Here at Penta we probably aren’t best known for being huge fans of mainstream music, but we do like to consider ourselves a bunch with a wide-ranging and eclectic taste. That’s why this month we’re delving into the world of pop. More specifically the world of the Queen of Pop. It may be hard to believe, but Madonna’s career began in the same decade that we were founded and began our story (the 70s!!) and sometimes it’s necessary to give a nod to those that have been there, seen it all and outlasted the fads that have come and gone.
It’s hard to state just how big of an impact Madonna has had musically and culturally. She is the best-selling female solo touring artist of all time and there are literally academic studies about her. Now, we won’t be going into that much depth and detail but we certainly are going to take a moment to show a little appreciation for the Material Girl herself.
After her holiday, but before she had found herself hung up, Madonna was in the mid-phase of her career. Being one of the biggest and most dominant pop stars of the 80s was followed by a period containing some mixed reviews, controversial releases, and several appearances in poorly received films. In danger of being somewhat left behind as mainstream pop shifted towards younger performers with the likes of Hanson and the Backstreet Boys dominating the charts, and with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera on the horizon; Madonna pulled an album out of the bag that would win awards, gather critical acclaim, and go platinum, selling over 16 million copies.
February 2023 marks the 25th birthday of Ray of Light.
The result of Madonna teaming up with highly regarded producer William Orbit, Ray of Light is arguably her best complete album. As one of the first major albums to bring electronica fully into the mainstream, we would say that the title track is maybe the perfect example of that late 90s/early 2000s techno-infused pop style. Don’t ask us to explain this further, but it just sounds like that time. It also comes with a music video that would have unquestionably gone viral if the internet had the same power and reach back then as it does now.
If this album perfectly encapsulates that era, 25 years later it has stood the test of time. This is in no small part thanks to the strength of the songwriting behind it. The songs hold up and still remain both good and relevant, to the point that as recently as 2022, Madonna released a remixed version of “Frozen”, the first single from the album and one of its outstanding tracks. We still just about prefer the original though.
Eerie, ethereal, and atmospheric are all words that come to mind when listening to this album, this is undeniably a result of the strings and synths and their arrangement and production. However, one element that we really love is the use of guitars. Some of which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Britpop album, and you know how much we love Britpop. Ultimately, the varied nature of her influences and inspirations, and the multiple genres being explored keep this album engaging, and it isn’t difficult to see why Ray of Light remains held in such high regard.
Alas, we could go on about how good this album is, or how much we enjoyed listening to it again and the shot of nostalgia it provided, but really the best thing we can suggest is that you experience it for yourself. Find a comfy seat (there’s a few going in the Pentalounge) get your headphones on and allow yourself to be transported to a different time and atmosphere by an everlasting icon.
Still credits: “Swim”, uploaded to YouTube by Madonna