Firstly Ally, my apologies. I had assumed that Lenny co-wrote “Justify My Love” but that Shep had produced it. Actually that explains the use of the breakbeat (the same one as on My Bloody Valentine’s “Instrumental” – the two tracks sound eerily similar), which I thought strange since Shep almost always used skippy drum machines. I like that “Beast Within” remix by the way. The one where Madonna recites from The Book of Revelations. Is that what you’re referring to?

Anyway, the point of this post is to stand up in defence of William Orbit. Now, of course I myself would much prefer that Madonna go back to Shep Pettibone and Andre Betts as on Erotica, but bashing Orbit seems a bit strange considering he outdoes Mirwais considerably on Music. In fact I’d say the three songs he co-produces (“Runaway Lover”, “Amazing” and “Gone”) are the three best tracks on the album.

In retrospect I think the problem with Ray Of Light was not Orbit’s production by itself, but its unfortunate combination with Madonna’s retrained voice and Patrick Leonard’s ponderous songwriting. All three aspects were suitable in certain situations – Leonard’s more serious, ambitious songwriting was a good foil for Madonna when she was still making bouncy pop songs circa Like A Prayer, and clearly Madonna couldn’t have done Evita without singing lessons. Meanwhile as Orbit later proved on “Beautiful Stranger”, he could certainly make Madonna sound at her most vital since Erotica with his swirling production. It was just the unfortunate mix of all three that made Ray Of Light seem so stiff and self-consciously “mature”.

However, on Music it’s Orbit and not Leonard who co-writes the songs he produces, and seemingly because of that “Runaway Lover” and “Amazing” stand out as the two big fun pop songs floating in a swamp of pointless electronic mix ‘n’ match genre-tourism with added vocoder wank (c.f. the excruciatingly awful “Impressive Instant” and the just plain embarrassing “Nobody’s Perfect”). “Runaway Lover” in particular is ace. With just enough trance influences to keep the club/pop threshold blurred, but not so much as would dumb it down, it’s a showcase for Orbit’s greatest strength: the sense of multi-layered depth which his best productions have. The best bit though is that slightly jittery house beat, which always makes me think of an athelete’s mid-race heart palpitations.

In comparison the best that Mirwais can muster is “Music” itself, which is pretty nice but a Madonna/Daft Punk bootleg would have sufficed. The only other good Mirwais track, “I Deserve It”, maintains its listenability only because the guy doesn’t mess with it too much. At the moment my realistic hope for Madonna’s future is not that she’ll ditch Orbit, but instead re-embrace him, and regard her stint with Mirwais as a necessary lesson as to what happens if you try to hold onto relevance just a little too hard.