Artist: Lady Gaga
Album: Born This Way
Genre: Dance Pop
Just typing about Lady Gaga on a prog-metal forum feels weird. Reviewing an album I’m sure most people here will either scoff at or gloss over feels a bit redundant, yet, to hell with it, I love Lady Gaga, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting Born This Way for as long as I’ve been a fan.
Born This Way is Lady Gaga’s second studio album (third if you count the almost-album EP, The Fame Monster). As a big Lady Gaga fan, Born This Way was on my radar as a high-profile album to really watch out for. I was going into this album knowing full well that it could be a game-changing album for the pop music genre. Does it deliver? Read on…
First off, Born This Way has an amazing opening. The first 4 songs are the best on the album, and after hearing them for the first time I was convinced the album would be killer from start to finish. Hell, if the whole album was as good as the first 4 songs, it would be looking at a perfect score from me. Marry the Night and Born This Way are two big, bombastic leadoff songs. While Marry the Night feels very to familiar to a seasoned Gaga-fan (albeit a tad classier than some of her past songs), Born This Way seems to be demonstrative of Gaga’s direction on this album. Born This Way, a “gays rule, and so does everyone else” song was the first big hit from the album. It’s the title track for a reason, as Gaga is really running with the “life lessons” theme on Born This Way. Gaga follows up with Government Hooker and Judas, two of the most potent rave songs found on the album. Judas, in particular is easy to picture at a dimly-lit club. Judas actually has a killer, surprisingly heavy beat to it, and I consider it to be the best song on the album.
It seems like Lady Gaga has learned a thing or two about her influence on the younger generation since the release of her debut album back in 2008. Gaga has decided to re-design her message to her fans. Instead of the “have liberal sex and go wild, baby” message of The Fame, Gaga opts instead for the “we are all beautiful, and you control your own fate” style of songwriting. Upon first pondering this moral restructuring, I was pretty pleased. Glad to see an artist I love take some responsibility and have some understanding of their influence, I was ready to welcome the rest of the album with open arms. But, the album does start to fall apart afterwards…
The album starts to flatline near the middle. With the exception of a few songs, Gaga seems to find herself in strangely esoteric terrain. Singing about topics like how free her hair is and how “jesus is the new black” work against her in the long run. Every time I find something to like, Gaga immediately snatches it away and replaces it with something either very out of place, or just overly preachy.
The more mature sound of Born This Way is both a blessing and a curse. In some cases I found it refreshing, but it other cases I found it an obstacle in the way of what could have been a more fun album. Lady Gaga does write her own lyrics, but at times it feels like she is trying too hard to prove herself. Don’t get me wrong, songs as well written as Bloody Mary and The Edge of Glory are terrific, but for some songs it gets in the way of making the song more compelling. Songs like Black Jesus, Highway Unicorn, and Electric Chapel are lyrically interesting, but the lyrics dance too much in the spotlight of the song, never letting any of the beats or hooks make it into the listener’s ears. The best songs on the album blend strong lyrics with equally enjoyable hooks.
The album ends with the strong closing song, The Edge of Glory. It’s a great song to chant along to and the 90’s pop influence on it is charming. Overall, I would say half of the songs are winners, the rest are forgettable. Frankly, the song list feels artificially padded for length. Many songs feels about 1-2 minutes longer than they need to be, and many half-cooked ideas inexplicably found their way into song form.
The problem with Born This Way is that Lady Gaga is setting her sights on too many targets. She wants dance club songs, like Judas and Government Hooker but she also wants songs that listeners can respect and learn from, like Born This Way and Fashion of His Love. She wants to make songs for everyone, like Marry the Night and Bad Kids, yet she wants to make songs for herself, like Black Jesus and The Queen. By the end of the album, I’ve experienced all that Gaga wants me to, yet I’m not left particularily fulfilled by anything she touches on.
I was really anticipating Born This Way to be monumental step forward for Gaga and for pop music. Rather, Born This Way is just another release by Gaga. It’s not as good as The Fame or The Fame Monster, but it’s certainly serviceable. It seems like Lady Gaga is still not quite done testing the waters on what she can do, before she decides to take a riskier plunge, and Born This Way is far from risky. Yes, it’s a bit a darker, and more lyrically compelling than we’ve seen from her before, but this could have been a benchmark release from her. While the album is far from bad, it also falls short of excellent.
Although this was not everything I was hoping I would get from Lady Gaga’s new album, I’m not discouraged. I still believe the best is yet to come, but Gaga needs to find her voice. A tighter focus, or an overriding theme would help to bring some cohesion to her future releases. Born This Way just feels like an album Gaga released just for the hell of it. She’s maturing, but she’s not there yet.