Lady Gaga's long-awaited album Born This Way lacks some of her previous punch, but she still knows how to thrill.
Lady Gaga: Born This Way
New York songwriter-turned-performer Stefani Germanotta has emerged as a megastar of a stature many thought we’d seen the last of in this post-Michael Jackson age. Pop performers simply aren’t meant to take over the world nowadays.
But her 2008 debut album The Fame and its addendum release The Fame Monster – smart, addictive syntheses of Warholian pop artifice and European club pop, delivered with lavish production values more befitting a haute couture fashion house than the pop music assembly line – chalked up a fairly staggering 22 million sales between them. In an era in which selling music is supposedly on the wane, Gaga bucked the trend, and spectacularly.
If her first two albums were about stardom itself, Born This Way is what you do with it. The title track – an earworm for Madonna’s Express Yourself, not that Gaga would confess to the similarity – is a hymn to the underdog, set to delirious, fairground-queasy electro-pop. Personal liberation is an ongoing theme here. Bad Kids, for example, poses as a rebel song, but hides a sweet refrain behind the punky sneer: “Don’t be insecure/If your heart is pure”. This blend of schmaltzy “be-yourself” schtick and soft-rock pomp can be a little tiring sometimes – for all Gaga’s subversive pretensions, she does have a habit of falling back on simplistic platitudes. It’s not quite clear if the histrionic Hair – a Springsteen-ish anthem with a sax cameo from the E Street band’s Clarence Clemons – is supposed to sound like a shampoo advert, but the ambiguity suggests there might be a problem here. Notably, too, the slower-tempo tracks flounder a bit.
Still, there’s enough meat here to suggest Born This Way is at least the equal of The Fame Monster. Electric Chapel and U&I find her extending her range, and in a somewhat unexpected direction, marrying Eurotrash pop to the lighter-waving moments of Sunset Strip hair-metal (an influence that extends to Born This Way’s sleeve, a lurid and rather horrible Photoshop job of Gaga’s head grafted on to a gleaming muscle bike). Probably the best, most quintessentially Gaga song here is Judas, a yearning number of love and love lost that combines a huge chorus and lashings of Bad Romance-style weirdness. Born this way, yes, but at her best still sounding not of this world.
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