Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lady GaGa - Born This Way Album Review (2nd Opinion)

Why even bother opening this review with a brief history of Lady GaGa? Not much more can be said other than she’s snatched the wigs of ALL of your favorites in 3 years time. Her debut album The Fame was a solid collection of pop/dance songs with catchy hooks that instantly became engrained in your head. Singles notwithstanding, half of the album fell a bit flat which could be the reason GaGa spent no time releasing a second 8 track “album” to keep the success ball rolling. The Fame Monster took what made the first album special and ascended it into pop history with the inclusion of the juggernaut that was Bad Romance [Aside: to this day, I remain PRESSED it only peaked at #2 on the Hot 100—fuk you Ke$ha, ya dumb 'tik toking' c*nt. hehe..] Not one to keep her adoring fans waiting, Lady GaGa teased by unveiling the 3rd album title last September, Born This Way. With it she promised to give her fans the album of a decade—did Mother Monster deliver?

To start, if you’re coming into Born This Way expecting to hear rehashed versions of Just Dance, you will be disappointed. And if you are, then you really weren’t paying attention for the past year and a half. The Fame Monster hinted at the direction GaGa would be taking her music. From the synth-heavy and noisy sounds of the aforementioned Bad Romance to the dark and edgy Euro techno of Dance In The Dark to the 80's inspired Alejandro to the Queen-like ballad Speechless to the ‘WTF’ funk of Teeth—it was clear GaGa wanted her next full-length album to use these sounds and take them to the next level. Gone was the glamorous and fabulous styles of her debut and she soon created a new look and feel for this project. As Andrew pointed out in an earlier article, the creation of a new “race” of people, the prosthetics, the even more outlandish outfits, the religious undertones, the campy album cover are all part of the this elaborate presentation for the album. The Born This Way era has been touted in GaGa’s own words as a “cultural baptism.” While that may be a little farfetched, GaGa’s vision for this album is just as much substance as it is style.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the music. If GaGa’s talent has ever been doubted—the doubt can stop here. She and her small team of right-hand producers (notably Red One and Fernando Garibay) have transcended decades and genres with their creations. Somehow Born This Way manages to fuse 80's pop, 90's dance, industrial techno, Euro-pop, trance, stadium rock, and jazz into a cohesive collection of songs that will rapture your mind. This is not to say the album does not have its faults.

The biggest flaw to address is the over-production throughout the album. At times the songs feel over-bearing as there is too much going on in some songs that it makes it hard to appreciate the wonderful composed melodies. Make no mistake, GaGa is known for her catchy hooks—they are present, but some of them are buried under so many sledge-hammering beats it takes a few listens to discover them. I’ve pointed out that Born This Way is structured in a similar manner that’s reminiscent of Kanye West’s latest record, My Dark Twisted Beautiful Fantasy. A pop opera to a hip hop opera, both albums are achievements in compositions taking you on a roller-coaster of sounds and rhythms but each track is filled with so much that, as Andrew has put it, it becomes too cluttered and cumbersome for its own good [<--much like that sentence]. This also results in making both albums slightly ill-suited for radio play as current mainstream radio is stuck in its tired, generic dance-pop phase. For that reason alone, one can appreciate GaGa for going in this left-field direction.

The 14 track (17 for the deluxe edition) affair starts off with Marry The Night. It’s a backlit, piano-driven, electro song with lyrics that tell of GaGa’s love for New York City and a night out on the town. It’s one of the more understated songs production-wise and it sets up the album perfectly when it ascends into its techno climax at the end.

Even though I never officially reviewed the title track, I still believe it to be one of the best songs of 2011. Express Yourself comparisons aside, the self-empowerment song is a good indication of the production style for the rest of the album. GaGa soars over the booming beats to sing-a-long verses and hooks with just enough passion to keep the song from falling apart. What makes Born This Way a standout are its literal lyrics which boldly goes where pop songs haven’t since Michael Jackson’s Black or White.

Government Hooker relies on the early 90's techno beat to keep you interested but unfortunately stalls halfway through the song, sounding somewhat monotonous. GaGa opens the song with operatic vocalizing until the underground club beat creeps in. While certainly not bad it’s out-shined by 2 the similar heart-pounding tracks—the first being Judas. You can read the long-winded review of Judas here; it’s dark tone and hard-hitting beats fit the rest of Born This Way’s make-up. Whether because of its similarity to Bad Romance or biblical references it’s not performing as well on the charts as I would have hoped but I will continue stanning for it.

Americano… I am not here for this song. Essentially Alejandro on CRACK, this Latin-tinged single is mariachi band meets-- I don’t even know. Apparently, I’m in the minority about this since I’ve noticed an over-whelmingly amount of others seem to like it. I suppose it’s danceable but the absurd lyrics, obnoxious vocals, and random noises are just too much for me. Props to GaGa for giving her lesbian fans a shout-out though!

Hair is half stadium rock, half dance complete with saxophone runs laced throughout and for the most part it works. The pop/rock style of the chorus is a bit generic and I can’t help but feel like had the song stuck with the switch up that comes in at second verse the song could have made more of an impression. With that being said, it was one of the more mainstream songs and could easily find its way onto radio. Lyrics come off a bit cheesy when she references wanting to live as free as her hair, but it’s all in good fun.

After that joyous celebration of self-expression, Scheiße, the other heart-pounding track, sneaks up on you and hits you like a rocket. “I don’t speak German, but can if you’d like” –GaGa starts off by talking in some random languages until the runway/club anthem beat zooms in at a blistering pace and never lets up. Simply put, Scheiße slays. Lyrics that deal with double standards and female empowerment prove to be more effective than some other diva’s newest song [#shade]. We can only wish this song can be censored for radio play so it can become an official single!

When we get to Bloody Mary things come to an eerie halt. The slower, hauntingly beautiful track is drenched with religious atmosphere: “I’m gonna dance dance dance with my hands hands hands over my head head head like Jesus said.” The production is melodically brilliant right down to the monk-styled chanting of “GaGa” in the background. From there, 80’s pop returns with the synth-funk of Bad Kids, Gaga goes back and forth between calling herself a “twit” and then telling those twits “you’re still good to me, you’re a bad kid, baby.” It’s a surprisingly fun, rebellious record that could see some success if released as a single.

Highway Unicorn (Road To Love) would otherwise be a amazing record, but the raspy belted out vocals, heavy synths, and big drums practically drown out the chorus. The verses and bridge fair better and thankfully, keeps the song afloat even if the overall outcome is a bit messy. “Ride, ride pony tonight” GaGa only fittingly sings in this thumping number that with all it’s claustrophobic sounds still manages to be enjoyable. Much more successful is the euphoric Heavy Metal Lover where she sensually opens with “I want your whiskey mouth all over my blond south.” [yasssss] This is another highlight of the album where the production is executed flawlessly. The religious motifs return with Electric Chapel, a solid techno track with an addictive hook and rocking 80’s guitar riffs. It has a nice gothic feel as church organs and bells line the background of the song. You’ll notice that the album starts to come full circle at this point which will prompt you to ask “why don’t other artists do this?”

As we approach the end of the album, the slower number, You and I, quickly builds to an Queen-inspired rock ballad. Gaga sounds on point and emotional in what can be considered one of those ‘lighters in the air’ moments. As good as You and I is, it is a set up for finale track, The Edge Of Glory. In this fist-pumping, stadium rock, Bruce Springsteen-like epic, GaGa delivers a fervent vocal like never before. An ode to her late grandfather, The Edge Of Glory ends the album like no other song could. This day and age, it’s rare to see such an energetic song placed at the end of an album, and this is bolstered by the fact that Born This Way is an album that you listen to as a whole. The chorus is at worse, typical fare for this type of song, but GaGa packs such an impassioned punch with her vocals that it’s overlooked. And just when you think you’ve figured out the song, the breakdown features a saxophone solo that’s just the right amount of cheesy and awesome. Soon to be one of GaGa’s staple songs, if there were any doubts to how the album would perform, The Edge Of Glory will assure it’s dominance.

By the end of the last saxophone note, you’ve been bombarded with dizzying sounds that are familiarly retro but excitingly fresh at the same time. Lady GaGa has never sounded better. She does her best Madonna-esque talking, channels Whitney’s belting, snatches Christina’s growls, and yet still remains herself with her pop/jazz-styled technique. She trounces most of her pop contemporaries just with her raw and honest SINGING. Vocal effects are used when needed, not relied on. She shows off some pretty impressive vocal acrobatics; distorting and using her voice in all sorts of ways. Her influences on this album are a clear indication of the music she grew up listening to: the aforesaid Queen, Madonna, ABBA, Bruce Springsteen, and Whitney Houston being the primary examples, but GaGa's flare and personality are still present on every track.

What Lady GaGa has set out to create is an album that would become an anthem for anyone wanting to rid their insecurities and be free to dance, live, and love. Admittedly, some of the bigger and more intricate sounds don’t quite work all of the time but the album never derails. One cannot dismiss the effort GaGa has put into this record. Born This Way is sonically over-the-top, but if anything, haven’t we come to expect this from the woman who made an entrance by hatching out of an egg? In fact, it almost plays exactly like one of her concerts. There will be some backlash against this album and many people will be thrown off. But for those that actually take the time to listen and take the album for what it is, they will be more than satisfied. At the very least, this album only solidifies Lady GaGa’s already-cemented discography. Is this the album of the decade? Eh, to each their own, but one would be hard-pressed to find another mainstream pop album as daring and exceptional as this.

Put your paws up, 'cause you were born this way, baby

4.5/5 Wigs Snatched

Definitely (legally) Download:
The entire album, but highlights are:
-Born This Way
-Bloody Mary
-Heavy Metal Lover
-The Edge Of Glory

* Deluxe Edition songs:
-Black Jesus + Amen Fashion – a good listen, creepy and fun
-Fashion Of His Love – a decent listen, ode to I Wanna Dance With Somebody
– an OK listen, another dance/rock ballad, a little too long

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