Lady Gaga ‘Born This Way’ – Review

6 Jun

Everyone knows that NME is pretty useless these days and (aside from a brief resurgence in both popularity and quality circa 2002-2006) it has been since the fall of Britpop. Still, every now and then it produces a feature or review that reminds you why the world is a better place for having this last remaining music weekly. There was a unusualy good issue last month; it contained a thought-provoking and thoroughly convincing essay on why Radiohead have lost the plot and a spot on live review of an Odd Future show. But the best thing about it was the fascinating feature on Lady Gaga, written by the unbeatable Peter Robinson. It was a lively piece of gonzo-journalism in which Robinson followed Gaga for 24 hours and it depicted just how eccentric, creative and occasionally clueless she can be. Somehow for one week only Lady Gaga rejuvenated the pages of NME. It got me thinking back to another music weekly (albeit one that folded years ago), the legendary Smash Hits, as it reminded me of the kind of thing that they would have once published. I used to read the magazine as a child, and I miss it; I miss the posters, the lyric sheets, the humour, the crazy colours and the boundless enthusiasm. Publications today are either too dry (mojo), too commercial (Q), too juvenile (NME) or too cynical (Pitchfork) to capture the same sense of joy for pop music that ran through the pages of SH.  I mention all this because the NME article on Lady Gaga was very Smash Hits and Smash Hits is a magazine that would have absolutely relished Lady gaga.

As the only full colour music magazine of the day, Smash Hits loved people like Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson – artists who dressed creatively, and who could sell issues just by the clothes they were wearing on the front cover. Like those 80’s acts, Gaga is all about image; how she looks is just as important as the music – actually it’s probably more important. ‘The Fame’ was a very average album with a couple of great singles and an awful lot of filler. When people were talking about her it was usually to do with her strange wardrobe or eccentric live shows, rarely was it about her music. Then came ‘Bad Romance’ (from second album ‘The Fame Monster’) which was of course on another level altogether, it was the moment where she stopped talking the talk and started walking the walk. But if Gaga truly wants to be a star she needs to put out a classic album as well, and ‘Born This Way’ is her first genuine attempt at making a record that could fit into that category.

First signs weren’t good; As much as she denies it, first single ‘Born This Way’ sounds like a Madonna song, and a pretty dire one. It’s riddled by heavy handed,  tweet sized statements about being an individual and features boring mid-temp dance pop production. Second single ‘Judas’ was a lot better but it sort of sounds a lot like ‘Bad Romance’ only not quite as good. Hmmmmm, the so-so reception that greeted these two tracks perhaps explains why in the space of a month she released a further two singles, it’s like she was saying ‘so you don’t like this, huh? Well try this one…’ Next came ‘Edge of Glory’ a pretty decent arena sized electro ballad that actually makes more sense as the album closer than as a single. It was only with fourth single ‘Hair’ that she really showed evidence that the album might be a bit special.

This song is pretty fascinating (lyrics aside – I’ll come to that in a bit). It starts off as many a Bruce Springstein song would start off, with a twinkling piano and saxophone, but before long it turns into a glee style sing along and then it transforms once again into a techno club stomper. It took me a few listens just to get my head around this madly complex (and yet still incredibly poppy) song and I think it’s a bit brilliant. The lyrics however are typically cringe worthy. She sings lines like ‘Mum and dad why can’t I be who I want to be’ which are completely see through and extremely try hard. She’s trying to include everyone and a lot of the time it’s done so heavy handedly and awkwardly that it draws attention away from the music (in a bad way). ‘I’m not a freak’ she sings in the same song – well she kind of is, after all her name is gaga and on the album cover she is fusing into a motorbike. It’s as if she can’t decide whether she wants to be the every-woman made good or a totally unique one off – she probably wants to be both, I just wish she didn’t have to keep going on about it.

‘Hair’ aside, ‘You and I’ is the other undisputed highlight on the album; it’s a rock ballad in the vein of Queen (It features Brian May on Guitar’) and despite being a bit generic it hits all the right buttons. Speaking of generic, Gaga tries her hand at several styles on the album, with mixed results. ‘Americano’ tries to borrow the magic formula that made ‘We Speak No Americana’ a big hit last year, but rather than sounding like a cutting edge take on (for want of a better term) gypsy music, it just sounds like a corny Eurovision reject. Equally strange is ‘Scheiße’ a song that could genuinely be classified as rave or Berlin Techno – I honestly didn’t see that one coming. Elsewhere there are the more traditional dance pop songs that Gaga built her name on (and that M.I.A famously derided as sounding like music you would have heard in Ibiza 20 years ago – probably a fair criticism, if you take it as a criticism). ‘Marry The Night’ is ok as an album opener but I imagine it would sound great being blasted out in a club; likewise for ‘Bad Kids’ and ‘Government Hooker’. It’s only occasionally that Gaga slips up, but there are a trio of songs that really shouldn’t have made the final cut, and as a result the second half of the album definitely isn’t as much fun as it should be.

If it looks like a classic album, if it wants desperately to be a classic album and if it thinks it’s a classic album, Is it a classic album? Unfortunately for Lady Gaga the answer is no. Despite having more than it’s fair share of genius pop songs, ‘Born This Way’ is too erratic, too inconsistent, and too heavy-handed to take Ga Ga to the next level. She has successfully added to her musical palette but lyrically she seems to be quickly running out of ideas. As it stands she is still looking up at Bowie, Madonna, Prince, Jackson, Elton John etc, however she is still far above Katy Perry, Christina Aguilara, Britney Spears and the other wannabee American pop stars of the world (let alone the likes of JLS, Cheryl Cole or The Saturdays!). Those Smash Hits artists I mentioned at the beggining may have been on the cover because of how they looked as well as the music they made, but the ones that are still remembered today are remembered for their albums rather than their fashion. If Gaga wants to be in their company then she needs to sharpen up in a few key areas or her legacy will be a classic greatest hits and some cool music videos, but nothing more substantial.

7/10

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2 Responses to “Lady Gaga ‘Born This Way’ – Review”

  1. imeila June 14, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    “Techno” :DDDDDD

  2. drunkerthanpaula June 17, 2011 at 4:51 am #

    I thought the album is pretty awful. Many songs just seem desperate to become anthem, and the massive-sounding drums on those songs are just tiring rather than exciting.

    The ones I enjoy the most are the German-speaking (lol) and Government Hooker because they step away from trying to be bigger than what they really are.

    Americano is one of the worst things I’ve heard all year. Just plain ridiculous and not in a fun way. Edge of Glory kind of follows the missteps of BTW and Judas, but the second half really pulls everything together.

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