In 1998, Madonna released Ray Of Light, an album that marked a crossroads for the highly successful artist. Madonna worked with several noted producers, including electronica pioneer William Orbit, to establish a sound that blended dance, pop, and British rock. The album was critically acclaimed, peaking at number two on the Billboard chart and producing two worldwide top-five hits.
NPR Music’s Ann Powers calls Ray Of Light Madonna's “mid-life enlightenment” record — and she walks us through this interesting chapter in the star’s career.
Ann Powers, on Madonna integrating yoga and spirituality into her music:
Shanti/Ashtangi is a form of kirtan, the chanting tradition that people like Krisha Das were doing around New York City at that time…. The only time I’ve interviewed [Madonna] in person was for Ray Of Light. That’s how I connected with her: Talking about yoga, singing kirtan, and all of the spiritual pursuits that she was doing at the time. She was very serious about it and excited to be able to put that into her music and possibly make it into pop.
On working with William Orbit to produce a new sound:
I think what Madonna heard in him was a kind of a lushness that she wanted for this record. Techno and rave was happening in the 90’s and had a lot of different forms. There was very experimental, more hard stuff like Aphex Twin. There was party stuff like Fatboy Slim. That’s not what Madonna wanted for this. She wanted something more like a singer-songwriter, really. And William Orbit provided her with that.
On the hit title track, “Ray Of Light,” and the British sound of the record:
Another thing Madonna was doing during this time was experimenting with learning how to play guitar. So she’s really going through this growth thing and trying to combine things. I think that was a hit partly because it has that mix of dance and rock. And it’s just such a joyous song. I have a friend… who actually walked down the aisle — she and her groom — to “Ray Of Light.”