Ray of Light
|Ray of Light|
|Studio album by Madonna|
|Released||February 22, 1998|
Larrabee Studios North
(Universal City, California)
|Genre||Pop, electronic, dance|
|Label||Maverick, Warner Bros.|
|Producer||Madonna, William Orbit, Patrick Leonard, Marius de Vries|
|Singles from Ray of Light|
Ray of Light is the seventh studio album by American singer-songwriter Madonna, released on March 3, 1998 by Maverick Records. After giving birth to her daughter Lourdes, Madonna started working on her new album with producers Babyface, Patrick Leonard and English producer William Orbit. Following failed sessions with Babyface and Leonard, Madonna pursued a new musical direction with Orbit. The recording took place over four months, and experienced problems with the hardware Pro Tools arrangement by Orbit, which would break down, and recording would have to be delayed until they could be repaired, as well as the absence of live bands.
Musically, the album is a pop and dance record, yet, it incorporates strong elements of electronic music within its composition, making it a departure from her previous work. Additionally, it incorporates several genres and subgenres, including techno, trip hop, drum and bass, ambient, rock and classical music. Vocally, the album saw Madonna sing using greater breadth and a fuller tone. Oriental themes are also present on the album, as a result from her conversion to Kabbalah, her study of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as her daily practice of Yoga; songs like "Sky Fits Heaven" and "Shanti/Ashtangi" are examples from these activities.
Upon release, the album received universal acclaim, with reviewers commending the singer's new musical direction. They called it her "most adventurous" record, as well as its mature, restrained nature; the singer's vocals were also praised. Ray of Light won four Grammy Awards from a total of six nominations. Commercially, the album also was a success, peaking at number one in fourteen countries. On the US Billboard 200, the album debuted and peaked at number two. Ray of Light has accumulated worldwide sales of over 16 million copies.
Five singles were released from the album, including global top-five hits "Frozen" and "Ray of Light". In order to support Ray of Light and her following album, Madonna embarked on the Drowned World Tour in 2001. Critics and scholars have noted the album's influence on popular music, especially how it helped bring electronic music into mainstream pop culture. They also noted the way in which Madonna was able to re-invent herself and remain fresh and contemporary amidst the more teen pop-based music of the period. In such a way, the album has been included in many critic lists and polls, including Rolling Stone magazine's "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time".
Following the release of her compilation album Something to Remember (1995), Madonna started taking vocal lessons in preparation for her role in the film Evita (1996). She also gave birth to her daughter, Lourdes, the same year. These incidents inspired a period of introspection. "That was a big catalyst for me. It took me on a search for answers to questions I'd never asked myself before," she said to Q magazine, in 2002. During the same period, she enrolled in Kabbalah and started studying Hinduism and yoga, all of which helped her "step outside [myself] and see the world from a different perspective." Another factor which inspired the record's conception was the vocal lessons Madonna took in preparation for Evita. Madonna felt that there was a "whole piece" of her voice left unused, which she decided to utilize for the album. By May 1997, Madonna had started writing songs for the album. She began collaborating with Babyface, who had worked with her on Bedtime Stories, first. The two 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 nine 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 Madonna in the late 1980s. Unlike her previous albums, Leonard's song writing 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, Maverick Records's partner, 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. "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," Madonna said.
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, as he felt they sounded "slick". Then they went at the Hit Factory later that week, where Madonna invited the producer to work on Ray of Light. Orbit then had sent her 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 would listen to the samples, over and over again, until she would be 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 tracks pre-existed, Madonna worked on the lyrics while at home or in car.
The album was recorded over four and a half months in Los Angeles, California in 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, engineer Pat McCarthy, and his assistant engineer, Matt Silva. They started recording in Los Angeles and the recording process was initially plagued with machinery problems, as Orbit preferred to work with samples, synth sounds, and Pro Tools, 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 the 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 partner Guy Oseary was a helpful friend and that she and Orbit played play him tracks, and he said nothing and leave the studio, and then they had a nervous breakdown. "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?", Madonna said. 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.
From a musical point of view, Ray of Light was a notable departure from Madonna's previous work, and has been described as her most "adventurous" record. Musically, Ray of Light contains elements of several different types of music, including techno, trance, house, disco, drum and bass, trip hop, ambient, rock, new wave, eastern and classical music. Vocally, the album was also a marked change from Madonna's previous work; as the singer 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, she also abandoned the vibrato which was present in her previous work, as can be seen in tracks such as "Frozen". Critically, it is said to have Madonna's best and fullest 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, trip hop as well as soft rock music. The title is inspired by the J.G. Ballard's post-apocalyptic science fiction novel The Drowned World (1962). "Swim", the second song, has a spiritual vibe. 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. A "sonically progressive" track, it also incorporates elements of rock music, with a prominent electric guitar riff, and it has drawn comparisons to the work of Oasis. The melody also has several sound effects, including whistles and bleeps. "Candy Perfume Girl" (which Madonna reportedly described as being about obsession) has a grunge intro and continues to pair post-modern beeps and beats with old-fashioned electric guitar flare ups. In the following song, "Skin", Madonna sings "Do I know you from somewhere?" with a seductive voice of a woman 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 life: Her spiritual studies and her daughter Lourdes, "Sky fits heaven so fly it, that's the prophet said tome/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 was used for a 1993 advertisement for Gap Inc.
"Shanti/Ashtangi" is a Hindu Sanskrit prayer and up-tempo techno song, sung by Madonna with an Indian accent 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." "To Have and Not to Hold" is about a distant lover and "Little Star" is about her daughter, Lourdes. Both oscilate on their edges but prevailing with their subtle, restrained arrangements. "Mer Girl" the album's final track, is a surreal meditation on mortality and the death of Madonna's mother, in which she sings, "The earth took me in her arms/Leaves covered my face/Ants marched across my back."
Critical reception 
|The Michigan Daily|||
Upon its release, Ray of Light received widespread acclaim from music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic called Ray of Light Madonna's "most adventurous record" and her "most mature and restrained album." In his review he gave the album four 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 as "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 hadn't been this emotionally candid since Like a Prayer". Sheffield's review for Rolling Stone was mostly positive, but he did point out the weak aspects of the album. Sheffield called the album "brilliant", but was critical of Orbit's production, stating that he doesn't know enough production tricks to produce a whole album, becoming to repeat himself throughout the album.
David Browne of Entertainment Weekly gave the album an A- stating "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 which had become stronger since her voice lessons for Evita and stated that Ray of Light "is 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 candour and prespective." Writing for Melody Maker in February 1998, Mark Roland drew comparisons with the music of St Etienne and Björk's Homogenic album, highlighting Ray of Light's 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.
Chart performance 
Ray of Light was officially released on March 3, 1998. Eighteen days later, Rolling Stone reported that the album had sold over three million copies worldwide. In the United States, Ray of Light debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 albums chart on the issue dated March 21, 1998, selling 371,000 copies in the first week. It was the biggest first-week sales by a female artist in Nielsen SoundScan era, at that time. However, the album was not able to top the soundtrack album of the motion picture Titanic, becoming Madonna's fifth album to peak at the runner-up position. On March 16, 2000, the album was certified four times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of four million units of the album. In Canada, the album debuted at number one on the Canadian Albums Chart and was certified seven times platinum by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) for shipment of 700,000 copies. The album also debuted at number one in Australia, becoming Madonna's seventh album to reach the top spot. The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) certified it three times platinum denoting shipment of 210,000 copies.
In the United Kingdom, Ray of Light debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart, remaining in the top spot for two weeks. It was certified six times platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for shipment of 1.8 million copies. In France, the album entered the official albums chart at number two, staying there for seven weeks before descending down the chart. It was certified three times platinum by the Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique for shipments of 900,000 copies of the album. In Germany, the album reached number one on the Media Control Charts and remained there for seven weeks. It was certified three times platinum for shipment of 1.5 million copies. The album also reached the top of European Top 100 Albums chart and was certified seven times platinum by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) for sales of seven million copies. Ray of Light achieved similar success in the rest of world, topping the official charts of Belgium, Netherlands, Finland, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and Switzerland. It has sold over 16 million copies, becoming one of the most commercially successful albums of the 1990s.
A slow tempo dance track featuring Madonna's voice over layers of string arrangements and synthesizers.
Co-written with Patrick Leonard, this dance track describe how nothing but love really matters. It became the fourth top-ten single in the UK from the album.
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"Frozen" was released as the lead single from the album on February 23, 1998. It peaked inside the top five in most musical markets worldwide, while topping the singles chart in Finland, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, where it became Madonna's first single to debut at number one. It became her sixth single to peak at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, setting a record for Madonna as the artist with most number-two hits in the chart history. The song received critical acclaim, and was labelled a masterpiece whose sound was described as "cinematic". However, the Belgian court in 2005 ruled that the opening four-bar theme to the song was plagiarized from the song "Ma vie fout le camp", composed by Salvatore Acquaviva. The ruling forbade the sale of the single and the entire Ray of Light album, as well as other compilations that included the track in Belgium. The album's second single, "Ray of Light", was released on May 6, 1998. It peaked at number one in Spain and attained the top five position in Canada, Finland, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States. It entered the Hot 100 at number five, becoming Madonna's highest debut on the chart ever. The song was also a hit on Hot Dance Club Play chart, remaining at number one for four weeks, and became the "Top Hot Dance Club Play Single" of 1998. Critically, it also received positive reviews, being praised for its club-perfect, yet "sonically progressive" sound, as well as her powerful vocals.
"Drowned World/Substitute for Love" was released on August 24, 1998 as the third single outside the United States. It reached number one in Spain and the top ten in Italy and the United Kingdom. The music video, directed by Walter Stern, caused controversy due to scenes that featured Madonna being chased by paparazzi on motor-bikes, a scenario similar to Princess Diana's death in 1997. The fourth single, "The Power of Good-Bye", was released on September 22, 1998. It reached the top-ten peaks in Austria, Canada, Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom. In the United States, the song peaked at number eleven on the Hot 100. Its music video was directed by Matthew Rolston. "Nothing Really Matters" was released as the album's fifth and final single on March 2, 1999. It became a top-ten hit in Canada, Finland, Italy, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. In the United States, it became Madonna's lowest-charting single on the Hot 100, peaking at number 93, but was a number-one hit on its dance chart. Its music video, directed by Johan Renck, was inspired by Arthur Golden's book Memoirs of a Geisha, and featured Madonna dressed as a geisha.
To promote Ray of Light, Madonna made a number of televised appearances and live performances of the album's songs. She appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1998 and performed "Ray of Light" and "Little Star". Madonna also opened the 1999 Grammy Awards with the performance of "Nothing Really Matters". At the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, she performed "Shanti/Ashtangi" and "Ray of Light" with Lenny Kravitz. Madonna then sang "The Power of Good-Bye" at the MTV Europe Music Awards. In New Zealand, a box set of Ray of Light and The Immaculate Collection was released to accompany the album. It reached number 12 the country's official albums chart and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) for shipment of 7,500 copies. In the United States, "Sky Fits Heaven" was released as a promotional single. It received moderate success on the clubs, peaking at number 41 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart. In 1999, a promotional instore VHS compilation titled Rays of Light was released in the United Kingdom, compiling all the music videos to all five singles from the album. All five videos were later included on the compilation The Video Collection 93:99 (1999).
Madonna performed "Drowned World/Substitute For Love", "Ray Of Light", "Candy Perfume Girl", "Sky Fits Heaven", "Frozen" and "Mer Girl" on the Drowned World Tour, her fifth concert tour, which promoted Ray of Light and its successor album. It started in June 2001 and was Madonna's first tour in eight years. The tour was to be started before the new millennium, but she had become pregnant with her son Rocco Ritchie, released Music that year, and married Ritchie in December 2000. The show was divided into five sections, Cyber-Punk, Geisha, Cowgirl, Spanish and Ghetto. Each segment represented a phase of Madonna's career. The Drowned World Tour received positive reviews. The tour was a commercial success, grossing a total of US$75 million, and it was the top concert tour of a solo artist in 2001. The concert was broadcast live on HBO from The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan on August 26, 2001. The Drowned World Tour 2001 DVD was released in all regions on November 13, 2001. Like the original airing of the show, the DVD received very good reviews. The photographs used on the DVD packaging were taken by Madonna's friend Rosie O'Donnell.
Ray of Light is recognized as one of the greatest albums of all time and has been featured on many critic lists due to its impact on popular music. Rolling Stone magazine placed the album at number 28 on the list of "100 Best Albums of the Nineties" and number 363 on the list of "500 Greatest Albums of All Time." In 2001, a quarter of a million music fans on VH1 voted Ray of Light as the tenth of "100 Best Albums of All Time." The album is also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Mojo magazine also listed Ray of Light at number 29 on "100 Modern Classics: The Greatest Albums of Our Lifetime". In addition to its critical reviews, Ray of Light earned many awards and nominations. In 1999, Ray of Light received a total of six Grammy Award nominations and won four of them. The album won "Best Pop Vocal Album" and "Best Recording Package", and was nominated for "Album of the Year." In addition, the album's title track won "Best Dance Recording" and "Best Short Form Music Video," and was nominated for "Record of the Year."
Ray of Light has been credited for bringing electronic music into mainstream pop radar. As Allmusic editor Liana Jonas wrote, the record has "brought mainstream attention to electronica music, which ascended from its underground status to wild popularity in the early 21st century." Thomas Harrison, author of Music of the 1990s, wrote that the production style of Ray of Light was "idiomatic of new trends in electronic music with significant use of digital sampling and use of an electronic synthesizer." According to author J. Randy Taraborrelli, "Techno and electronica had, for years, been the music played at so-called raves, hugely popular, illegal underground parties taking place in abandoned warehouse and deserted areas on the outskirts of town all around the world. This is where young music lovers, on alcohol and popular rave drug Ecstasy, were zoning out on the beat of such ethereal, synthesized sounds." Madonna felt that the music was a "hot sound" and decided to bring it into mass popularity, saying "It's definitely area that's gone untapped. And I need to be on it." According to Taraborrelli, the album has been hailed as bold and refreshing in contemporary music of the late 1990s, which was dominated by boybands and teenage artists such as Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Larry Flick from Billboard said that the album "not only provided the chameleon-like artist with her first universally applauded critical success, it has also proved that she remains a vital vigure amongst woefully fickle young audiences." Madonna herself considered Ray of Light her favorite album.
Track listing 
|1.||"Drowned World/Substitute for Love"||Madonna, William Orbit, Rod McKuen, Anita Kerr, David Collins||Madonna, Orbit||5:09|
|2.||"Swim"||Madonna, Orbit||Madonna, Orbit||5:00|
|3.||"Ray of Light"||Madonna, Orbit, Clive Maldoon, Dave Curtis, Christine Leach||Madonna, Orbit||5:21|
|4.||"Candy Perfume Girl"||Madonna, Orbit, Susannah Melvoin||Madonna, Orbit||4:34|
|5.||"Skin"||Madonna, Patrick Leonard||Madonna, Orbit, Marius de Vries||6:22|
|6.||"Nothing Really Matters"||Madonna, Leonard||Madonna, Orbit, de Vries||4:27|
|7.||"Sky Fits Heaven"||Madonna, Leonard||Madonna, Orbit, Leonard||4:48|
|8.||"Shanti/Ashtangi"||Madonna, Orbit||Madonna, Orbit||4:29|
|9.||"Frozen"||Madonna, Leonard||Madonna, Orbit, Leonard||6:12|
|10.||"The Power of Good-Bye"||Madonna, Rick Nowels||Madonna, Orbit, Leonard||4:10|
|11.||"To Have and Not to Hold"||Madonna, Nowels||Madonna, Orbit, Leonard||5:23|
|12.||"Little Star"||Madonna, Nowels||Madonna, de Vries||5:18|
|13.||"Mer Girl"||Madonna, Orbit||Madonna, Orbit||5:32|
|Japan bonus track|
|14.||"Has to Be"||Madonna, Orbit, Leonard||Madonna, Orbit||5:15|
- "Drowned World/Substitute for Love" contains a sample of "Why I Follow the Tigers", as performed by the San Sebastian Strings.
- "Shanti/Ashtangi" adapted from text by Shankaracharya, taken from the Yoga Taravali. Additional text: Traditional, Translation by Vyass Houston and Eddie Stern.
- "Mer Girl" contains an interpolation and elements from "Space" performed by Gábor Szabó.
Credits and personnel 
Credits adapted from the album's liner notes.
Charts and certifications 
Year-end charts 
Decade-end charts 
|Austrian Albums Chart||30|
Release history 
|Japan||February 22, 1998||CD, LP||Standard|
|September 8, 1998||CD||Double edition|
|United Kingdom||March 2, 1998||CD, LP, cassette, mini-album||Standard, limited edition|
|United States||March 3, 1998||CD||Standard, limited edition|
See also 
- List of best-selling albums
- List of best-selling albums in Germany
- List of Canadian number-one albums of 1998
- List of European number-one hits of 1998
- List of number-one albums from the 1990s (UK)
- List of number-one albums of 1998 (Australia)
- List of Top 25 albums for 1998 in Australia
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