February 22, 1998.
I was in my final year of university. And I purposely left home early to get to HMV for opening hour to get Madonna’s latest album, “Ray of Light”.
I was never ashamed to say that I was a Madonna fan. While a lot of people may have gravitated towards the showier aspects of her career, I was always drawn to her strengths as a singer and a songwriter. I always felt she was underappreciated as either of those things, especially on the songwriting and producer end.
Besides that, I had always felt that she still needed to tap into her full potential as a songwriter. With her “Like A Prayer” and “Bedtime Stories”albums, she really wrote from a vulnerable place, and I liked when she went there especially. Sure, I love “Holiday” and “Borderline” like the rest of the world, but it was when I got a glimpse into the parts that were scarier, less showy…that’s when I felt like I was SEEING HER. Yup, she had sung about sex and love and had photo spreads and coffee table books. And she pushed buttons, and made people squirm in their seats. I loved that too. But sometimes, it’s the other stuff that’s even more tougher and harder to expose.
All that to say, I was excited to get into “Ray of Light”. I had read a bunch of preview articles about the album beforehand, including the piece in Vanity Fair which had lyrics from new songs in there and I was completely psyched. She seemed to be revealing herself in a way that I had never heard before. And plus, her vocal training she had gone through to master those “Evita” songs were now manifesting into these new songs. Definitely was excited.
So, yeah…HMV, early in the morning, I went there and there was the album. I grabbed it, paid for it, and left the store as soon as I could.
Even the cover of the album was revealing: natural looking, beautiful candid look, hair long and not coiffed up.
I walked as fast as I could to Concordia. I had time before my class started to at least get into the first track of the album.
Wow! What was happening here! Guitars! Drum loops! And those lyrics….”And now, I find I’ve changed my mind…” Holy shit! She was really going there. WOW!
“This is my religion…”
Class beckoned and the Discman had to be turned off. I couldn’t wait to hear more.
Lunch arrived and the cafeteria appeared to be jammed that afternoon, so I left there and sat on a seat outside the caf, opened my lunch and started listening more.
THIS! THIS was the album I knew she could do! It had finally happened!
I loved the liner notes, I loved the photos on the inside. She looked happy, she looked chill. Everything about this album seemed to be aligning with something huge for her.
I think the musical landscape was also really ready for an album like this. The mania around Alanis had just begun to taper off, and Sarah McLachlan’s wonderful “Surfacing” album was beginning to take over. Confessional songwriting from female artists were at the forefront, which was amazing. “Ray of Light” felt right.
“Why do all the things I say, sound like the stupid things I’ve said before…”
I’m not joking when I say that every song on this album is perfect. There’s no flop on it at all. You could hear that she wasn’t thinking of radio success or a Top Ten hit. She was creating for the sake of creating.
I can’t believe that this album is 20 years old because that means that we’re all 20 years older. All these years on and I still find something cool or new when I hear any track from this album.
Since “Ray Of Light”, Madonna has had more magic moments in her discography. From “Music” to “American Life” and “Confessions on a Dance Floor” But I do believe that it was this album that really served as a watershed moment in her evolution as an artist.