And so it arrived. Lady Gaga has officially given birth to Born This Way, surely one of the most anticipated records pop music has seen in years. It all began around 8 months a go when the lady herself started to spread the word about the album on countless tweets and public appearances, revealing the title, some excerpts from the lyrics and actually referring to it as the soundtrack of this generation. If the entire marketing-strategy behind the promotion is rather brilliant, at one point it seemed that the hype was too big and the record was doomed not to live up to the expectations. But hey, Lady Gaga is not a newbie in what concerns self-promotion. With only a fluffy single out (Just Dance) she was already parading herself everywhere, while wearing weird shades and (more importantly) no pants, making sure her photo was taken by every magazine. With the help of a couple of celebrity-blogger friends, she portraited her persona as a sort of a modern Studio 54 star in order to become one. This would be rather absurd if she didn’t manage to create music that would sustain that over the top image. Luckily for us, she did.
But it’s no secret that her second release, The Fame Monster, was the turning point where this young girl called Stefani Germanotta started to feel confortable in the character of Lady Gaga. Removing herself from the overplayed “hey boy meet me on the dance floor” type of songs that dominated the charts, she set out to explore a darker approach to pop music via more agressive electronic arrangements and lyrics about her fears and obsessions. And this is when Lady Gaga starts to become, well, interesting (Bad Romance will go down in history as one of pop’s finest moments).
So what changes with the release of this new album? The fact she now has a solid fan base and this is actually her first record as an established international superstar. For some musicians with real artistic aspirations this can drive them bonkers (ask David Bowie). The problem of this new context of acceptance is that artists will get stuck with the same kind of sound that put them on top in the first place and repeat that formula over and over again. Did Lady Gaga fell into this trap with Born This Way? Not a chance.
Diving in the fusion of hard electro beats with heavy-metal guitars and europop hooks, this new record seems to push her sound forward in terms of style and, with the exception of a couple of tracks, there doesn’t seem to be a particular interest with what’s hot on radio right now. In a way it is the definitive proof that Gaga is guided by the beat of her own drum. Here, the body of work created is pretty much her own and aesthetic risks are being taken. During the 14 tracks of Born This Way most of the times she hits, yet sometimes she misses.
Opening track Marry The Night is a hard-hitting dark mixture of gothic bells with disco beats and synth-processed rock guitars. For the first seconds you fear that she is starting the record with a ballad but the song quickly speeds-up, ending in a sort of claustrophobic mad beat. The title track follows, a disco stomper that is now forever linked with Madonna’s Express Yourself (google for some great mash-ups!), and even if rather enjoyable it isn’t by any standard the highlight of the album. The tracks where Gaga seems most comfortable in are actually the more experimental ones. Center piece Scheiße, with all it’s faux-german spoken parts (I don’t speak german but I can if you like, she tells us) could be the perfect soundtrack for a night-out at Berlin’s Berghaim club (an old sex club turned gay disco where Gaga actually went partying during her recent tour). Dry, hard and irresistibly arrogant, it has the most pop-perfect chorus planted in the middle of all the madness and it works rather brilliantly. Same could be said about Government Hooker, a song that starts with Gaga saying her name in some sort of opera singing before some amazing early 90’s house beats kick in (there is a great sense of humor to the lyrics as well, it’s a terribly fun track and someone in her label should have the balls to put this out as a single). Highway Unicorn (Road To Love) is also a stand-out, despite the silly title, a construction that takes hints from anthemic 80’s rock and processes it with dance beats for some clever results. Same goes for Electric Chapel, a track that is in equal parts Billy Idol as it is Madonna during her finest Confessions On a Dancefloor moments (weirdly, it works!). Heavy Metal Lover is also a winner in this collection, a totally straightforward techno song that is surprisingly subtle (for this artist’s standards, that is) but highly enjoyable. Second single Judas has Gaga’s signature-style written all over it and, even if not immensely original, those hard beats in juxtaposition with the candy-flavoured chorus are simply too good to be missed.
So it seems that when exploring her darkness and roughness, Gaga is at her best. Sadly, lyrically there are a few moments where she goes up on her pulpit in order to bring freedom to the world and those moments betray what is, in essence, a pretty brilliant record. The artist in question is not known for subtlety but the literal lines about being an outsider during Bad Kids or the far too many (and totally forgettable) references to Jesus Christ that pop-up allover the record are a bit cringe-worthy. There is also a song about emigration laws called Americano that is a total miss, not only for the forced theatrical vocal performance she is trying to deliver but also because, weirdly, she is using romanian-gypsy sonorities mixed with mariachi trumpets (total unpredicted culture-clash going on here). The album closes with the current single, Edge of Glory, not highly impressive at first listen but for sure a grower with an infective hook that is deliciously 80’s, the type of song you would hear during the end credits of one of those Melanie Griffith movies. It is a bit different to what you could expect from Lady Gaga right now (think an uplifting dance-pop track that would make Katy Perry proud).
But in truth, and despite the few misses, we’re in the presence of a very brave record to be released by the best-selling artist of the moment. Others would have played it safe but that is not the case here. Without loosing it’s sense of pop deliciousness (and god knows this woman can write amazing hooks) and while actually pushing pop boundaries forward, there is a remarkable edge to most of the songs that make this a very, very exciting album to listen to. Soundtrack of a generation? I don’t think so. Great record? Absolutely. (7,5/10)