5 – Madonna, Ray of Light
Don’t call it a comeback. Because while Madonna’s immediately preceding genres of choice—R&B, adult contemporary, Broadway—were quickly rendering her relevance a thing to be admired only in the past tense, her chart prowess was still in fine form. No, Ray of Light was a rebirth, the sound of a queen, sitting on her throne, taking inventory of her icy, empty fortress—and not liking what she saw one bit. From “Drowned World” to “Frozen” to “Mer Girl,” water is a recurring theme, serving as a symbol of purification throughout. Madonna’s lyrics are notably devoid of any trace of cynicism here, and though it’s tempting to interpret her “answers” as obvious or absolute, it’s her sense of wonder and searching—and, of course, Patrick Leonard’s gorgeous melodies and William Orbit’s immaculate yet playful production—that elevates Ray of Light above mere trend-chasing New Age hogwash. Cinquemani Full list here.