First off can I just say that I think Lady Gaga is one of the most singular sounding, indefatigable musical artists out there? She’s an incredibly powerful singer and a highly skilled musician (piano, guitar, drums and keytar).
I need to say this as I’m about to give her latest studio album Joanne [Interscope] a lukewarm-ish review—and in doing so it hurts me more than it will ever hurt her.
Some critics think that Ga-Ga’s experimental take on genre hopping on Joanne is a tad gimmicky, but I disagree. Everyone from Bob Dylan to David Bowie (who Gaga tributed so beautifully at last years Grammy’s) both have a long history of throwing complacency to the wind and experimenting up the yin yang—so I’m all for it. Especially, in Gaga’s case where I feel an authenticity to every genre she experiments with here, like country/western for instance. She’s an enigmatic artist and were not necessarily supposed to be able solve this musical jigsaw, or even ‘get it’ for that matter. That’s the beauty of Gaga’s art.
The good news is that Joanne, a pop–cowboy–dance–soul–funk–folk–rock mash-up boasts some incredible takeaway hits.
The problem is “said hits” were released to the public in promotional succession before the album even dropped?
Tis’ true, that some could argue and by some I mean ME, that Perfect Illusion, A Million Reasons and A-YO are the best of what the album has to offer.
In other words, “Joanne” peaked early.
“THAT’S A FILTHY LIE!” I can hear legions of Little Monsters spewing vitriol in my psychic direction.
Well, instead of tap dancing around the square footage of this review, let’s go through the album offerings at a glance.
For the first 30 odd seconds of this track, I’m convinced I’m listening to Stevie Nicks herself until Gaga, ever-the- chameleon soon transitions from a tumbleweed country rasp into her familiar dramatic vocals. I really like Diamond Heart. It’s a song that begs for a film soundtrack to pick it up immediately, as I can see the synesthesia colours and scenes that it lends itself to. A great song to play loudly on the open road.
A-YO is a fun clappity-clap pop track with an infectious chorus that brings to mind Footloose or the Coyote Ugly film. Again a great song to drive to or dance to on the top of a bar, if the kids even do that anymore?
In another departure for Gaga, she takes on a 60’s folk/rock persona in the songs first 30 seconds (again!), before she switches off into what I now see as a Stevie Nicks copycat vocal. The song, a dearly departed love letter to her aunt for whom she was named after is both heartbreaking and lovely. It’s a pretty tune, that may just be the only other stand out song on the album besides Diamond Heart—but again that is subject to your taste level. It’s a simple song both lyrically and in melody, and I’m not convinced its truly memorable despite its overwhelming beauty.
I won’t mince words. I don’t like this country head banger.
Dancin’ in Circles
With a “La Isla Bonita” sounding swagger and reggae guitar plucking’s, Gaga sings in various styles, including a Gwen Stefani baby-doll spoken word verse. It’s got a classic Gaga feel and is sure to be a fan favourite, but I could take it or leave it.
The 1st of her album pre released singles, Perfect Illusion has a signature theatrical 80’s rock feel. I love the way she words the chorus lyrics, singing “perfect illoooosion.” Again, it has a classic Gaga sound and feel and was a great first release to encapsulate the album.
A Million Reasons
By far my favourite track on the album. Written with singer-songwriter Hillary Lindsey who also does those gorgeous background vocals—I can’t say enough about this song. It’s a timeless ballad that introduces us to her country tinged scratchy vocal, that reminds me so much of Bruce Springsteen’s wife—Patti Scialfa. In fact a dream performance would be to see Lady Gaga, Patti Scialfa, Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Nicks in a foursome circle, harmonizing us all to a heavenly crescendo. Grammy’s 2018 get on THIS! This really could be her signature concert encore song going forward à la Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive or Prince’s Purple Rain. To me its THAT timeless. A song that begs to be heard on a perma-loop play, courtesy of iPhone ear buds so it sinks into your soul.
A HARD PASS on this country ditty.
Come to Mama
A derivative, Beatlesque-sounding tune that could have easily been a song from Hair Spray the Musical. It travels along the familiar GAGA trajectory of being an open-armed all-accepting MAMA Monster to her die-hard fans who have often felt marginalized. It would be fun for a flash mob, but I won’t miss it if I were to never hear it again.
I had high hopes for this girl bonding duet between Gaga and one of my favourite artists Florence Welch. I loved it until after the first chorus, especially Welch’s singular brocade vocals that really peak when she sings “Hey Girl” in an upper register. As for Gaga, she sounds like a dead ringer for mid 70’s Diana Ross, as she again—morphs into another performance persona. A dizzying synth NOISE is introduced by producer Mark Ronson right after the first chorus and comes back in a screeching/nauseating way, that takes away from this song. In the end, I feel like Hey Girl, goes on a little too long, and becomes loopy sounding like a spinning record with a slight warp. It’s a must listen, either way.
Tell me that’s NOT vintage Diana Ross singing as Gaga sings us out on that last verse? WILLLLD!
An operatic ode to Trayvon Martin and the rampant shootings that have plagued the US in recent years. I wish I liked it, because I love the message, but it’s not something I’d want to listen to again. Perhaps its just to painful?
A cute, pared down acoustic song that speaks to sisterhood and female empowerment, but it didn’t speak to me.
Just Another Day
A simple piano plucking Broadway ditty that will please her fan base, but made me want to soft shoe the hell outta there.
Angel Down (Work Tape)
I believe this is the original recording of Angel Down with little background music, but I didn’t like it the first time, so no thanks?
Back to her dive bar roots, Lady Gaga performs Joanne at the Bitter End on the eve of October 20th, 2016.
So there you have it, a mixed bag of eclectic offerings and yet I am only enamoured with 1 song. It will absolutely be music to her LOYAL fan base’s ears, and very well may be a slow burn that we will look back on DECADES from now as a MUSICAL GENIUS departure, but in this moment I say with great lament…
“Move on, there’s nothing to see here.”
We will always have a MILLION REASONS Tho’…