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Friday, 20 May 2011

JCS reviews Lady Gaga's New Album Born This Way


James Christopher Sheppard reviews Born This Way by Lady Gaga; and recants his earlier opinion...

At last, after months of ultra-hype, Born This Way, the brand new Lady Gaga album, has arrived. Let’s see if it lives up to the expectations.

‘Marry The Night’
Straight into a haunting melodic club track, Gaga sets the pace for the album in style. This is a great song to bridge the gap between The Fame Monster to Born This Way, showing evolution in sound, but playing to Gaga’s strengths. ‘Marry the Night’ eases you into the new album with a soft start, but that quickly turns into those hammering beats Gaga has been promising for months.

‘Born This Way’
The title track and first single, which went on to become Gaga’s biggest hit in the USA, was met with controversial comparisons to Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’. While it is less edgy to her previous headline grabbing singles, ‘Born This Way’ seems to have established itself as THE guilty pleasure. You shouldn’t love it, but eventually, with every listen, you crank it up and dance like the empowered little freak you really are.

‘Government Hooker’
Beginning like a track made for the cult film ‘Repo: The Genetic Opera’, the dirty bass and futuristic messy industrial distortion establishes Lady Gaga’s progression as an artist. This sounds like nothing she has ever done before, yet it somehow seems to be a natural fit. ‘Government Hooker’ quickly dispels the feeling of guilty pleasure from the album.

‘Judas’
Second single, which at first received only a luke-warm reception and disappointing sales, now seems to be building momentum. It just proves that it doesn’t matter how big you are, you still need to promote to sell. Gaga performed ‘Judas’ on Graham Norton last week, which was her first UK performance of the song. It definitely gets better with each listen and logs itself into your brain, particularly the ‘Juda Judaas Juda Judaas’ part. Still, an odd choice for second single, but not bad as an album track.

‘Americano’
Five tracks in and the tempo shows no sign of slowing down or altering. The hammering beat is still present, but this time has a Mexican flamenco touch to it. Possibly aspiring to be this album’s ‘Alejandro’… it’s not bad, but it’s the least most striking yet.

‘Hair’
Released already as a promotional song on Itunes, ‘Hair’ has received generally positive reviews from fans all over the Internet. Lady Gaga has said in interviews that it is some people’s favourite track from the album, but I personally just don’t really connect with a song that’s chorus is passionately singing ‘I am my hair’. The song sounds great however, with punchy ultra-electro elements that thump along next to a piano and a saxophone.

‘Scheiße’
Oh my goodness. German language, german accented speaking, bass heavy hammering industrial beats that smack against a 90s techno beat with synths that Felix’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’ would be proud of. This is the most dance that Gaga has ever sounded. Kind of addictive and kind of bonkers. ‘I don’t speak Germa, but I can if you like’…

‘Bloody Mary’
The tempo slows down momentarily for ‘Bloody Mary’. Religion returns as the main theme, but is far softer than ‘Judas’. While this is mid-tempo, it is dark, synth-orientated and very dance-friendly.

‘Bad Kids’
Sounding the most like Gaga’s earlier tracks, ‘Dirty Ice Cream’ anybody? Perfectly listenable, fun and danceable, ‘Bad Kids’ is just not a stand out track from the rest of this collection. Still, considering the quality of this song and it not being a standout, that is something quite admirable.

‘Highway Unicorn (Highway to Love)’
Sounding inspired by Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, ‘Highway Unicorn’ is industrial orientated and bass-heavy euphoria. There is so much going on here that it is easy to get a little overwhelmed and lost in it. This one will definitely take a few listens, but after those listens, it could well be a fan favourite.

‘Heavy Metal Lover’
An understated song, this is not what you would expect from the ‘Heavy Metal Lover’ title, resembling more ‘So Happy I Could Die’ from The Fame Monster or a brilliant Goldfrapp track. Without those hammering beats, this is softer and entwines its way into your mind. There is potential for some awesome remixes of this track, and there’s a lot to play with here in a live setting.

‘Electric Chapel’
‘If you want me, meet me at electric chapel’ Gaga sings over this stomping euro-synth number. Similarly understated, like ‘Heavy Metal Lover’, but with thumping beats and some unexpected electric guitar solos. ‘Electric Chapel’ probably sounds the least like the Gaga we are already familiar with. It’s pretty damn good though, despite the rather sudden ending.

‘You and I’
Performed several times on ‘The Monster Ball’ tour, we can finally hear the final version of ‘You and I’. Fans may be surprised that this usual soft ballad has been given full on production, with 80s tinged backing vocals and slow, but heavy beats throughout. I take back my previous statement; THIS is the least Gaga we have ever heard. A piano led ballad would have been less surprising. The production completely changes this song from the version they are familiar with, it could almost be a Shania Twain track from her Come on Over album.

‘The Edge of Glory’
Recently released as a promotional single for the album, ‘The Edge of Glory’ will be known to many as it unexpectedly shot to #1 all over the world, including the UK Itunes charts. It’s easy to see why the song is so loved, following an incredibly emotional and powerful performance of it at Radio 1’s Big Weekend last weekend. This is one of Lady Gaga’s most uplifting songs ever, with no gimmicks, just solid production, beautiful lyrics and a powerful vocal. The saxophone brings a new dimension to the track, which has elements of Patrick Wolf’s latest single, ‘The City’. ‘The Edge of Glory’ really demonstrates Lady Gaga’s ability to write a brilliant song without any controversy or shock factor.

So, despite the few cheesy moments, what would a pop record that is celebrating being different or an outsider be without them? Born This Way is going to send Lady Gaga’s devoted following of monsters into a frenzy when they first hear this collection of sledgehammering beats and quirkiness that could only be one woman. For everyone else, if you enjoyed The Fame and The Fame Monster, you will undoubtedly love Born This Way. For those concerned that the first few singles were not to their taste, do not fear as they most certainly do not represent the best of what is here. Well done, Gaga. Not bad at all.

JCS is the music critic for Eyewear.  He is currently based in Hull.
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