Gaga has just been named the most powerful celebrity in the world by Forbes magazine, on the eve of the release of her second album. Even The Beatles didn’t have that kind of pressure to live up to.
Born This Way is already bigger than merely whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. That much is irrelevant. It will no doubt be loved by millions, ignored by millions, break sales records, but ultimately, be less/more/as successful as the debut album (and it’s mid-cycle ‘update’). One album out and Gaga has alredy broken countless sales records.
Born This Way starts pretty. It always does. Soon the tinkling piano storms into the fierce electro-stomp of Marry The Night, a future number one single and the perfect call to arms. We’ve already heard four singles from this album – three of them currently sit in the top twenty of the ARIA Singles chart, and by tomorrow another will – yet this song still seems like the obvious beginning to Gaga’s official second statement.
It’s Madonna-esque, sure. The whole album is, her whole career is, but as Gaga recently proclaimed artfully in her very excellent guest column in V Magazine, she is a pop culture student, an expert, a master, much in the way that Madonna is. Or Bowie is. Or Warhol was. Or Picasso was. She was named as Forbes’ Most Powerful Celebrity. Don’t worry, Gaga knows what she is doing.
Sure, some of the gay-friendly posturing can seem excessive, even exploitative, if you wish to take it to the nth degree, but Gaga is basically a 25-year-old artist with the world at her feet, and as the title track emerges from Marry The Night, we can forgive ‘Don’t be a drag, just be a queen’ because it’s clear that Gaga is flinging many, many ideas about and this is merely one of them. This song has about eight different hooks, a relentless stomp, and yeah, it’s stolen fromExpress Yourself by Madonna, but it’s shameless, and at the risk of quoting Gaga for the second time in a critical review of her work, Madonna seemed to have been flattered by the lift, and – “if the queen said so, then it shall be.”
Government Hooker opens with Kate Bush trying to fit in at a Kraftwerk party, before switching to a Britney disco stomp. But it’s also Tatu, and it’s also Pet Shop Boys, and at times it gets close to Sleigh Bells and that wail even sounds a little Led Zeppelin, and Gaga is trying to be everything at once and so far is succeeding. “Put your hands on me, John F Kennedy.” Christ, she is really going for it. Yet, it’s still firmly, unapologetically bubble-gum pop.
Judas is next. Pissweak, easy, obvious, annoying. It’s currently sitting at #13 on the ARIA Singles charts and is closer to hard trance than anything else around it, so there is that, I suppose. Killer chorus, surrounded by jarring banalities.
Americano on the other hand is a breath of fresh south-of-the-border air. The Mexican/Spanish/unspecified mash of cultural glee is infectious, and provides an emotional lift before the self-conscious-little-girl-lost of Hair bombards with swinging mixed messages of self-doubt, reliance, independence and confidence. A whirlwind wrapped in a Madonna/Goldfrapp electrostomp, with updated production and outdated synths. We’ve heard this one, though. Why it’s almost a week old, and considering Gaga’s recent quickfire releases, this is an age. Four minutes into this song, Gaga proves she can belt like an ‘80s power balladeer. Good to know that’s up her sleeve.
Scheisse is Gaga’s Nico/Bowie-in-Berlin track, all smashed through a Pet Shop Boys/Madonna/feminist filter. It’s hooky, cool, and will own clubs for the next year. “If you’re a strong female, you don’t need permission.” Who run the world?
Bloody Mary is slinky and hooky, more Jesus references, more bible burnings somewhere in the South (no doubt) and more press for Gaga. But it’s more than that. It’s lazy, it’s creepy, it’s resigned and it’s hypnotic. Bad Kids on the other hand seems to try a little too hard. Gaga would be best to leave this type of aimless anger to Pink. But wait, what’s that infectious ‘80s chorus one minute in? This point is where Gaga soars over the likes of Pink. This is a celebration of being a Bad Kid. It’s bright and undeniable, not sulking and moping. It’s fireworks and the prettiest sound Gaga could find on the Korg, not angry guitars and studied anger.
Highway Unicorn (Road To Love). Staggered, jiggered, jet-aged electro. It’s a club banger and nothing more… for the first 90 seconds, then the weather breaks – “we can be strong, we can be strong,” halftime chorus, drop back to a heavily drugged second verse. It’s a shock to hear a track on this album that clearly would not work as a single, but it’s refreshing, especially because it fits perfectly. It’s awfully anthemic for an experimental, twisting track. Heavy Metal Lover is the weakest point on the album. “I want your whiskey mouth all over my blonde south/red wine, cheap perfume and a filthy pout.” Boring electro smut; sounds like somebody left a sequencer on.
Electrical Chapel contains interesting production but falls short as a song. Two average moments in a row, after such an assured, effortless run. Fears that Gaga is running out of steam are allayed, upon remembrance that closer, and previously released single The Edge Of Glory (sitting at #11 on the ARIA Singles chart) is awaiting. A final call to arms, a mere hint of a cautionary tale and a desperately romantic closer, this song wraps the album up perfectly.
You And I sits second to last, and is the best song on the album. It is Gaga’s best and most honest set of lyrics, coupled with a powerful, yearning vocal performance and a driving country-rock stomp. Any rustic charm is countered by a pop sheen that wouldn’t be out of place on a Shania Twain song. It’s heartbroken, with a raw nerve that cuts through all of Gaga’s intuitive cool. It’s nice to hear.
Born This Way contains revolution, feminism, endless artistic wanderings, cutting end production and dance-trends zoned in from every hip hub across earth. Gaga wants to be Bowie, she wants to be Madonna, and she has embedded herself into the pop culture pantheon at a quicker rate than anyone in recent history. This album will break sales records, it will spawn as many singles as songs and it will see Gaga continue her uncharted hurtling into the pop-stratosphere.
Which is why it’s so nice that for all its Important Big Statements, the most touching moment on this album sees Gaga lovesick at a piano, singing a country torch song with American-heartland-meets-girl-group production. “It’s been a long time since i came around/ Been a long time, but i’m back in town/ This time i’m not leaving without you.” Even at her most broken, she is ambitiously single-minded. Born this way, perhaps?