Flashback Friday: Ray of Light

So I mentioned last Friday that one of my future flashbacks would be a response to an ImagiFriendTM challenge. I’m to blog about music. While drinking.

Well, guess what, denizens? Loba has, indeed, been partaking of a great deal of beer-y goodness this evening. And it still continues to flow as I type. I’m finishing up the vestiges of a double chocolate stout, which is chasing on the heels of a London ale, a smoked porter, a…something dark…followed by a something lighter but not too light because I hate those beers…bottom line is, I’ve been drinking. Drinking to the point where my tongue feels a little numb and everything has that pretty hazy glow. And I’m still drinking. So that part of the challenge is being met.

What sparked this challenge was two-part and started with this review of Madonna’s most recent CD, Hard Candy. The only comments I would add to this review are that the only thing hard about this album is trying to listen to it. And, just like candy, it indeed sucks.

The second part of the challenge came from this post, in which my ImagiFriendTM expounds upon memories of the music that served as the soundtrack to his youth.

It’s like a Flashback Friday. Only better. And boozy-awesome.

Well, denizens. I can’t really expound on music in any sort of knowledgeable way. I think I’ve proven that every time I’ve written something tagged under my Music category.

Wow. That’s a weird cross-selection of posts, innit?

But I can tell you why I love Madonna’s Ray of Light and why I think it’s going to be remembered as her greatest album EVAR.

First, a little backstory. RoL was Madonna’s first new studio release since 1994’s Bedtime Stories. This ’94 offering is actually a fine album and indicative both of her continuing evolution away from her early bubble gum pop days and her journey toward a more mature sound and style. I think the evolution had actually begun on 1992’s Erotica, but Madonna was deep in the throes of a very public bout of titillation-itis at the time, including her little role-playing game as Dieta vonSchtoopyPants, so many of Erotica’s better points were drowned out by the roar of “She’s nekkid! Again!!” I’d argue, though, that those who ignored Erotica because they were a bit turned off or burned out by Madonna-Nude-A-Rama should give it a try now.

Back to Bedtime Stories. Solid effort with a nice urban vibe, even if it is a little on the bass-heavy side (Madonna would go on to prove that she hadn’t even begun to bass it up, giving us in Hard Candy several songs that sound like they’re playing through tinny Value Village speakers with blown-out subwoofers). Madonna was beginning to move into a more adult sound quite expertly, which wasn’t all that shocking. If Madonna has proven anything throughout her career, it’s that she’s not at all averse to changing things up a bit.

However, her music career became side-tracked after this 1994 release by being cast as Eva Perón in the 1996 film adaptaion of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical, Evita. I won’t lie, denizens. I was in line on opening day to see Evita. I had been waiting pretty much the bulk of my lifetime at that point for: A) the film adaptation of this movie to finally get the green light; and B) for Madonna to finally be given the role that seemed to be her destiny.

Yeah, I said destiny. Your density has popped me to you, Lorraine.

Unfortunately, the movie didn’t not suck. Which was a huge disappointment to me. I wanted so very much for this to be the greatest musical film in the history of the genre, but Hollywood polished the soul completely out of it. And, prophets bless Antonio Banderas, but the man can’t sing. Plus, they covered up Madonna’s diastema, which probably upset me more thna it really should have.

[Loba Tangent: Get your minds out of the gutter, denizens; that’s just a fancy word for the gap between her front teeth. I kind of have a weird fascination with people with diastema. I can’t explain it. I just enjoy it.]

I will say this, though: This is the very best performance I think we will ever see from Madonna in a leading role. I say this based solely on the one song she was allowed to perform “live” on set rather than lip-sync. It’s toward the end of the play. That’s all I’m going to say. Every time I have seen this particular point in th emovie, I get teared up.

Yeah, so after Evita, Madonna sort of went silent for a while. Well, there was the fact that she found out that she was pregnant while she was filming. That might have had something to do with her radio silence. She gave birth to her daughter, Lourdes, in October 1996. Then, we heard nothing from her.

Until March 3, 1998.

I was a flat-broke student at the University of Maryland at this point, with barely enough money to cover all the parking tickets that I kept getting. But I knew damn good and well that I was going to buy this CD, the day it released, no matter what it cost. I had been waiting four long years to hear something new from the Material Girl, goddammit. Nothing was going to stop me.

Oh, what a circus! Oh, what a show!

This was a Madonna like no other. All those months she’d spent preparing for her role as Eva Perón had left her with a voice much stronger, much more refined, and much more nuanced than it had ever sounded before. And, gods, that sound…William Orbit took her from the land of bubble gum pop that she had previously inhabited and shifted her to a completely new ZIP code deeply entrenched in a land of rich bass and bad-ass electronica sizzle, a sound that was on the fringes of acceptability at the time but slowly working its way into the mainstream. However, Madonna being who she is, grabbed onto this still underground sound and dragged it into the light in one of the most amazing returns to pop culture prominence ever recorded.

To me, RoL is practically perfect in every way. New sound. New image. New outlook. Gorgeous, rich vocals; lyrics overflowing with eloquence and depth; and these infectious beats that were so new and inventive…like nothing we’d yet heard. Sure, it was destined to be played out to the point of nausea, but Madonna was one of the first artists to really explore the space of this particular beat-heavy genre. And she did it in tellingly classy ways, something that would diminish with time until we ended up with the hot mess of Hard Candy.

I remember reading reviews of RoL that were…well, unkind is a nice way of putting it. The review in teh school papper was particularly scathing, with the reviewer ending with a comment that basically stated that he hoped Madonna was a better mother than she was a musician now. I couldn’t understand this sentiment then, and I still don’t understand it. Minus a few minor stumbles (I have to confess, denizens, I’m not a particularly big fan of “Mer Girl” or “Little Star”), this CD is holistically such a powerful series of songs. Hell, even the songs that I don’t particularly like retain a redeeming quality or two, either through strong lyrics or a particularly tasty beat. I can only assume that these negative sentiments stemmed from the fact that this was such a

[Loba Tangent: Okay, see what happened there at the end of that previous paragraph? I started watching YouTube videos of songs from RoL and I ended up forgetting what I was going to write. Yeah. But I have realized that I would love to have a DVD collection of Madonna’s videos. Except for that one where she’s dry-humping Justin Timberlake. No one needs to see that.]

Beyond being a powerful compilation of music in its own right, RoL also helped re-establish Madonna as a standard bearer for the club culture. It’s no secret that Madonna is a dance club icon. She got her start in the NYC club scene, ffs. But, oh the tasty phat beatz that came from remixes.

My own clubbing days had a very limited shelf life, butMadonna was definitely one of the major players from the soundtrack of those days.

Wait. Let’s relive Loba’s Club Days, shall we?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs-VsBBGDpQ&w=640&h=390]

Woah.

That video would probably look way better to me if I was high rather than tpisy. Er, tipsy. Still…Madonna with something close to her real hair color, and those icy cerulean eyes? Snerf!

How about this one? It’s another remix that I remember being HUGE during my club days:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ht_YjpLkouY&w=640&h=510]

I could grok someone for a Long Island Iced Tea right about now. And, really, “Frozen” was not only one of my favorite RoL songs in whatever format I heard it, it was also my favorite video from this album. I remember sitting there for several hours, waiting to download the Quicktime version through my 56K connection. Oh, those crazy dial-up days.

One more. Calderone Club mix of “Beautiful Stranger,” the song Madonna did for Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWwNGuQamLY&w=640&h=390]

And I’m spent.

I love how this song supposedly sprang from the friendship that Madonna and Myers had formed during that SNL “Wayne’s World” skit from back when the show was funny. I only wish that she’d stopped at doing a song for the movies that spoofed James Bond. Because, really, did any of us need to hear “Die Antoher Day”? I mean, come on, Madge…did you really use Sigmund Freud’s name as a lyric? Really? Plus, by this point, Madonna was starting down the path of self-immolation through excessive self-emulation. She was dancing dangerously close to turning herself into a parody of herself…something that she didn’t completely achieve until American Life, (rapping about soy lattes, Mini Coopers, and pilates? IT BURNS!!!) with a brief respite with Confessions on a Dance Floor, before returning full-throttle to parody mode with that shit she just recenlty released.

Really, she’s just a hot mess now.

I actually really like the original version (both song and video) of “Beautiful Stranger.” In fact, when I think of Madonna’s most “prime” physical appearance, it’s usually the Ray of Light/”Beautiful Stranger” era of videos that come to mind. Gone was the baby-faced vixen with the peroxide-frizzed hair and “Boy Toy” buckles. She was still smokin’ hot but now with haute couture coif and clothing and a body toned beyond belief. I mean, look at those arms in “Beautiful Stranger”! I still want arms like that. And, even though I know it’s in no way true? In my mind, I was dancing just like she was in that Austin Powers video when I was getting my grind on in the clubs.

Oh wow, but I love Madonna. Not Madonna now, but the Madonna of my misspent youth. Now, she just makes me sad. But back then? Not sad. At. All.

What the hell was I saying? I don’t even know anymore, denizesn. But my beer is now all gone and I have a suddne craving for a peanut butter and banana sandwich. And I see lots of little red squiggles, letting me know that my typing has officially gone to shit in this post. But I’m leaving it the way it is. Because that’s the kind of wolf I am. One who lives up to challenges. Especially ones that involve alcohol. I don’t even know if what I’ve written makes any bit of sense. But I know at least that I have included a lot of links to videos. Hopefully, those will keep you entertained. They’ve definitely made me happy.