Madonna Gets Religion (and Jesus Christ Rolls Over in His Grave)

March 1998

Oh, you mean he's not supposed to be in his grave. I guess I need to catch up on my New Testament a bit. Nevertheless, I think you get the point. Reverend Madonna is currently "in the throes of a life-changing transformation" and it's all there for the bleeding masses to behold on her latest release, Ray of Light.

Her first original album since 1994's Bedtime Stories, the CD is basically the discovery-of-self set to disco music. The record makes frequent biblical and spiritual references that tend to sound just a little odd against the dance-floor beat that much of the material employs. On the opening track, "Drowned World/Substitute For Love," Rev. Madonna wraps the tune up by stating, "This is my religion." On the title track "Ray of Light," she gets "herself a little piece of heaven" and on "Swim" she tackles the subject of baptism.

This last number, by the way, borrows so heavily from Janis Ian's "Society's Child" that I'm sure Ian would have a field day in court were she to litigate it. Smatterings of the Beatles and Kula Shaker can also be heard in the CD. It seems all this religion has not deterred Rev. M from ripping off a few of her fellow artists.

Now, if you think the idea of Disco Church is a little weird, you're right. Ray of Light is stunningly strange. However, I think the CD is a natural move for Rev. M. After all, when you get tired of selling sex, why not sell religion. I expect no less from the Spice Girls in ten or so years. Madonna, by the way, strikes me as the original Spice Girl. She's tacky, she's shameless, she dances real well, and she can't really sing. (Now we know who's to blame for letting the bird out of that cage.)

On Ray of Light, Rev. Madonna shares a smorgasbord of pseudo-spiritual revelations with us. In "Nothing Really Matters," she says, "Nothing takes the past away like the future," which sounds pretty cool until you stop to think about the phrase. In fact, it reminds me a whole lot of the W.C. Fields' line that "Nothing cures insomnia like a good night's sleep." Unfortunately Rev. Madnonna is not trying to be funny.

So why all the spiritual hub-bub on Ray of Light? According to Rev. M, the birth of her daughter, Lourdes, in 1996, has everything to do with it. "That was a big catalyst for me. It took me on a search for answers to questions I'd never asked myself before," she explains. "I think that people respond to emotion and passion and truth. That's what I try to embody in this record."

It used to be that people responded to sex and couple of good slinky moves on MTV, but these days, Rev. Madonna is too busy immersing herself in religious texts for that sort of thing. "I've recently been reading in Hinduism and Kabbalah," she says. In fact, Rev. M sings one of the album's tunes in Sanskrit ("Shanti/Ashtangi," a famous dish served at any good Indian restaurant). God only knows what the words mean in English. I suppose they have something to do with being a washed-up and slightly confused disco superstar.
Before Baby

Okay, so here comes the part of the article where the writer manages to say something nice about the person he's busy trashing (this shows that you're an objective journalist). On Ray of Light, Rev. Madonna's voice does seem to have matured into a relatively pleasant and tuneful instrument (is that her or is that Memorex?), which just goes to show that high-priced vocal lessons do appear to work after all.

So Madonna no longer sounds like an oversexed Betty Boop with a penchant for dancing with very little clothing on. The Material Girl has gone spiritual. Quite a hat trick, huh. I congratulate Madonna and offer up the following: I think that Ray of Light would make a great final statement. Rev. M's Abbey Road, so to speak. I mean, why shouldn't Madonna call it quits. After all, she must be running out of hairdos by this point in time.

More Madonna on NY Rock:
Interview with Madonna (Sept. '98)
Madonna at the MTV Video Music Awards (Sept. '98)
Madonna at the Grammys (Feb. '99)

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