Monday, 20 June 2011

PRINTED WORDS / Lady Gaga 'Born This Way'

F.Y.I. - I was unhappy with the edit of my review which was printed in Spark. Here's the full monster:
She promised to bring us ‘the album of the decade’ and with it brought a surreal promotional campaign as if from the mind of Salvador Dali; appearing on the red carpet of the Grammy’s in an egg incubator, popping out of a coffin wearing a patent prosthetic pregnancy bump live on stage, and styling herself as 21st century, couture Mary Magdalene for her latest music video. Yet aside from these sumptuous shock tactics, the first two singles taken from Lady Gaga’s second album missed the number one slot in the UK charts. Is Lady Gaga’s saturation point on the horizon? Forget her not – ‘Born This Way’ is the result of Gaga’s transformation from fame-hungry pop starlet to a self-aware tastemaker.

The dominant theme of ‘Born This Way’ is a message of unashamed self-love, with Gaga in her self-appointed role as the voice of and preacher to the disenchanted and disenfranchised. Sometimes she unquestionably hits the mark; ‘Americano’ is a mariachi electro response to the unremittingly strict immigration policies in Arizona, but at other times falls flat – the bubblegum sentiment and chorus of ‘Bad Kids’ is as patronising and unconvincing as the picture-perfect cast of Glee lamenting their social pariah status at McKinley High week on week. Having been recently named the world’s most powerful celebrity by Forbes, can Gaga keep playing the outcast card when she’s the focal point of popular culture? She certainly makes her impassioned intentions clear with her riveting proclamation of self-empowerment on ‘Hair’ (‘I just want to be free, I just want to be me’), even if her vigour does push her vocals into questionable Bonnie Tyler territory.

Luckily the album’s title track and lead single was something of a false start; just when it looked as though all the Madonna comparisons had swallowed her whole (the accusation of ‘Born This Way’ bearing more than a passing resemblance to ‘Express Yourself’ reduced Lady Gaga to tears in a recent interview), Gaga proves she’s at her best when she puts her own failsafe formula of molten dance-pop over a narrative of love gone woefully wrong to work (‘Judas’). Similarly, Gaga revisits the sentimental tone of ‘Speechless’ on the amplified power ballad ‘Yoü and I’ which shows her free of pretence and exercises her noticeably enlarged vocal range. She truly hits her stride on ‘Schiße’; the most instantaneous moment of smack-you-in-the-face Gaga greatness on this bilingual rave-disco oddity. However, there are moments of either laziness or self-indulgence when Gaga becomes a pastiche of herself, take ‘Government Hooker’ which opens with thirty seconds of disorientating operatics but descends into clinical electronica and a series of buzz phrases (‘Put your hands on me, John F. Kennedy’). Likewise, the smut of ‘Heavy Metal Lover’ with the request for ‘your whisky mouth all over my blonde south’ lacks the tongue-in-cheek knowingness of ‘bluffin’ with my muffin.’

Despite this album not containing as many unquestionable occasions of pop revolution as the likes of ‘Paparazzi’ and ‘Bad Romance’ have made us accustomed to when it comes to the output of Miss Germantotta, she artfully bookends the album with tracks that keep her reputation as an innovator intact. ‘Marry The Night’ is an unassuming opener, but is all the more enticing for its unaffected nihilism and copious anthemic sound. Closing the album is ‘Edge Of Glory’; not one for subtlety Gaga professes herself to be, ‘On the edge of glory... hanging on a moment of truth’ on this exhilarating specimen of synth-pop on a stadium scale.

And hanging on the edge of glory is where ‘Born This Way’ leaves Lady Gaga. Although her second album does show outstanding progression from ‘The Fame’, it doesn’t quite propel her over the periphery into the oblivion of eternal greatness, or whatever it is that lies on the other side of being the most powerful pop star on planet earth.

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