Saturday, February 23, 2013
Review: By John Jones "Musician"
Family matters have always been a good forum for Madonna. After all, 1989's "Like a Prayer," dealing with the breakup of her marriage, her mother's death, and her complicated relationship with her father, shattered the notion that Madonna was an artist best relied on for singles; the deep and expressive set made for a mature album that could be enjoyed from start to finish. Unfortunately, subsequent recordings weren't as sharp: "Erotica" and "Bedtime Stories" definitely had their moments but just as surely had their share of filler. Luckily for us, "Ray of Light" picks up on the flip side of "Like a Prayer": this time around, Madonna's the parent, and the topic of family provides a springboard for musings on love versus fame and what a grown adult considers truly important. Adding to the mix is her collaboration with electronica producer William Orbit, making "Ray of Light" one of the most mature and satisfying albums of dance music you're likely to ever hear.
And while the opening track gets things off to an unexpected start with a hypnotic slice of slow rock, the lyrics of "Drowned World/Substitute for Love" set the pace of the record: "I traded fame for love/without a second thought...I found myself in crowded rooms/feeling so alone." Halfway through the song the music backs off and Madonna distances herself from side-effects of fame: "no famous faces, far off places/trinkets I can buy/no handsome stranger, heady danger/drug that I can try." As the list continues the decibel level grows until both Madonna and her music are at an in-your-face level, clearly declaring that fame may be nice but enough is enough.
The club-happy "Nothing Really Matters" is another summation of her new point of view; singing to her newborn daughter, the onetime Material Girl admits that she once "lived so selfishly," but now "everything's changed because of you/nothing really matters, love is all we need." The concept is simple but nonetheless a touching one. It could even be argued that the album's first single, the entrancing "Frozen," holds a deep premise. Lyrics like "you only see what your eyes want to see/how can life be what you want it to be/you're frozen when your heart's not open" could have easily been written from her daughter's point of view, as if Madonna realized during pregnancy what changes in outlook her child would need from her and decided to set it to music.
Not all the lyrical content is parental, however: the slow hip-hop of "Swim" offers a grim look at current events with a nonetheless optimistic plea for change, while "Shanti/Ashtangi" sets her spiritual beliefs to a funky, computer-laden rhythm. And then the midtempo "Power of Goodbye" and the near-Bossa Nova "To Have and Not to Hold" are flat-out love songs, albeit doomed ones. Still other songs appear to be about nothing in particular: "Candy Perfume Girl" is a trippy electronica workout laced with seemingly random poetry, while the frenetic title track has a lyrical spin that is either about Mother Earth, the downscaling of celebrity, or something in between.
And while the drum-and-bass lullaby "Little Star," a blessing to her child for a contented life, may come off feeling a little lightweight, the album's only true stumble is the spooky closer, "Mer Girl." Whereas "Like a Prayer" offered a moving account of a young girl missing her desceased mother in "Promise to Try," "Mer Girl" is instead a dreamlike sequence in which a new celebrity mother is still in search of the mother she didn't have long enough. It may sound like a touching idea, but lyrics like "I smelt her burning flesh/her rotting bones/her decay" are too dour and heavy after twelve tracks of mostly dance music. But all in all, "Ray of Light" marks her most successful connection with dance music and her most compelling efforts as a lyricist. It's a relief to know that, years after enjoyable ear candy like "Holiday" and "Like a Virgin," Madonna grew up and matured over the years just like the rest of us. As she observes on "Sky Fits Heaven": "isn't everyone just travelling down their own road/watching the signs as they go/I think I'll follow my heart/it's a very good place to start." Very good? Some would say brilliant.
The cover of Life in a Northern Town gives me chills, it is so laced with passion and intensity! Love the Matt Nathanson Come on Get Higher cover that is on it too, it is positivly smothered with sensuality! Makes me think of old love one second, and the pureness of new love the next! I play these two songs over and over, and though I love the CD-all of it...these two songs-I love!