Here we are! Probably the most anticipated album of the year, the most hyped, and the most ambitious, has finally arrived. Lady GaGa's Born This Way took its time getting here, but it is ours at last. Does it live up to the excitement?
A couple intro notes so you understand where I'm coming from with GaGa.
1) I am going to try to not comment on the hype or statements made about the album. GaGa has been hyping and bragging and making ridiculous claims for the last year, and ultimately it has NOTHING to do with the music, and I think it is unfair to talk badly of an album just because it isn't what we thought it was going to be.
2) For me, one of the main appeals of GaGa has that she been sort of a walking contradiction. She expertly juxtaposed simple and amazing pop songs with a high level image and extravagant videos. She carried on with props and costumes, but if you didn't look all you heard was an extraordinary voice singing undeniable and catchy tunes. When all else failed when defending this meat dress or that bubble dress...all us GaGa stans had to do was put on the song and know her music was something special.
OK, so now that that is out of the way, let's get down to it. Although, how to review an album this jam packed and intricate will be difficult. Let's start with the singles released shall we?
Born This Way, for me, was always the perfect opener. Upbeat, catchy, HUGE sound, and clearly a representation of the image she was trying to present for the album. Did it have its problems? Of course. But overall it was, and still is, one of my favorite GaGa songs to date. Even when a bit heavy handed, the song is a fun romp and watching her perform it has been exhilarating. After having MASSIVE success with the song, GaGa released Judas. I instantly knew it was a mistake. Right away people started referring to it as Bad Romance 2.0, and not in the good away. I do personally love the song, and what better song to rip off than the best pop anthem of the last 5 years? But...why release it as a single? It wasn't necessary. However, it is a roaring dance song that has just been slaying the clubs and I am still here for that, so I am into the song regardless of the foolish release decision.
Then we were given the 2 promo singles. First came the album's closer: Edge of Glory. Guys, this is one of the best songs of the entire year, and probably second only to Bad Romance for me in GaGa's repertoire. It is one of the best 80s rock throwbacks I have ever heard, and it is incessantly euphoric and upbeat. Tailor made for night time drives in the summer, it could easily become one of the anthems of Summer 2011. It was so widely liked that GaGa has even chosen it as her 3rd single! Then this week, the 2nd promo single, Hair was unleashed. At first, I thought that it was the worst of the era, calling it boring and forgettable and only listening to it once. But as GaGa so often does, she proved my opinion incorrect. It is not unlike EOG, in that it is a dance infused 80s rock song, and even has a similar feel to the optimism. It is sort of EOG's immature little sister. The lyrics are pretty stupid, but once the chorus kicks in with "I've had enough! This is my prayer that I will die just as free as my hair!", well you will be singing along no matter what the lyrics are.
About a day after this last promo single was released, the rest of the standard edition leaked out. With relatively high standards so far, and a pretty diverse set of sounds, it was exciting to see if the rest of the album measured up.
Marry the Night is the album opener, and sort of a generic GaGa track. Groovy verses about sinning and leather, that catapults into a big chorus talking about dancing. Yes, the end sort of has a nice switch-up in the beat and it becomes slightly more epic. I remain unimpressed with this track, though. Another slight let-down is Government Hooker. It starts out with a sort of funny operatic "GaGa, GaGaaaaaaa" and then descends into a thick industrial beat and a VERY early 90s dance melody, but eventually seems to bottom out into a little bit of a monotonous beat and I don't think the whole hooker thing is as cute or endearing as GaGa thinks.
Next is Americano, a sort of sequel to the Latin tinged flavor of Alejandro. Complete with clapping, la-la-la-las (y'all know how much I love that), this was the first of the non-singles I loved. It almost reminds me of a System of a Down song at parts with the erratic instrumentation and odd chanting, and it is a very rewarding and well put together track. After a brief sunny break with Hair, we have the crunchy, surging Schiße, which absolutely is one of the best on the album. The best example of the German, industrial sound she uses on a few of the tracks, while still having a few of the shining GaGa poppy moments, as well as one of her more interesting vocals on the whole album.
Bloody Mary is one of the slower, less production-heavy tracks, and it is overall a pretty great one. Good melody, throbbing beat, and some of the better lyrics on the album...I could see this growing to be one of my faves on the album. Also how brilliant is the monk-y GaGa chant? I need to see a cathedral set video for this! A bit jarring is the transition to the next song, Bad Kids. This sort of douchey song takes the self-love thing to the level of "even if you are an asshole it's ok!" and I don't approve. It is a fun-ish song, but the chorus and verses don't really connect with one another and it feels a bit off to me. Not one of my faves.
Highway Unicorn (Road to Love) returns me back to my favorite sound that GaGa uses on this album, that 80s power chorus. Even though this song has a similar problem as Bad Kids in that the verses don't sound like the same song as the chorus, this one's chorus is much more rewarding, complete with "WE CAN BE STRONG!" and a signature GaGa "OhhhhHHH, OhhhOHHH". It is enough for me to love it and become one of my frontrunners on the album. One of the worldwide frontrunners Heavy Metal Lover follows it, and it is a doozy of tight beats and some filthy lyrics ("I want your whiskey mouth over my blond south", GaGa? She really IS trying to steal Xtina's dirrty swagger!), but really the only part of the song I found myself loving is the bit where she chants "I could be your girl girl girl girl girl"...it is the most Fame Monster moment of the album, and it is a nice touch. I could see this one growing on me, but it is not the instant favorite for me that it is seems to be for the people who got it trending on Twitter all night.
The standard edition ends with the 1 2 3 punch of Electric Chapel, You & I, and Edge of Glory. The first one is a moody, production-light track that immediately grabbed me. This is exactly the type of pop song I love from GaGa, with all the "Da da da, DA DA da da"s and the easy flow of the lyrics. It is probably my fave of the non-singles so far, and the way it was trending all night makes me think that people agree. You & I is of course well-known by now, because she has been performing it for ages on tour and other appearances. However, this is the first time we hear the final production, which is 1-part rock, 1-part honky tonk, and 2-parts GaGa ballad. In one way, I am glad to not hear the rehash of Speechless it has been sounding like on tour; in another, I was sort of upset to see yet another over-produced song, especially with such a simple, beautiful song. It is still one of my favorites on the album, though, and having this right before the crowning jewel of the album, Edge of Glory, fits just perfectly.
1) This is a great step for GaGa to have taken. It is an evolution of her sound, with The Fame Monster's sound sort of split between The Fame and this album. It is extremely ambitious in its scope of sounds, lyrics, arrangements, and all around presentation. For that alone, she will get good reviews and a pat on the back for really going for it with her proper sophomore release. There is no slump here to be seen. So that was the positives, and clearly I adore almost all of the tracks, but I do still have a few gripes...
2) The production. Top-notch, intricate, complicated...and TOO. FUCKING. MUCH. I can't remember the last time a pop album was so difficult. There isn't a moment of silence. There is no room for the considerably brilliant songs to breathe. Imagine needing a nice pop album to listen to after a hard day...you won't be putting on Born This Way. It is cluttered, noisy, confusing...for all its brilliance, it is quite hard to swallow. It is sort of the pop equivalent of Kanye West's acclaimed Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy last year (shoutout to Court for supplying this comparison). For all its brilliance...I could see myself avoiding putting it on because I don't need all of that in one album all the time.
3) That old GaGa I used to love, with all the contradictions? The one I mentioned earlier? Not quite here anymore. She has a rock n roll image, and has made her music the same. She has been talking about this album with the bloated self-confidence of Charlie Sheen...but then the album is bloated as well. All of the imagery has been dark and layered and poignant...and so has the music. No longer can I appreciate the crazy videos as much by telling myself that at least the song is simple and fun...they aren't anymore. Whether or not this is a good evolution, I can't tell. She is still one of the best and most interesting pop stars on the planet...but she isn't really as much fun anymore is she?
4) However, with ambition and talent, it is no surprise that things got a little out of hand. It is a shame because with stronger attention to lyrics, more dedication to the hooks of the song, and easing up on the production a little...this really could have been the landmark album GaGa has spent all of her time raving about.
For now, however, this gets: