Blonde ambition

Nope. Nothing special here.

No new songs or rare outtakes. No interactive CD elements. No provacative pictures.

Just Madonna thinking she’s posing for the cover of Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James Album.

But this second volume of hits shows just how far Madonna has come in terms of her musicianship.

Madonna has always been disected as a pop culture icon but never seriously critiqued as a musician. Her songs always seemed to be periphery to her image — something to play in the background of her videos.

The Erotica-era songs certainly served this purpose. Despite catchy choruses and elaborate studio wizardry, tracks such as “Deeper and Deeper” and “Erotica” helped hammer the final nail in Madonna’s sexually frank gimmickry.

After that, Madonna literally zigged and zagged, trying to find ways to remain relevant without overtly pandering to youth fashion.

She attempted to draft Björk into writing an entire album for her. (Only one track, “Bedtime Story”, resulted.) She played the title role in a movie adaption of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita. Finally, she became a mother.

After all that exploration, the hits on GHV2 feel more cohesive than the ones on The Immaculate Collection.

The cool, scaled-back R&B production of Madonna’s Bedtime Stories work doesn’t seem all that much removed from the ambient-techno sessions of Ray of Light.

Even her fragile rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” doesn’t sound out of place (although Madonna will never be Patti LuPone).

The helium, nasal squeal that propelled “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl” to the top of the charts has given way to a sultry voice that can soar as well as it can whisper.

Madonna’s lyrics may not give Natalie Merchant any sleepless nights, but songs such as “Drowned World/Substitute for Love” and “Frozen” reveal Ms. Ciccone’s blonde ambition isn’t too misplaced.

In other words, GHV2 feels like the work of an artist. The maturity Madonna shows in these hits leaves the bubblegum exuberence of her early work stranded in the middle of a desert.

So even if there aren’t any bells and whistles to attract fans who already own her albums, GHV2 is still a good document of a modern icon.