On May 24 Lady GaGa is set to release her latest album, Born This Way. Let me preface this review: if you’re looking for nothing but praise and adulation and “this is the best album of the year, no, the decade!” and nothing but positive things, then you best look elsewhere. We’ve been pummeled by new tracks from “Mother Monster” for months now and for some, it’s made us wonder what the completely finished product would sound like. If you’re looking for a continuation of the hits and sound that catapulted her to fame (no pun intended) then don’t get your hopes up. As with most artists, it’s clear that she used the first two albums to set herself up as a musical and talented forced to be reckoned with. With her fame and the giddy little Monsters in tote, she now has a musical mandate to do whatever the heck she wants to and with Born This Way, she does not attempt to follow in her own footsteps but charge forward down a new musical path. It’s a bold move that’s admirable because you can’t fault her for churning out the same sound or mindless pop fodder that some artist do; you also are a bit let down because she’s evolved into a completely new artist with this record, one that leaves behind the pop diva we’ve all grown to love, quote and imitate.
The album starts off with the hard-hitting “Marry The Night.” It’s a noticable change in her style and genre of music as it ditches the cutesy pop sounds of the last two albums for a more adult, rock and 1980s pop music vibe. The track starts with her voice untouched and singing amongst an electric piano before the song finds its ’90s dance groove beat. It’s a nice album kick-off track; fast paced, sets the tone for a party and she doesn’t sound half bad singing a bit rougher and with a rock edge. She’s also less autotuned than usual on the track. “Born This Way,” despite being a big #1 hit, doesn’t hold a flame to the opening track and comes off as a contrived and weak. Lyrically it’s a great track expressing a message of accepting and embracing yourself as you are and not apologizing or changing yourself to fit anyone’s expectations set for you. The weak instrumental background that sounds like “Express Yourself” and about a dozen P!nk songs just kills this song’s originality and appeal. It also feels heavy-handed and pandering, specifically doing a role call for every minority and disgruntled niche of people out there. Things unfortunately get worse with “Government Hooker” as she ditches singing for wailing “Hoo-ooo-kahr!” and repeats, “You’re my hooker –Gov-a-ment hooker!” There’s little more to the song beyond the cheap thrill of someone finally creating an anthem for prostitutes and whores.
“Judas” is the album’s most pop track and probably the amongst the best that the album has to offer. It’s reminiscent of some of her past work; she turns Judas’ name into the chorus as she did on “Alejandro” and the track has an upbeat, fast-paced beat similar to “Bad Romance.” While not the best track, stacked up against the rest of the album’s offerings it’s definitely clear this track will have appeal to old and new fans alike. Yet again, the album sinks back into mediocrity with “Americano,” a track that’s a mix of old world gypsy music set to a dance beat. It’s a fun track and GaGa earns points for actually singing in another language. The track is a bit frenzied a bit jarring but entertaining and gets you to nod and hum along. “Hair” tries its best to be a ’80s pop anthem with the chorus being “free as my hair” and GaGa describing how she styles her hair so that her friends will think she’s “dynamite.” Similar to “Born This Way” it’s a song that draws its strength not so much from the music but the message of embracing yourself as you are without giving a damn what others think about you.
“Shieße” redeems the album a bit by ditching the cheesy 1980s songs for a hard-hitting ’90s dance beat. This track probably has some of the album’s catchiest lines: “I don’t speak German but I can if you’d like.” It’s one of the few real, unapologetic dance tracks. Heck, it’s one of the only tracks you can dance to and envision hearing played in a club. “Bloody Mary” is a companion track to “Judas” with allusions to religious scenery and imagery Lady GaGa singing, “I won’t cry for you, I won’t crucify the things you do.” It’s not much of a happy track and is a bit dark in subject matter but grows on you.
“Bad Kid” is a rebel anthem, though it’s a bit soft and not as edgy as it could’ve been. It starts off with a great intro, one where GaGa shows her edge and bite a bit before mellowing out as the track goes on. “Highway Unicorn (Road 2 Love)” is another ’80s-inspired track with synthesizers and GaGa singing (in my opinion) for the first time on the album. Sure, she sort of sings on other tracks but this is the first where she shows off her vocal talents. Her voice competes and is drowned out a bit by the background music, unfortunately. “Heavy Metal Lover” is unremarkable as she spends most of the track humming and muttering rather than doing much singing. “Electric Chapel” is reminiscent of Billy Idol and classic Pat Benetar sound wise. It though grows tiresome and monotonous with the repetition of just one or two lines worth of lyrics.
“You and I” is a track we’ve now heard a dozen times over and the finished album version is actually better than anything on this album. It’s a simple song and the finished cut isn’t held down by over production or bad imitation ’80s or ’90s beats. It’s amazing how clear and awesome this track sounds while most everything else feels underwhelming. “The Edge of Glory” ends the album on a high note as GaGa crafts an entertaining tribute to the ’80s in this power pop anthem: it has saxophones, synths, bass and piano. It’s an inspiring, uplifting track that makes you want to grab onto the one you love and not let go and actually packs quite the emotional punch.
Someone on Twitter said it right: the Lady GaGa who made “The Fame” and “Fame Monster” and the Lady GaGa who crafted this album are two completely different artists. This album has less of a pop vibe and more of a rock vibe. What’s missing from Born This Way is heart and emotion, with the exception of a few tracks like “The Edge of Glory” or “You and I”; I was struck by how detached GaGa comes off from much of this music. In her past work she put so much of herself into the music that even the dance hits gave you chills and made you take notice. That’s not the case on Born This Way where it feels like there was more of an attempt to bring a level of shock value (“Judas,” “Bloody Mary”) to the album to live up to her image of being wild and unpredictable.
What has made Lady GaGa stand out from the crowded female pop scene is that her music sounded like nothing else on the market. No one else had a sound or song like “Poker Face” or “Bad Romance.” On this album however the beats and music all feel old and done before. When she attempts to produce ’80s and ’90s-inspired hits, she falls short and disappoints. When she drops the act and goes for the heart on tracks like “The Edge of Glory,” “You and I,” or “Mary the Night” she pleases and satisfies, and all is good. I was disappointed with how little singing she does on this album. Again, you can argue otherwise but there’s a wide gap and discrepancy between a track like “You and I” and “Born This Way.” At best, this album is average. By the high bar she’s set for herself with her past work, it’s below average and leaves much to be desired. If anything this album made me miss “classic” GaGa who churned out the dance hits and didn’t need to get political or mix religion into her songs for the sake of getting press and attention. For some, this album will still satisfy with its “come as you are” message of acceptance; for others this album will feel like a chore to listen to as you eagerly await the next “Bad Romance” or “Telephone” to play; unfortunately, that sound and artist never make an appearance on Born This Way.
Born This Way [Tracklisting]
01. Marry The Night
02. Born This Way
03. Government Hooker
08. Bloody Mary
09. Bad Kids
10. Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)
11. Heavy Metal Lover
12. Electric Chapel
13. You And I
14. The Edge of Glory
Listen to These: “You and I,” “Marry the Night,” “Shieße,” “Judas,” “The Edge of Glory”