ALBUM REVIEW: Lady Gaga - Born This Way

Our review of CD & 2xLP vinyl giveaway.

B+ | 5.23.11 | Interscope | Mog | Giveaway | Amazon

Lady Gaga - "Scheiße"

The Second Advent of Gaga is at hand! She has returned, with earsplitting and escalating fanfare, to the club, bearing a club. The former is her birthplace and temple, her “Electric Chapel.” The latter is the instrument of salvation with which she will bludgeon us all into an oozing puddle, a feverishly anticipated new pop album called Born This Way. On it, Lady Gaga has transformed herself from a detached critic of celebrity to pop music’s version of Oprah, a superstar with a megaphone, hell-bent on your personal betterment.

No matter what you think of Lady Gaga as an artist, her meteoric rise in the last two-and-a-half years has been startling. Gaga owes her success in no small part to constant and scrupulous self-promotion and nonstop effort, reminding more than a few of another self-made pop icon. Comparisons to Madonna have grown threadbare through repetition, but the two artists’ career trajectories have been strikingly similar. Unlike other modern pop stars, Gaga is a tightly controlled product. She rarely lends her talent out to other artists and projects. Her debut album The Fame and its addendum The Fame Monster have spawned seven hit singles the old fashioned way, through artfully made music videos and organic pop-cultural saturation. She has toured relentlessly, not only amassing an army of fans, but also winning over the mainstream despite, or perhaps thanks to, her avant-garde hijinks.

Bombastic and schmaltzy, brimming with lyrical howlers (“Love is the new denim or black”), and all wrapped up in a ludicrous Heavy Metal cover-art package, Born This Way is as tasteful as teased hair and acid wash Daisy Dukes. Pop music is rarelythis patronizing and emphatic. The blaring monotony of the album wears you down. Which is a shame, as Gaga can be her most emotive when she’s alone with her piano. Compare her wonderful, Elton John-worthy rendition of “Yoü and I” from her HBO special to the bloated album version to see just what’s been trampled in the studio.

But here’s the thing. Born This Way succeeds through sheer force of will, even with its flaws. Lady Gaga has created fourteen incredible pop songs that manage to survive her ambition and execution. Anthemic singles “Born This Way” and “Judas” have already done their job, joining the ranks of her earlier club staples “Paparazzi,” “Bad Romance,” and “Telephone.” The album’s power ballads (“Hair,” “The Edge of Glory,” “Yoü and I”) are ready-made for shouted highway sing-alongs. But it’s on the stranger detours of its middle section where Born This Way really scores: the haughty catwalk strut of “Scheiße,” the guitar-tinged bubblegum pop of “Bad Kids,” and the slinky and effortless “Bloody Mary” all move Gaga into fresh territory.

Lady Gaga deserves much of the criticism lobbed at her, but accusations of her supposed kleptomania seem bizarre. That artists steal from one another is not only uncontroversial, but any argument to the contrary would consequently damn all popular music since Elvis Presley. For Lady Gaga, all instances of theft (which on Born This Way range from diverse sources like Bonnie Tyler, Bruce Springsteen, 4 Non Blondes, TLC, and, of course, herself) are merely the components of her weirdo vision, which she crafts into something both familiar and new.

Born This Way is a work of art. Born This Way is trash. Either way, it’s more than just another pop album. The debate will only further cement Lady Gaga’s stardom. The truckloads of money? Just a happy consequence. Gaga wins again.

Lady Gaga - "The Edge of Glory"

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