Album: Born This Way
Producer: Paul Blair, DJ Snake, Fernando Garibay, et al.
Label: Streamline, Interscope, Kon Live
Release: May 23, 2011
Rating: 7.0 RockRolls
Born This Way is a departure from what you might expect following Lady Gaga's previous offerings. The shock pop star hasn't backed down any from her usual themes, target fanbase or social activism, but her second full-length studio album boasts a style unique to the New York-based artist, while varied and separate from 2008's The Fame. More dance than anti-pop, Born This Way boasts an impressivley eclectic track list (even for Gaga) that charges on full steam ahead from the opening note to the last beat.
In mid-April a lot of negative critcism from critics and fans was drawn from Lady Gaga's selection of cover art considering the high hopes fans had for one of the most anticipated albums of 2011. The original cover art (which will still be on the regular release) depicts Gaga as a motorcycle with the album's name emblazoned in a chrome style across the top of the cover and Gaga's name is absent from the jacket cover for some reason. The cover can be seen here. The cover that accompany's this review is that of the special edition, a two-disc release with extra material on the primary disc packaged with an EP of remixes from the album. Don't bother looking for the words "special edition" on the cover if you get confused in the store, you won't find them.
In true monster homage fashion, Dj White Shadow, aka prodcuer Paul Blair, descriped the album as "a golden spaceship touching down on a rainbow runway in a field of fresh mint." Crooning the opening lines on the album, Gaga sets the tone early on for the level of energy to expect for the next hour or more depending on which version of the album you've purchased. "Marry The Night" is a dancefloor-friendly club jam that aims to do little more than get heads banging and feet moving. The upbeat pop-synth would make a more lasting impression on listeners if it wasn't followed by the album's title track and first single. "Born This Way" has been both praised and criticized for invoking the spirit and sound of Madonna (and possibly sounding too much like "Express Yourself"). In any case, the attention the song has received from this publicity, coupled with an infectious chorus and paired with a controversial music video (but to be fair, every video Gaga releases is controversial for some reason or another) is sure to skyrocket album sales as much as it did for the single. Little needs to be said of "Born This Way," it is the hand-selected standout from the album and fails to disappoint.
The album's third track, "Government Hooker," surprises me the most on the album, but being the perfect contrast to "pop" music, it really shouldn't knowing Gaga's track record. The track feels like a throwback to New Order's "Blue Monday," particularly in the late choruses, smashed up with the lyricism of Moloko on "Party Weirdo." Dark synth lines with 80's-esque compressed dance vocals sound more relevant than dated. The New Wave flashback is a welcome turn of events, especially so early into the album. "Hair," too, is an impressive offering that casual listeners of Lady Gaga would not expect to end up on a studio album of hers. The soon-to-be anthem opens like a pop ballad in which Gaga gets to flex the musicality one recalls of a younger Stefani Germanotta. Lyrically, unfortunately, "Hair" is lacking in much substance to anyone not in the teenage demographic, however musically it is among the strongest record on the disc. And if the sax on "Hair" evokes the spirit of E Street, it's because Clarence CLemons lends his talents on this track and two others on the album.
Where Born This Way fails to deliver is in the repetitiveness of the structure and style of a lot of Gaga's music. If you want to listen to "Judas" you really need to look no further than "Bad Romance." The accompanying 80's girl power rock jam "Fashion of His Love" and "Born This Way" share a lyric and musical style between the former's verse and the latter's chorus that might be acceptable in a Broadway musical production, but seem more reaching for content than thematically and theatrically linked. I highly doubt that the Gaga feature on "Glee" are indiciative or forgiving of the similarities on a studio album whose tracks aren't related. Similarly, "Bloody Mary" is too slow and too moody of a track that likely only the most ardent
It's not all bad news for the rest of the album. "Scheiße" is quite the foreign-laced novelty sure to entertain audiences, even if for nothing more than to be able to yell shit over again and again at a monster's ball. "Electric Chapel" comes out of left field with a heavy dance beat behind a ripping guitar lead alongside strings and organs. It is unlike anything Gaga has released before and definitely unlike anything we would expect, but still remains fitting somehow on the odd mixtape of a release. "Yoü and I" is the quintessential encore track that fans have been hearing on Gaga's current tour and will no doubt love the inclusion of on Born This Way. And let's not forget the Spanish/Latin influenced "Americano" (which, for the record, has nothing to do with Yolanda Be Cool or Renato Carosone) which blasts anti-gay rights legislation while going "Full Mexicano" (her words, not mine) to similarly support immigration reform in the US. The horn-laced Mexican disco track is sure to get bodies moving and, hopefully, get minds thinking.
For those lucky enough (or not) to own a copy of the special edition of the album, you will find three extra tracks (separate tracks, not remixes) on your main disc. However, "The Queen," "Black Jesus † Amen Fashion," and "Fashion of His Love" seem more like filler than a useful part of the album.
Lady Gaga has actually come a long way since The Fame and much of this album exhibits her capabilities as a composer and a vocalist. Overall, Born This Way is actually a pleasurable listening experience for even those who are on the fence or even one-time Gaga-haters. If nothing else, one must accept the fact that Lady Gaga has more tricks up her sleeve than just being weird.