After basking in the glory of Lady Gaga’s wonderful weirdness for so long, it’s almost easy to forget that at some point in order to be considered a musical visionary, visionary music must be made at some point. Three albums in and that magic moment (outside a handful of admittedly amazing singles) has yet to come.
Not that the promotional tour for Gaga’s latest project would have you believe anything of the sort. The hype machine for this album has been going full-speed, non-stop for almost two years, capped up with events so strange and over-the top that it really should be the subject of its own movie (one which is currently in the works).
The trouble is that after putting so much time and energy into dazzling displays, unusual costumes, limited seating art exhibits, mass tweets, and getting the album name tattooed on her own arm, the music could never hope to live live up to the hype. And never before has that been more apparent than on her third album, ARTPOP. For all her emphasis on being true to who you are, never before has Lady Gaga sounded more unsure of herself.
The first half of the album is dominated by ill-fitting, noisy, EDM-flavored sonic experiments that are poorly organized, and range from either being appallingly chaotic (album opener “Aura”), insultingly boring (the silly even for Gaga’s standards “Venus”) or painfully middle of the road (the almost good “G.U.Y.”). For all the different sonic arrangements on each song, they seem to blend together to form one nerve-ending tone of cluttered cacophony — all made worse by the fact that Gaga’s vocals, which have always been her unsung secret weapon, are buried in the mix thanks to so much over-layering.
Thankfully, after an uninteresting five song shock, Gaga’s personality and strengths begin to shine through. Clubby number “Jewels n’ Drugs” features guest verses by T.I to break up the monotony, even if he is wasted on the tired-sounding beat. “Manicure” opens up with Gaga channeling a dead ringer Joan Jett impression, and yanks that attempt again to lift the album out of its lackluster club stupor by sounding completely different on the outside. The Queen-inspired handclaps and a sexy guitar riff underneath almost makes it feel like a throw-away from the more glam-rock inspired Born This Way.
But even that grows tiresome after the first few promising seconds. This pattern of “interesting idea” followed by failure-to-execute repeats and repeats all throughout the first half of the album. But finally, after trying on so many different hats, Lady Gaga manages to find herself in time for the last half of the album to be great.
Starting with the seductive, swanky “Do What U Want” featuring R. Kelly, The Lady shines at what she does best: crooning over tight pop hooks with her out-of-this-world voice. The funky narrative about a spoiled fashionista “Donatella,” out-of-nowhere disco number “Fashion!” and the catchy dubstep ode to a certain herb (“Mary Jane”) are all great tunes that go a long way in making up for ARTPOP’s cluttered opening.
And the final two songs (before radio single “Applause”) “Dope” and “Gypsy” are both gorgeous reminders that when stripped away from the makeup and wardrobe, Lady Gaga was once a young girl who played at piano bars — and that girl can sing.
ARTPOP is burdened by too much content backed by way too much hype, with not nearly enough pay-off until it’s almost too late. The first half sounds like all the worst elements of modern pop-music on display: style over substance noise, devoid of any genuine emotion.
But when Lady Gaga stops worrying about being relevant and allows the music to actually breathe freely, unburdened by all the overindulgent studio wizardry, there’s magic to be found. And it’s proof enough that Lady Gaga is more than capable of being one of the most interesting, talented pop stars of the decade — without relying on the gimmicks.
Verdict: For all her emphasis on being true to who you are, never before has Lady Gaga sounded more unsure of herself