Madonna: Ray of Light (Maverick, CD/LP/tape). She's told us to get into the groove, to express ourselves, and, on Bedtime Stories, not to put our shit on her, whatever that means. This time, Ms Ciccone is more concerned with herself. Ray of Light is Madonna! The Musical. Taking Evita as her model, she has written some Lloyd-Webberian melodies and some clunking, Riceian lyrics to go with them: "When I was very young, nothing really mattered to me, but making myself happy ... Now that I am grown, everything's changed." That's what moving from New York to California does for you; the Material girl has gone spiritual. Too spiritual sometimes. On "Shanti/Ashtangi", she expresses her pick'n'mix approach to religion by singing in Sanskrit. You can only love this album wholeheartedly if you love Madonna the personality.

Loving Ray of Light almost wholeheartedly is easier; you can't argue with a record as creatively put together as this. It's as much producer William Orbit's album as Madonna's, and the ravemeister does an impeccable job of laying on the strings, beats, bloops and bleeps. A typical track will start with an easy garage-rock riff and a tide of ambient hisses. Some trip-hop or dance rhythms will join in, and from there a rich arrangement will grow, flow and mutate around the consistently winsome, floating tunes, as Madonna sings about fame, love, personal growth or, predictably, her baby (The other factor that marks this out as a post-Evita album is her voice, which is stronger and more agile than ever before, but retains its chilly precision).

Imagine a collaboration between Robert Miles and Bjork. It's hardly groundbreaking, but accusations of opportunistic dilettantism are hushed by the integrity of the music. If Madonna doesn't win next year's Brit for Best International Female then I'll name my first child Lourdes. Nicholas Barber


Terry Callier: Timepeace (Talking Loud, CD). Singer-songwriter Callier made a folkish album for Prestige in 1964 and then disappeared from view for the next 30 years (well, he eventually became a computer programmer) until Talking Loud guru Gilles Peterson sniffed him out. The resulting new album (recorded in Chicago with some rather cheesy flanged guitar and bog-standard fusion textures) is disarmingly good, although it's a long way from acid jazz. The beauty is in Callier's delicate songs, the almost soft-rock, Crosby, Stills and Nash-ish acoustic flavourings, and the warmth of Callier's voice and delivery.