post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, "The Drowned World."
"Swim", the second song, has a spiritual tone. She sings: "Swim to the ocean floor/So that we can begin again/Wash away all our sins/Crash to the other shore".
"Ray of Light", the third track and album's second single, is an up-tempo electronic dance-pop song which contains strong techno tendencies and influences of trance music.
Described as a "sonically progressive" track, it also incorporates elements of rock music, with a prominent electric guitar riff. The melody also has several sound effects, including whistles and bleeps.
"Candy Perfume Girl" has a grunge intro and continues to pair post-modern beeps and beats with old-fashioned electric guitar flare ups.
In the next song, "Skin", Madonna sings "Do I know you from somewhere?" in a yearning voice over the beats of an electronic orchestra.
The sixth track, "Nothing Really Matters", is an up-tempo dance track which contains influences of techno.
"Sky Fits Heaven" focuses on Madonna's spiritual studies and her daughter Lourdes. Some lyrics include: "Sky fits heaven so fly it, that's what the prophet said to me/Child fits mother so hold your baby tight, that's what my future can see."
Elements of the lyric are taken from the poem What Fits? by poet Max Blagg, the poem used for a 1993 advertisement for Gap Inc. "Shanti/Ashtangi" is a Hindu prayer and up-tempo techno song sung by Madonna in Sanskrit, over a driving dance rhythm.
The techno dance track features Madonna singing the adapted version of Shankaracharya entirely in Sanskrit with lines such as "Vunde gurunam caranaravinde/Sandarsita svatma sukhavabodhe."
"Frozen", the ninth track and album's first single, is a mid-tempo electronic ballad which has a layered sound enhanced by synthesizers and strings.
The song additionally contains ambient qualities, a moderate dance rhythm during the chorus and techno-influenced beats towards the end.
Madonna's vocals throughout the song lack vibrato, and have drawn comparisons to medieval music. Lyrically, the song is about a cold and emotionless man; nevertheless, subtexts have been noticed.
According to Jarman-Ivens, lyrics such as "You're frozen, when your heart's not open" reflected an artistic palette, "encompassing diverse musical, textual and visual styles in its lyrics."
"The Power of Good-Bye" is an emotional ballad which lyrically meditates on loss and longing. It was released as the album's fourth single.
"To Have and Not to Hold" is about a distant lover and "Little Star" is about her daughter, Lourdes. Both songs are superficially vibrant but with underlying subtlety and restrained arrangements prevailing.
"Mer Girl", the album's final track, is a surreal meditation on mortality and the death of Madonna's mother, in which she sings, "And I smelled her burning flesh/Her rotting bones, her decay/I ran and I ran/I'm still running away."
Album Title & ArtworkEdit
According to spokesperson Liz Rosenberg, Madonna considered titling the album "Mantra" which she thought was a "really cool title." However, she changed the title to "Ray of Light" as her albums were always titled after one of the songs from that album.
The artwork was shot by Peruvian photographer Mario Testino on November 28, 1997 in a studio in Golden Beach, Florida. They had previously collaborated for a Versace brand collection in 1995.
Madonna was impressed with the natural look Testino had captured, so she booked him again for the album's photoshoot. He recalled, "At 2pm she said, 'OK, I'm tired. We're done'. And I said, 'But I don't have the pictures yet'. She said, 'You're working for me and I say we're done'. I said, 'No, we carry on'. The picture she used on the cover came after that".
In the United States, "Ray of Light" debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 with 370,000 copies sold, setting the record for the biggest first-week sales by a female artist in Nielsen SoundScan era.
During the second week, the album sold 225,000 copies and was still kept off the top spot by the soundtrack.
On March 16, 2000, "Ray Of Light" was certified four times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of four million units of the album. Madonna became the first female artist to have seven multi-platinum studio albums by RIAA.
As of December 2016, the album had sold 3.891 million copies in the United States and over 16 million copies worldwide.
"Ray of Light" received widespread acclaim from music critics.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic called it Madonna's "most adventurous record" and her "most mature and restrained album." In his review, he gave the album four and a half out of five stars.
Paul Verna from Billboard commented: "Easily her most mature and personal work to date, Ray of Light finds Madonna weaving lyrics with the painstaking intimacy of diary entries and wrapping them in hymn-like melodies and instrumentation swathed in lush, melancholy ambience—with forays into classic house, trance, and even guitar pop. Of course, she balances the set's serious tone with chewy pop nuggets that allow her to flex her immeasurably widened vocal range to fine effect."
He finished the review by calling the album "a deliciously adventurous, ultimately victorious effort from one of pop music's most compelling performers."
Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine described the album as "one of the great pop masterpieces of the '90s" and stated that: "Its lyrics are uncomplicated but its statement is grand" and "Madonna hasn't been this emotionally candid since Like a Prayer".
Sheffield's review for Rolling Stone called the album "brilliant", but was critical of Orbit's production, saying that he doesn't know enough tricks to produce a whole album, and so becomes repetitive.
David Browne of Entertainment Weekly wrote: "For all her grapplings with self-enlightenment, Madonna seems more relaxed and less contrived than she's been in years, from her new Italian earth-mother makeover to, especially, her music. Ray of Light is truly like a prayer, and you know she'll take you there."
Roni Sarig, in a review for City Pages, was most impressed by Madonna's vocal range, depth, and clarity and called it "her richest, most accomplished record yet."
Music critic Robert Hilburn from Los Angeles Times wrote, "One reason why her new Ray of Light is the most satisfying album of her career is that it reflects the soul-searching of a woman who is at a point in her life where she can look at herself with surprising candor and perspective."
Writing for Melody Maker in February 1998, Mark Roland drew comparisons with the music of St Etienne and Björk's Homogenic album, highlighting the album lack of cynicism as its most positive aspect: "It's not an album turned on the lathe of cynical pop manipulation, rather it's been squished out of a lump of clay on a foot-powered wheel. Lovingly teased into life, Ray of Light is like the ugly mug that doesn't match but is all the more special because of it."
Joan Anderman from The Boston Globe said that "Ray of Light" is a remarkable album. He described it as a deeply spiritual dance record, ecstatically textured, a serious cycle of songs that goes a long way toward liberating Madonna from a career built on scavenged images and cultivated identities.
Robert Christgau was less impressed in Playboy, deeming Ray of Light a "great-sounding," but average record because of enlightenment themes that always yield awkward results for pop entertainers, although he praised sensual songs such as "Skin" and "Candy Perfume Girl."