Pop

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Iain Shed­den

Joanne Lady Gaga UMA Ste­fani Ger­man­otta likes an el­e­ment of sur­prise in her work. If, in her Lady Gaga per­sona, she were to ap­pear on stage dis­guised as a chaise longue, or ca­vorted around in her lat­est video sport­ing only looped ear­ings and a pig’s car­cass, then that would be just Gaga. Be­hind the ve­neer and the kook­i­ness, how­ever, is the real per­son, some­one who doesn’t mind giv­ing a glimpse of who she is in her lyrics, but who nev­er­the­less likes to sur­round her per­sonal ob­ser­va­tions and grand pop con­struc­tions with fan­tas­tic, oc­ca­sion­ally ridicu­lous car­i­ca­tures. There are sur­pris­ing el­e­ments to Joanne, her fourth stu­dio al­bum (not count­ing Cheek to Cheek, her Tony Ben­nett duets al­bum), but not in a sen­sa­tional way. Here, it seems, the Gag­ster wants to fo­cus on the real, but also to ex­plore pre­vi­ously un­charted mu­si­cal ter­ri­tory, such as alt coun­try and sta­dium rock. The lyrics are her most per­sonal so far, some of them re­lated to fam­ily, but also ad­dress­ing top­ics as var­ied as girl power, death and mas­tur­ba­tion. The ti­tle track, a brisk acous­tic stroll, is an ode to Gaga’s aunt, who died at the age of 19. The strength in Lady Gaga’s voice, par­tic­u­larly on her early power pop an­thems Pa­parazzi, Poker Face and Born This Way, is well recog­nised, but on this song there’s a fragility rarely heard, par­tic­u­larly on lines such as “where do you think you’re go­ing, girl?” There’s a size­able guest list at­tached to the al­bum. Tame Im­pala’s Kevin Parker co-wrote first sin­gle Per­fect Il­lu­sion, along with Gaga and Mark Ron­son; the lat­ter is also cred­ited as pro­ducer. Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme makes a cou­ple of cameos, on the throw­away bouncy pop tune John Wayne and on the more dis­turb­ing opener Di­a­mond Heart, a sub-Spring­steen rocker in which Gaga ad­dresses her stint as a go-go dancer and a sex­ual as­sault she suf­fered at the time: “some ass­hole broke me in / wrecked all my in­no­cence”, she wails. Gaga has a track record with ear­worms and there are a few more here, such as the snappy A-Yo, with the singer at her most soul­ful and Ron­son’s sig­na­ture dy­nam­ics el­e­vat­ing ev­ery melody to a cho­rus. Sin­ner’s Prayer, a vaguely coun­try mo­sey, is also ir­re­sistible, while the cen­tre­piece, Mil­lion Rea­sons, is one of her best power bal­lads. The trade-off for th­ese bangers is a cou­ple of de­cid­edly damp squibs, not least her duet with Florence Welch, Hey Girl, which sounds like a bad mo­ment in Hall & Oates’ ca­reer. Dancin’ in Cir­cles, a co-write with Beck, is a jaunty, reg­gae-ish salute to self-plea­sure, but of­fers lit­tle grat­i­fi­ca­tion to the ca­sual ob­server. Come to Mama is a show tune that goes nowhere and says noth­ing. So, in her quest to con­found, Lady Gaga has suc­ceeded once again, serv­ing up mo­ments of glo­ri­ous pop that are un­der­mined by a few duds. Her voice, how­ever, is com­mand­ing through­out and more nuanced than be­fore. Per­haps work­ing with the smooth-ton­silled Ben­nett was an­other smart rein­ven­tion in her ever-chang­ing agenda.

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