Picks and Pans Review: Ray of Light

UPDATED 03/09/1998 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/09/1998 at 01:00 AM EST

Madonna

She may have written the book on Sex, but in her first CD since discovering motherhood, Madonna hardly even flirts with the topic. Instead, on Ray of Light, she delivers 67 minutes of complex, challenging and ultimately entrancing music without so much as breathing heavily. (The album should probably be stickered to warn off fans expecting the old breathy come-ons and lollipop sensuality.) Having apparently discovered her true vocal range in 1996's Evita, she sings here in a voice grown deeper and fuller about the emptiness of fame and pleasure ("Had so many lovers/ Who settled for the thrill/ Of basking in my spotlight") and the rewards of mystic pursuits. Sharing writing credit with coproducer William Orbit and longtime collaborator Patrick Leonard, she peppers her songs with apocalyptic visions of death and rebirth, sin, salvation and transcendence. Musically she may do for electronica—that often irritating collage of disco beats and studio effects—what U2 and other dabblers have failed to do: popularize it without sacrificing its sense of edgy danger. Among the album's G-rated highlights is "Little Star," which may be pop's first technolullaby: "God gave a present to me/ Made of flesh and bones/ My life/ My soul/ You make my spirit whole." (Warner Bros.)

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