RIGHT let’s get into this. Lady Gaga has always been somewhat hit and miss when it comes to her records. Artpop was a mixed affair; when there was a hit, it was a hit, but it also had its fair share of misses. It’s a similar story with The Fame, Monster and Born This Way; when Gaga wants to produce a cheesy pop hit, she can do it. I will freely admit I enjoy ‘Telephone’ or ‘Just Dance’, hell, even that collab she did with R. Kelly. But it’s been three years since Artpop, and after Gaga’s assorted activity (working with Tony Bennett, that Bowie tribute, American Horror Story, etc) the weight of expectations is heavier than ever.
With Artpop feeling like Gaga was drifting away the pop spotlight (or pop-light, if you will), Joanne would either be Gaga’s attempt to reclaim any lost fame, or take her music in a completely different direction. Really, Joanne kind of feels like she wants to do both. If you look at the list of collaborators on this record, it’s like Gaga is trying to *shudder*, become indie. I mean: Josh Homme, Mark Ronson, Este Haim, Father John Misty, Bloodpop, Matt Helders, Florence Welch, Sean Lennon and Kevin Parker from Tame Impala all feature on this record, but honestly, if you didn’t already know that they did, you wouldn’t have guessed. So while Gaga dabbles in this *shudder again* indie aesthetic, there are also cuts on here that could have come from Artpop, and we’re not talking the good cuts either.
So the end result of Joanne, with Gaga not committing to either camp, leaves it floating somewhere in limbo. It’s a mish-mash of pop, psych, country(?!), and some other genres as well. Now, this is worrying by itself, but it doesn’t help that, on the whole, the song writing on this thing is awful. Joanne reveals just how poor Gaga’s wordplay is, and without the glitzy pop riffs, there’s not much appeal left in the songs. To show just how indecisive and drab this album can be, you need simply look at the track listing. About halfway through we get ‘Perfect Illusion’, an enjoyable enough piece of psychedelic pop. This then leads into power ballad ‘Million Reasons’, whose lack of anything memorable nearly sends the listener to sleep. Then the album goes country(?!), on ‘Sinners Prayer’, a song where Gaga puts on a faux ol’ western accent (no, I’m not joking), and completes this song with a slide guitar. All that’s needed is a washboard. Like her metaphorical fingers in metaphorical pies, it’s messy.
And the thing is, it runs through the entire album, often multiple times in a song. Opener ‘Diamond Hearts’, for example, begins with very chill, lo-fi keys before going into full blown POP BANGER MODE and giving us the first example of ‘shit lyrics syndrome’. But tracks like ‘A-YO’ and ‘Dancin’ In Circles’ both of which feel like songs that could have been cut from Artpop or maybe even Born This Way; terrible lyrical work (which seems to focus on cigarettes and masturbation, respectively) and a generic pop sound that leaves no imprint on the brain. In between these songs, we have that curveball of songs of random genres being thrown in. The title track has a nice folk sound to it, but Gaga’s vocals don’t work with it at all, and, again, the lyrics are so flat and drab. ‘John Wayne’ is a very weird number that has a decent beat, but comes totally out of nowhere, and sticks out like a sore thumb in comparison to the rest of the album.
Two of the better tracks on this record come at the end of the album. Gaga’s duet with Florence Welch is not a bad number, but Gaga’s vocal performance feels out of place in comparison to Welch’s. If there ever was a point for Gaga to be unrestrained, it would be this song. But she feels hesitant, and the song doesn’t really take off. If you’re looking for a fully blown sing off, don’t come here. The closing track, ‘Angel Down’ is a much needed darker turn for Gaga, which combines murky synthesizers with some of the better lyrics on this record. I might even go as far to say that it’s actually perhaps the best track on the record and worth checking out.
But perhaps the worst, the worst, track on this record, is ‘Come To Mama’. This is a song that opens with:
Everybody’s got to love each other
Stop throwin’ stones at your sisters and your brothers
Man, it wasn’t that long ago we were all living in the jungle
So why do we gotta put each other down
When there’s more than enough love to g-g-go around?
I mean, there’s more, but I’ll spare you. And yes, she really did stutter that ‘G’.
The sheer ineptitude of these lyrics is enough to make you vomit; to curl into a small ball and weep. It makes Kasabian’s ‘Being watched by Google’ lyrics sound like the equivalent of T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’. It is like a privileged white woman trying, and failing, to channel Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, or Curtis Mayfield’s There’s No Place Like America Today. It’s hatefully preachy, carrying a paper thin message that any five year old with a sense of decency could tell you. And to top it all off, its music hideously echoes a doo-wop number from the 50’s while Gaga bellows this hellish poetry and for some reason there’s a heavily distorted guitar in the music.
Lady Gaga, much like Rihanna earlier in the year, apparently wants to reinvent herself. But in attempting to do so, she’s become indecisive, and tried to fit everything onto one record. The result is a hodge-podge of songs that don’t work, varied vocal performances and terrible lyrics. Guests are brought on, mostly for no reason, and Gaga churns out perhaps one or two passable numbers. Don’t believe the hype, listen to something else.
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