Lady Gaga’s new album promises much, but falls somewhat short on both elements of its script-flipping title, says Gemma Champ.
A blank canvas
What happens when pop’s most original star releases an album that’s depressingly derivative? We’re about to find out, as Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP just about scrapes in at No 1 on the album charts.
This is an artist who has built her reputation on weirdness, shock, surprise and mystique, but the biggest shock on this record is how pedestrian the whole thing sounds. Track by track, the influences and references are not just hinted at: they are inflated in Jeff Koons-style bright plastic.
A charitable listener or an avid fan would point out that, with a visual collaborator like Koons, and a title that plays with Pop Art – a genre that turned the most obvious pop-culture references on their heads – Lady Gaga is making a point here. Possibly. But she’s also trying to sell records and keep ahead of her chart rivals, and this album adds little to the pop canon.
ARTPOP does have its moments: the opening bars of the first song, Aura, bode well, with a sort of psychedelic, surf-rock menace and a feline tone to Gaga’s voice, but it takes only a couple of phrases before a Bad Romance-style call of “Aura-ah-ah” signals a decline into repetition. The Infected Mushroom-produced song maintains an edge until the forgettable chorus: little surprise that the electronica duo had asked for their names to be taken off the credits.
Venus, purportedly inspired by the psychedelic jazz genius Sun-Ra, with a bit of Starman thrown in, is more like a tame version of Katy Perry’s ET, interspersed with a declamation that combines Blondie, Madonna and Electric Six, though without the authenticity of any of them.
The title track is a real high point, however, its propulsive, ostinato bass given a sense of menace in vowelly synths. Who’s singing? Well, it sounds like Sophie Ellis-Bextor, which makes a change from Madonna, Ke$ha, Cher, Britney and the many other artists that the chameleonic Gaga channels during the album.
Also excellent is Fashion: Bowie’s Let’s Dance appears to be a direct influence on the vocals (“Let’s Dance” and “Fa-shion” are sung on the same intervals and metre, the spare production and strong drum echoing the Bowie song). Add a Daft Punk robotic hook and electric guitar trill, and a fun, optimistic lyric – “Looking good and feeling fine” – and you have a song that, if utterly unoriginal, is deeply catchy and enjoyable.
So, back to the art: what is Gagaism? At this stage, little but a blank canvas. Album number four needs to paint a new picture.