As an experimental dance album, Ray of Light is fairly useless. William Orbit doesn't know enough tricks to fill a whole CD, so he repeats himself something fierce; his most annoying tic is a spaceship-bleep button that he presses compulsively from song to song. But since this is a Madonna album, Orbit's rinky-dink sound effects have a definite charm; subtlety has never been her friend, and Orbit's overdressed sonics help Madonna wring gripping music out of her motherhood concept. Some fans feared that maternity would mellow her out, although those of us with Catholic moms weren't too worried. But she's positively ferocious in the first three tracks. "Drowned World," "Swim" and "Ray of Light" glide across the same sinuous midtempo groove, decorated with a surprising amount of Oasis-style rock guitar and way too many gaudy synth noises, while Madonna seethes with the disco passion she's been too cool to bother with lately. She hits similar peaks throughout the album, especially the arctic melancholy of "Frozen" and the spacey, utterly convincing lullaby for her daughter, "Little Star."

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