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.