Friday, May 20, 2011

Album Review: Lady Gaga - Born This Way (4.5/5)

So the wait is finally over. The much, much, much anticipated full-length sophomore album Born This Way from American pop singer Lady Gaga is finally here. The album arrives at the height of Gaga's popularity, which has been on an extreme uphill rise since her debut 3 years ago, and on course has sculpted Gaga as a cultural icon. Gaga's debut album The Fame and its accompanying EP The Fame Monster have been two of the most sought-after pop albums in recent times--combined sales tallying over 15 million copies worldwide, and remains in most charts around the world still. Not too shabby for a debut--the last time I can re-call a female pop singer making such an impact was Britney Spears, 11 years ago at the pinnacle of her career or perhaps Madonna in the '80s.

If you needed any evidence of the stellar year Gaga has had so far, the proof is in the pudding. Lead single "Born This Way" became an instant smash, breaking a handful of records in doing so, including becoming the fastest selling digital single ever, as well as acquiring the most spins within a week on top 40 radio. So with the statistics out of the way, does Born This Way actually live up to its hype? Well, the sound on The Fame and The Fame Monster were top-notch RedOne assisted catchy dance-pop, so it only makes sense that on here the Gaga attempts to push the boundaries a lot further. The production here is dynamic, energetic and grand with deeper lyrical bearing.

Haunting piano chords and seeping disquieting synths open "Marry the Night" before segueing into a fiery synth charged pop production--layers of rich throbbing electronic undertones and pounding bass lines--gradually a build up to it's frenetic climax, to which is greeted with twangy guitar chords which become buried beneath a maniacal wall of progressive beats, soundscapes and chilling synths. Dark freewheeling dramatic '80s influenced electro-pop--it introduces the theme nicely as well as being an invigorating opening to the album.

It's pain-stakingly clear that Gaga aspires to be the voice for the underdog--no other song carries the message better than title track "Born This Way" an epic, thundering electro-pop tune, which rightfully opens with the uplifting lyric, "It doesn't matter if you love him or Capital HIM." It's supposedly inspired by Madonna's "Express Yourself," which it saw minor criticism for--so what if it was? It's a classic and inspiration always come from somewhere. I wasn't that big on this before, but it's grown on me a lot.

The operatic opening of "Government Hooker" is particularly entertaining as it merges into the almost Robyn influenced, 80s studded, trickling kinetic electronic beats, with bursts of static synths and distorted bass. "Put your hands on me John F. Kennedy, I'll make you squeal baby, as long you pay me," Gaga exclaims on the bridge--I'm sure the message behind the song is more than just about a hooker that works for the government. It's apparently about Marylin Monroe's with affair John F. Kennedy. Next up is current single "Judas" a religiously charged number, with its clobbering matelic beats and rippling electronic synths re-calling "Bad Romance," only not as stimulating. Reglious agenda aside, it's just a fun slice of pop with a catchy chorus to boot--nothing anyone should have been offended by. There's way more serious things out there to be offened by such as the existence of Rebecca Black's "Friday."

The jaunty, Spanish influenced pop of "Americano" sort of picks up where "Alejandro" left off. I love the merging of spanish guitars, kinetic hand claps and the hammering electronic backdrop. It's indigenous chanting on the chorus sounds like the most unrestricted fun she has on here. She aptly injects a little Spanish into the mix too. Another song she goes transatlantic on is "Scheiße" (German for 'shit') which flaunts its German acapella opening before dissolving into an oncoming barrage of pounding electronic beats and synths. It's shares the same sassy, feminist flair as some of Madonna's earlier work, I can't cite a particular track. "Vogue" maybe? The melodic auara in the chorus is fantastic. It highlights a nice contrast to the more bricky beats of the verses.

"Bloody Mary," another track trailing from religious influences, is a heavy-footed mid-tempo, still pretty heavy on the electronic beats. It reminds a lot of "Paparazzi." It's noticeably less frenetic than the tracks before. It opens and closes with enchanting atmospheric violins which Gaga sings angelically in falsetto over. Chugging electronic guitars begin "Bad Kids" as a static Gaga preaches. I'm not a fan of this one--the production is a little uneven and doesn't really go anywhere. Better is "Electronic Chapel" which also heavily utilizes the electronic guitar before evaporating into an '80s drenched synth-pop production--monopolising keyboards, pounding bass lines intact.

"Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)" is an apt anthemic number, boasting that influencial semblance, espcially on the chorus ("we can be strong, we can be strong, follow that unicorn on the road to love") similar to "Born This Way" but the production here is way more climatic. It sounds a little Bowie influenced too--an inspiration Gaga has cited many times before. "Heavy Metal Lover" is quite interesting. Gaga opens with sexual imagery ("I want your whisky mouth over my blonde south") complimenting the gritty, sawing electronic beats and synth nicely.

Towards the end we find "Yoü and I." To the album what "Speechless" was to The Fame Monster and what "Brown Eyes" was to The Fame. It's an ode to soulful, '70s influenced rock. It's fantastic--Gaga delivers an awesome vocal performance too. If I had any gripe with the album it would be that some tracks are annoyingly similar, such as "Hair" and "The Edge of Glory" which both utilize hollowing soundscapes, horns cultivating that '90s dance-pop aura. They're both great tracks though, particularly "Glory," which is actually my favorite track on here.

So in answer to whether Born This Way lives up to its hype: It definitely does. It's nothing short of a thrilling pop record. The ultimate pop album? Not in so many words. But it definitely has all the ingredients: It's invigorating, exciting, consistent, cohesive, masterfully over-the-top all with an underlining authentic inspirational message. It's everything Gaga stands for. 'Weird' is now the new cool and showcases why she is the best of the best when it comes to high-quality, top-notch, masterful pop. It's definitely one of the best pop albums of the year so far.

Best: The Edge of Glory, Born This Way, Marry the Night, Yoü and I, Scheiße, Judas, Government Hooker, Bloody Mary, Heavy Metal Lover


MisterX said...

Mindnumbingly average. You hear about 20 singers per night in every dance club in America who could have done this much or better. I liked Gaga the first time around...when she was called Madonna.

J.Mensah said...

Fair point! But I can't help but feel that could be said about anyone in her shoes.

rcLoy said...

I'm listening to BTW right now. And I must say, my faith in her is restored. It's better than what I expect it to be. I have a feeling I am going to love this album much more after few more spin, it sound like a grower. And J, for you to come up with a review like this, I know we're best mate for life. SMH. Hugs.

J.Mensah said...

Wow! I'm surprised you had reservations about it. I liked it instantly--if you cut out the relgion ish, it's a fantastic pop record.

ww_adh said...

I'm excited! I haven't heard it yet, but I'll be listening lots tomorrow.

J.Mensah said...

Can't wait for your review!

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