Lady Gaga’s newest album: ‘Joanne’
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“I might not be flawless but you know I’ve got a diamond heart.” The chorus to the opening track of Lady Gaga’s ‘Joanne’ sums up Gaga’s current artistic state pretty accurately: While ‘Joanne’ is not a particularly good album, it gets an “A” for effort, with Gaga handling a plethora of styles, and applying an incredible amount of fervor to the styles she attempts. In fact, Gaga’s willingness to embrace a variety of styles outside of the modern pop sphere- and the zeal with which she embraces them- is both the best and worst thing about ‘Joanne.’
In early September, after a string of spectacular summer releases, the first single off ‘Joanne’ (‘Perfect Illusion’) was dropped to mixed reception. While many complained that the song was repetitive and lacked an inspired hook- which I partially agree with- these flaws were exacerbated by an overly passionate vocal performance that sounded as painful for the singer as it was for the listener. Throughout the album, Gaga’s vehement vocal performances and vulnerable lyrics either expose weak songwriting or make the stronger compositions exhausting in their lack of subtlety. Luckily, the evocative and eclectic production fares better, and it’s possible that on ‘Joanne’ Gaga’s artistic vision and abilities as a curator outperform her talent, a rare occasion for such an adept vocalist.
The songs themselves are pretty hit and miss, which is to say they sometimes do hit. The first half of ‘Joanne’ contains many cringe-inducing moments (the awkward country-disco hybrids ‘A-YO’and ‘John Wayne,’ and the ode to conquering loneliness through masturbation “Dancing In Circles”). However, it also contains “Diamond Heart,” an addictive slice of propulsive electro-pop, and ‘Joanne,’ one of the few songs on the record that merges country influences and modern soft rock to affecting results. The second half, however, mostly favors insipid balladry and predictable ‘70s rock homage, made worse than simply mediocre by Gaga’s tendency to try too hard as a vocalist and lyricist. The tendency to overexert herself vocally isn’t necessarily a new tendency for her, though belting out each and every note made more sense when she was performing maximalist pop than vintage radio rock.
Forced attempts at lyrical depth, however, are a new look for Gaga. It’s an admirable pursuit, but somehow the Black Lives Matter references in ‘Angel Down’ (“Shots were fired on the street, […] Angel down, angel down”) are just as obvious and lacking in nuance as the innuendo and youthful euphoria that characterized much of her previous work. Gaga’s goal is clearly to make an album that transcends pop music, and while conceptually it does, the execution is often just as shallow as and far less natural than her theatrical radio anthems of old. It says a lot that the record’s finest moment, lyrically, is the chorus of ‘A Million Reasons,’ one of the few songs on the record that is simply about the romantic relationship between a woman and a man (“You’re giving me a million reasons to walk away, but baby I just need one good one to stay”).
Overall, the record sounds really nice. Diverse instrumentation abounds, and if the album is sometimes overwrought in scope, the songs themselves are- for the most part- spacious enough that no production choice is lost on the listener (the exceptions being the record’s multiple forays into disco, that aim for the stars but come off as cluttered and dated). However, while ‘Joanne’ is definitely a more mature iteration of Gaga, her abilities as a performer and songwriter must mature as well, in order for her to be successful in this transition.