Although singer Madonna was very much a 1980s Pop phenomenon, it did not mean that she could not evolve and grow as a singer and an artist. In her very long musical career, this is her seventh album and is most notable for Madonna’s decision to embrace EDM as a musical point for her ambitions to follow. With producer William Orbit at the helm and Madonna aiming to prevent her musical demise by 1998, this was a surprisingly successful album that was well-received critically and commercially. In fact, this is her best-selling album to date. Let’s hear this album, and see where it musically takes us.
Drowned World / Substitute For Love begins with some spacey ambient sounds and textures that are quite spooky sounding, but interesting. This continues for some time and builds up well. The textures present are amazing and gorgeous. Madonna begins singing away very nicely here, and pleas to God about some of her woes. The chiming sounds and textures present in this tune are very magical. Soon enough, beats enter and this slow and relaxing listen comes alive. Musically, this is an amazing listen and Madonna shows the wider world that indeed, one can embrace Electronic music and thrive as a result. There are some neat backwards textures present as well, and this song is a real joy to hear. Madonna’s vocal delivery is nothing but wonderful to hear. In the second half are some great acoustic and electric guitar parts interlocking one another. Madonna sings about some very personal feelings on this tune, and she does a great job with a velvety smooth, buttery voice. After a while, crashing drum loops enter and Madonna sings in a much more furious way than before. A very strong start to an interesting album, by the sounds of it. At the end, the beats conclude and Madonna sings nicely over the top of electronic sounds. Great effort to listen to here and Madonna concludes by stating, “This is my religion”. Great song.
Swim begins with some loose processed guitar parts before a very cool and catchy riff in the right channel occurs and more layers of guitar parts emerge. Madonna gets singing away again, and this is definitely an interesting listen. Shortly into it, beats enter and some layered textures sound really great and excellent here. If anything, the music on this album is a good and timeless reflection of life from the feminine side. Even so, many men out there will dig this music as well, it is simply that good. Some impressive and processed sounds are present in this song, and Madonna has a really legendary voice to hear. Multiple breakbeats enter, and this tune progresses extremely well. The production on this album sounds like it is worth a million dollars, and fits Madonna’s mood in the 20th century. The chorus here is particularly good, and Madonna sings about swimming to the ocean floor to eliminate one’s things, which sounds suicidal, but it is completely different to Nine Inch Nails style music. The layering and structure of music and sounds here are really sweet. It ends with the song’s sounds fading out over the sounds of ocean waves. Nice, very sweet.
Ray Of Light is one of the biggest hits from the album, so big in fact that Family Guy covered it in the episode where Peter Griffin discovers Red Bull. It begins with more loose electric guitar parts that are multitracked and sound quite New Order-ish here. Soon into it, pounding 4/4 beats and wicked electronic textures emerge, and this tune comes alive. This is music likely inspired by hallucinogenic use, which is unusual for Madonna. The chorus is absolutely fantastic, and the whole song is lively, youthful and energetic. A great piece of euphoric songcraft, William Orbit’s production does make these songs come alive. A truly great song that both women and men globally can enjoy. A piece of musical universalism, there is a strange sounding solo musical section, before Madonna returns to singing in a tuneful and joyful way about the infinite power of the universe. The beats then return nicely, and Madonna sings in such a wonderful way over the unique and wonderful sounds that William Orbit has made here. An uplifting listen, this sounds like a good piece of music for one to take ecstasy to if one ever should desire to do so. Regardless, sober or high, this is a great song. Period.
Candy Perfume Girl begins with some musical static, followed quickly by some nice and clean electric guitar riffs and some breakbeats. This is still as consistent as the music before it, and Madonna sings in a very Alanis Morrissette way. This is a wonderful listen, and it sounds like female lust and sleaze. Still, it works marvellously here and Madonna is brilliant at modern Pop music. The dual-tracked vocals here are really majestic. This is a space-age lust ballad that actually makes more sense today than it did in 1998. Seemingly, Madonna had embraced the future on this record musically. An awesome tune to listen to, there is a Theremin sounding brief breakdown, before this tune relaunches back into an amazing sounding piece, with some fuzz guitar sounds and lush instrumentation. Towards the end are some very tripped out Psychedelic sounds that are really great to hear. A nice and enjoyable tune to hear, this works well. The outro is a cut-up montage of sound, not a million miles away from The Chemical Brothers in that respect. Good song.
Skin begins with Electronic washes of warm sound, and Madonna gets straight into it. It is a piece about unfulfilled love, and she sounds lonely and vulnerable on this tune. Some eerie sound samples then follow, and it quickly launches into a great and energetic piece of music with 4/4 Roland beats and other interesting sounds galore. “Do I know you from somewhere? Why do you leave me wanting more?” is softly sung here, and Madonna sounds like she is wearing her heart on her sleeve. William Orbit’s production suitably matches Madonna’s voice and singing, and this album is very much benefitting from that. A really pretty and good tune to listen to, it is a personal piece. In the mid-section, Madonna sings louder and with more intensity than what was done previously. A pretty and excellent musical tune, although the flaw with this album is that these songs are rather lengthy. However, they are still very enjoyable regardless. A forward-thinking and interesting tune, this is a good mesh of Techno, House music and Ambient sounds throughout. A really cool tune, although this definitely could be shorter in length. A pleasant and imaginative listen regardless. It ends with some gentle fade out and some intense sounds, nice effort.
Nothing Really Matters begins with some strange, science fiction styled sounds, very much like Techno. Madonna’s vocals enter and this tune comes alive. Madonna sings about being unhappy as one grows older, from a broken relationship. A really cool tune, even though it is a lesser piece from the outset. A really deep and meaningful piece about heartbreak. Madonna puts a great deal of effort, energy and passion into her vocal performances on this album. In the second half, there is some interesting piano and honestly, this drags on a little bit, yet again. Sure, we all experience heartbreak at some point in our lives, but this comes across as a bit ordinary for a heartbreak song, to be fair. Madonna’s singing, however, is fantastic in this song. Even if she is autotuned here, this is a good effort, but not a great one overall.
Sky Fits Heaven begins with some cut-up Electronic sounds, synth strings and Madonna singing again in an open and transparent way about her issues. Soon into it, massive 4/4 kick drum beats enter and this tune begins to launch into a good piece of EDM based music. The sounds here are interesting, but to be fair, this comes across as rather dreary. Some interesting sounds, including breakbeats, electronics and Ambient sounds galore are here, which perfectly completely Madonna’s vocal delivery. There is a bit of a guitar led breakdown in the middle before this tune returns back into the verses. Honestly, this sounds rather miserable and it doesn’t really go down well for House/Techno Pop. A good listen, but not the best one could have hoped for. The cut-up drum rolls on this tune are pretty mint, however. Nice to hear a good tune like this, this is an ideal listen for that Sunday morning hangover. It ends with some pseudo-Space Invaders based sounds. It’s okay, but not the best song on this album.
Shanti / Ashtangi begins with some Fatboy Slim styled sounds, and some interesting musical elements are thrown together into the mix. Madonna does some Middle Eastern styled chanting on this tune, which is a direct reference to her own spiritual path as she was getting older. This is interesting, and it is a different sounding piece from everything that has come before it. Although this may sound like self-parody to some, Madonna means it seriously. It is interesting musically, to say the least. A cool listen to hear a popular artist put some otherworldly influences into their music. A good song, but again, not a great one. It isn’t as appealing as one would have hoped for. It is also a bit too long and drags on for some time. The chanting in the background is a bit strange, but overall, this is a bit lacking. Seemingly, the album is running out of steam by this point. It ends with an interesting fade out.
Frozen is the most popular song from this album. It is also very long at over six minutes in length. It begins with some movie style string sections that sound sad and moody. Some strange string instrumentation then enters, followed by static gurgles and Madonna sings about dealing with a cold hearted lover. This is a real tear-jerker ballad, and it sounds amazing, even today. It sounds like a proto Pure Shores by All Saints production wise, which William Orbit also produced. Nonetheless, this is a different tune to hear, and it is Madonna making a plea to a lover who is leaving her. Very sad indeed. A miserable listening experience, but nonetheless, a solid one. Really sad and depressing, there are some Middle Eastern sounding strings in the middle of this song, which sound excellent and different. A sad piece of music, this is definitely worth hearing now and again. Madonna offers to mend a broken relationship, with little hope left. An upsetting listening experience, this is not something that one would feel a lot of joy to hear. Still, it’s great. Madonna sings wonderfully, and this is one of her defining moments as a singer. Brilliant. It ends with a very gradual fade out with the string section going.
The Power Of Good-Bye is very much a continuation of the previous track. It launches into some Acid sounds, Electronic breakbeats and a more miserable song than what was before it. Madonna obviously wasn’t hugely happy at this point, and she pleas and prays to God for help to prevent a bad situation from occurring. Towards the middle are some nicely strummed acoustic guitars and the song continues throughout the heartbreak. This is an excellent song by Madonna, and it is great to hear if you should desire a modern female Burt Bacharach song here. The string sections presents are absolutely gorgeous, and this sad tune will likely tear you apart. A very good listen, this is better than anything Ariana Grande has recorded of late. Again a sad listen and is needed to be heard at least once by everyone when a relationship breakup occurs. It ends with the strummed acoustic guitars, a good song indeed.
To Have and Not To Hold begins with some spacey science fiction sounds that sound otherworldly. It soon enough begins with some Jazz inspired percussion, and this tune begins to launch into a spacey electronic ballad, only a couple of years before Radiohead’s own Kid A album, of which this sounds fairly similar to. Again, Madonna wears her heart on her sleeve. There are some hummed harmonies throughout, which sound nice, although this is another dreary breakup song. It is fairly apparent by this point of the album that Madonna is dealing with a lot of demons. It is also a bit of a drag to hear these rather miserable songs. The sonic textures are amazing, however. A repetitive and rather boring listen, this is not the best piece of this album. In the second half, Madonna’s vocals come front and centre of this song, and she exhibits some great emotion. Still, this goes on for much too long and needs some editing. It again, concludes with some strummed acoustic guitars and more spacey sounds. Pretty miserable music.
Little Star likely refers to Madonna’s first child. It begins with some interesting EDM styled sounds, including delayed sound effects and percussion. This is quite tranquil. and very watery sounding. By this point, the appeal of the album is wearing thin a little, and although it is about a newborn child, it isn’t as strong as other albums out there of a similar musical point. A good listen regardless, and this sounds like a lullaby. Seemingly, this is a concept album about Madonna’s personal life to this point, which is good, but a little selfish really. A depressing set of strings enter in the second half, but this tune powers along quite nicely. A good song that is different, despite the aura of self-indulgence in this song, it works okay. Again, the length of the album is rather too long for each individual song, and this song is no different. A good piece, but not a great one. It ends with bongos and another fade out.
Mer Girl is the last song on this album. It begins with some U2 like sound textures before some beeps enter which make some musical noise. This eventually launches into a piece of music that is really weird. It sounds almost like a horror movie soundtrack piece, and Madonna gets self-indulgent about her life, once again. This is a slow tune that gradually evolves over time and references Tears For Fears in it. It’s okay but is too selfish and weird to be taken very seriously as a piece of music. In other words, this is likely filler, which isn’t necessary on such a lengthy album. Madonna sings about running off from her life as she knew it, in total distress. Pleading to God’s angels, she sounds very bleak here. This is a different tune that is somewhat autobiographical in nature. It is a good conclusion to a decent album, with quite a spooky finish, which is really scary for those who hear it. Not for the faint-hearted, this particular tune.
This is a very good album that mixes together many musical elements. It is not simply Madonna doing an EDM album, she has quite clearly thought about every single track here, even the lesser tunes. It is actually fairly similar to World Music, as she borrows influence from so many different World Music genre stylings. Upon release, sales were strong and critics applauded this album, stating that it was her comeback. Which it was. Madonna deserves credit here, as well as William Orbit, for this music. Should you hear this? Give it a try if you like EDM and Pop music mixed together with female vocals, with some extra twists and turns throughout.
Different and decent music.