Album Reviews: Material Girl back in the confessional

MADONNA Ray of Light
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MADONNA Ray of Light (Maverick 9362-46847-2)

Ray of Light opens like an Eno album from the mid-Seventies, with an amorphous, watery blur of sound. It even has an Eno-soundalike title, or an Eno title that a sixth-form poet has tried to "improve" upon, "Drowned World Aka My Substitute for Love". When Madonna starts singing, she's back in the confessional, but this time it's in the church of emotional integrity: "I traded fame for love/ Without a second thought/ It all became a silly game/ Some things cannot be bought." What, she's no longer famous? Since when?

The four years since the lacklustre Bedroom Stories have seen some significant changes in Madonna's life, most notably the patter of tiny feet, but despite enlisting William Orbit as co-producer, she can no more escape her essential style than she can unilaterally decide to be un-famous. Ray of Light is undoubtedly an improvement on its predecessor, but it's still essentially lightweight disco-pop. Frankly, it sounds like nothing so much as a Beloved album from the early Nineties, with occasional rhythmic jaunts to climes Asian ("Shanti/ Ashangi") and Brazilian ("To Have and Not to Hold").

Her manner does seem more subdued than before, and the lyrics contain several suggestions that the once Material Girl is going through changes. Songs such as "Nothing Really Matters" find her contemplating maturity and reassessing priorities, and "Ray of Light" ponders her place in the universe.

Sometimes the interior torments prove too taxing: "Why do all the stupid things I say sound like the stupid things I've said before?" she wonders in "Skin", neglecting to consider that, since the same song also contains the line "Kiss me I'm dying", it may simply be because they're stupid things to say.