Well, when I reviewed her concert special, I got some of the best traffic I have ever had. And I am nothing if not willing to pander to the general audience just so my numbers look good. It helps my self esteem.
Besides, as I said before, Lady Gaga is not a figure that can be ignored. Whether you like her or hate her, you are going to hear about this album from now until the end of the year. With good reason – some of the songs on here are actually among the most memorable pop songs in quite some time. I do hate the fact that everyone was hyping this up to be some mythical “album of the decade” before it’s release. Shouldn’t you wait until 2019 to make any sort of call like that that? I do like Lady Gaga, thought, and it appears that she does have a lot of musical talent. At the very least, she has studied every single pop song imaginable in crafting her image. I enjoyed most of the singles. Also, I am sorry, but I do not hear how “Born This Way” sounds like “Express Yourself.” Yes, I have listened to both. I have listened to the mashups. I don’t hear it.
In addition, the album must be taken in context. These days of pop music are quite bleak. When people are making a song as poorly written as “Friday” popular, society must know it is in trouble. Bieber’s pathetic concert film manages to outgross Michael Jackson’s posthumous opus, and Will Smith’s child gets a record dealing simply for once having lived inside of his scrotum. It is amazing that someone as artistically devoted as Lady Gaga can receive any sort of recognition, much less one as broad as the one she currently enjoys. If one includes Gaga in those terms, it is clear that she is every bit as good as her devoted fans make her out to be.
Things get off to an…unusual start with “Marry the Night.” Thematically, it is the same as “Just Dance” (or for those recovering from severe head trauma, “Friday”) about how Gaga will go out partying, lacing up her boots, and otherwise having a grand old time on the town. It starts of sounding, not like her usual electroclash, but like a Billy Joel tribute album. Although the song does get progressively better, it still is not where it needs to be for an opener.
“Born this Way” works a lot better, and really helps tie together what the work is trying to say as a whole. You have already heard the single hundreds of times even if you live in a soundproof room, so no need to go over that again. Just now that it does still work for what it sets out to do.
Now, this is not going to be a track by track analysis, but there are some more songs worth highlighting. The delightful “Hair” was a standout of the promotional singles, and still works here as an expression of teenage rebellion (if Pete Townsend can use it for inspiration, so can Gaga). The absolutely hilarious “Government Hooker” is one of the best examinations of the Sissyphean nature of today’s political climate, as well as the malleable nature of every single manufactured pop star today. Who knew that Lady Gaga knew how to do satire? Finally, the absolute best track on the album is “You and I.” It sounds more like a Springsteen power ballad than a dance number. It contains a lot of heart, and Gaga pulls out absolutely every trick that she knows. It is a reflection of her home life and her past – something she has not exactly been forthcoming with. It is easy to see why she has been playing it in concert for the past year – but those live performances do not do the track justice. It must be heard to be believed.
Of course, there are still a lot of trouble spots on the album. For one, “Americano” is a joke. If Tom Waits had written that song, then it may have been considered some sort of novelty parody. But Gaga never lets on for a moment that she is anything less than serious. Well, she does that on the entire album In other places it succeeds, but here it just flat out does not work. Ditto “Judas,” the infamous “Look at me, I’m Mary Magdalene by way of Jenna Jameson” song. In fact, I hope whoever thought releasing that as a single was a good idea is no longer on Gaga’s payroll. The bizarre “Bloody Mary” does not feel like it adds anything to the mix; it’s sort of a gothic cabaret take on “Judas.” There are several moments when Gaga decides that the best way to go about things is to keep building and building until the song resembles an unstable Jenga tower. Also, most of the songs simply do not know how to start. They usually open with some phrase or clips that lasts for, in some cases, almost a minute before we get to the song. What’s the point? I don’t really know. Probably something to give the remixers something to salivate over.
But then, all of the best pop albums have their flaws. Go back and listen to Thriller and listen to the sheer number of filler tracks and bizarre artistic decisions Jackson made. What set it apart was that it still felt very personal and heartfelt, if you listened close enough. The same is true for this album. Lady Gaga, even if she does not know how to be subtle, still knows how to be honest. She also knows how to craft a good album that, despite its over-exposure, still has many hidden tricks up its sleeve.
Like it or hate it, Born This Way is one of those landmark albums for an age that is practically starved of them. The focus actually appears to be on the songs, rather than on the glossy look. The album is not perfect, but the best art is never designed to be. It is designed to be as personal as possible. Lady Gaga has succeeded mightily in that regard. And ultimately, she does show a level of gratitude. Right there, on the linear notes, includes a note saying the album is “dedicated to u.” And considering how revealing the album is, that dedication feels all the more heartfelt.