After doing a three album (and one movie) tour of duty of the Gaga version of a midlife crisis (Jazz! Country! Brunette hair! JUST A REGULAR GIRL!) and proving unequivocally that Gaga trying to be normal is just as weird as Gaga trying to be weird, Chromatica has now beamed down to earth in all it’s tecno-pinkness to bestow us with some classic Stefani bangers.
And make no mistake, this is an entirely dance album with even the slower moments still firmly in that camp. There are no piano ballads, no hair rock anthems. Even when Elton John turns up it’s to holler gloriously over an absolute monsterbonkers club track that goes hard before it goes drum and bass. There is some playing around with sub genres touching on deep house, disco and electro but overwhelmingly this is an album weighted more towards old skool dance than pop.
Although the videos and artwork pull together a neat concept world that sits somewhere between Power Rangers and Captain Planet the album itself is more loose. The lyrics are less overtly thematic and ornate than much of her past work but they are generally good, occasionally great, and surprisingly dark. Countless artists have made protestations about finding ‘salvation on the dancefloor’ but it’s still rare for it to sound so cathartic. This coupled with some of her strongest vocals makes Chromatica reminiscent of classic dance, disco and soul it a way that rarely troubles the charts anymore.
This may not be her strangest or most risky album, it is unlikely to polarise the mainstream in the way that Born This Way or ArtPop did, but it’s certainly her most coherent. While there is a lot to love in the rollercoaster experience of records that include songs like Swine and Jewels N’ Drugs in the same place it’s a surprisingly enjoyable experience to have a Gaga album that I feel I only want to listen to as a single piece.
I won’t call it a return to form because that suggests her talent was absent in previous releases but I will say it certainly feel like an injection of something needed in the Lady Gaga timeline. A strong reminder of what she does well mixed with something that feels like a progression not a regression.
ARTIST: Lady Gaga
MOOD: Getting into your pink plastic body armour
TOP TRACKS: Stupid Love, 911, Enigma, Sine From Above
TLDR: Dance the pain away 90s Sci-Fi anime style
If there is one thing Lady Gaga could fairly be criticised for in the past it’s over-promising and over-hyping (Album of the decade! Reverse Warholian expedition! Redefining social media!) and whilst I’m sure there will be time for that yet the pre-release campaign for Joanne has been the polar opposite. Delivered with little fanfare, a low-key cover and a lead single that hardly set the world on fire, my expectations for this album were low. The two following buzz tracks struck a much better chord but I still expected this to be a grower, perhaps even slightly hard work to love. However, to my surprise I was knocked off my feet by half way through the first track and never looked back. There is a larger cautionary tale here about not to judging an album by the disembodied parts of it thrown out into the world before it’s launch but this has been one of the most extreme cases of going from trepidation to adoration in one listen that I have experienced.
The artwork suggested something stripped back and ernest (Gaga’s Back to Basics if you will) whilst the lead single suggested fairly faceless pop with a Pat Benatar edge. The implicit desire to simplify and be ‘authentic’ felt somewhat forced and I dreaded a renouncement of her previous pop lives. In practice however the album has surprisingly frequent lashings of pure Gaga and is in a way perhaps the most successful, distilled embodiment of her long-running desire to fuse the serious and the frivolous, credible and throwaway, art and pop. The personal nature of the title feels a little laboured in this context but the song itself is touching without being overly saccharin.
It should be no revelation that she might do something less ‘theatrical’ at some point but being Gaga it is still essentially dress up. Contradictory as always her concept of what is artifice or construct has always been at odds with the rest of the world – for her the artifice is authentic and I would suggest that Joanne is really no different at its heart. For all it’s corded mic swinging and crowd surfing the video for Perfect Illusion remains one of the campest things I’ve seen. For her there has long been a kind of infinity mirror of artifice in the stripping away of artifice – visualised in moments such as her onstage costume change on the Artpop tour or the photo of her wrecked nails in an after-acrylics monster claw.
This is by no means some kind of purist country record but what is, in the great tradition of musical ciphers like Gaga, is a pleasing mush of reference points across the gamut of country, americanna, rock and salsa and where this album really shines is when she mixes those flashes of trademark bonkers with vocals and lyrics that have hit a lusher more refined stride.
A surprisingly strong and far less embarrassing outing than it could so easily have been Joanne stands comfortably, stetson tilted, amongst her best work.
Track by track
Her strongest album opener this starts with a cool Courtney / Fleetwood drawl, leading us down a musical road we think we know before turning several unexpected turns into the kind of cross genre ferocity only Gaga can do. If Swine was a song attempting to get the anger, bile and rage of rape out into a poppers o’clock rave song then this is it’s whisky soaked 3am sister.
A fun, poppy clap-along little track.
The purest and most successful no-whistles ballad she has written to my mind. Gorgeous vocals, touching lyrics and a melody that pulls at your emotions without becoming naff.
Pure Gaga in the vein of much of Born This Way but wrapped around a chunky country strut extolling the joys of a cowboy lover.
Dancin’ in circles
it sounds like Shakira and it’s about masturbation – what’s not to like?
As is often the way this works much better as part of the album than on its own.
A melodic, harmony strewn ballad that is the closest to the type of country-lite the album seemed likely to be before release.
This toes a fine line between being almost pastiche, particularly in the chorus, and something that actually has a fair amount of depth to it but the combination works. Her vocal is particularly wonderful on this track – deep, rich and warm.
Come To Mama
Completely daft, OTT musical hall with more than a dash of McCartney – and lyrically pure hippy silliness. It’s a standout for me but will be marmite for sure.
The hook is pure Bennie & The Jets but although Gaga and Florence sound great together the melody leaves me a little cold, the only song on the album that veers towards MOR R&B.
A standout track reminiscent of the more hymnal moments of Brandon Flowers’ Flamingo, or at least of their shared influences. A mournful dirt-track protest song.
Another standout track for me. One of those songs intended to be sung along to at 3am, dunk with your best friends whilst railing against the injustices of life and fittingly includes a Spice Girls namecheck. Makes me oddly weepy.
Just another Day
A very Scissors Sisters esque jazzy melody. Although the album proper ends with Angel Down and the deluxe tracks with the work tape of the same song this is definitely a sweeter, lighter way to finish if you want it.
ARTIST: Lady Gaga
MOOD: Nancy: ‘I look like fucking Stevie Nicks’
Ok so there has been a shitstorm brewing around Lady Gaga and fur for the last few days and since everyone and their uncle has been sending me links to articles (of varying levels of accuracy) about it I figured I might as well just go ahead a post up my thoughts here. Kill two birds with one stone as it were. Sorry, was that inappropriate?
The essential facts of the story are as follows:
Gaga has been seen wearing various fur coats recently
PETA sent her an open letter calling her out on it
Many of your gay fans, I among them, have long admired what you told Ellen: “I hate fur and I don’t wear fur.” I included a link because these recent photos of you in fox and rabbit and with a wolf carcass make it appear that you have amnesia. I’m also including this brief videohosted by Tim Gunn showing the violent cruelty that you promote when you wear fur. What happened? Are your stylists telling you that it’s fake, or are you a turncoat? Many gays are animal advocates because we recognize that the same arrogance and indifference that some have toward animal suffering has at times been directed toward us personally because of our orientation. PETA has long participated in Pride events around the country, and just last week, we helped lead protests against Chick-fil-A. But by wearing those dumb furs in a heat wave, you’re making yourself a target just like the mindless Kim Kardashian. As we plan our fall campaigns, please tell us whether what you gracefully told Ellen was heartfelt or just a pose.
We await your reply.
Senior Vice President
She deflected the issue with a trollish tweet and cryptic follow-up
Everyone is freaking out
So my thoughts:
Well, for anyone reading this who doesn’t know me, I’m a vegan and therefor don’t wear leather or fur or eat meat or dairy.
So far no one still really knows if it’s real or fake she’s wearing – and I’ll be damned if I can tell from looking at it – I can never spot fake fur unless it’s like the coat I’ve got that cost £12 from the kids section of Primark and basically looks like skinned Build-A-Bear.
This either makes her pretty smart or pretty dumb in how she’s handling it. I don’t much care for how PETA are handling it either way – what exactly does Mr Mathews’ sexual orientation have to do with anything?
I will be disappointed if it is real but less because of her actually wearing the fur than because of her response. Hang in there with me on that one..
I can look the other way when she wears fur or leather because I live in a world where almost everyone I know wears leather and eats meat and fur is really not a whole lot different to me. It’s much easier for the average person to be sanctimonious about real fur because they will likely not be able to afford it (other than someone’s Aunt Trudy’s of course) but would never dream of giving up their inexpensive leather or meat – fur is, rightly, seen as more flagrant and dickish. It has that air of Cruella De Ville. Yes, yes, meat is (albeit in-essentially) nutritional not just fashion and leather is a byproduct and blah blah blah but once you get over the other side of veganism it just all starts to look like uniformly barbaric carnage. So I choose not to think too much about the choices of others in that respect because, you know, I want to have friends and shit.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MEAT DRESS I HEAR YOU SAY? The meat dress I could live with because it was an arresting image, really is no different to eating the meat (which she does, along with spending most of last year head to foot in leather) and opened up a lot of interesting conversations for me with meat eaters who funnily enough often seemed to find it really disgusting..
Anyway the point is there is a BIG difference for me between wearing fur on occasion and being actively pro-fur. Being pro-fur is not saying ‘I know, but I couldn’t resit’ or ‘I know, but I was given it for free’ it’s saying ‘Fuck you, I don’t give a shit and neither should you’. And more than anything it bothers me how being all sassy about it will result in a million fans thinking YAYZ FUR IZ COOL GAGA SEZ!!! Taking a pro-fur stance would be neither popular with me or many of her fans (judging by comments on her posts about it) even if the fashionistas might back it.
On the other hand if it’s fake her tweet is hilarious. Well, it’s hilarious anyway but you know what I mean. If the coats are fake and she knows that PETA just haven’t done their research then she’s basically just giving them a big old ‘talk to the hand’. Right now I’m swinging towards fake because I would prefer that to be the case, her second post about where ‘real’ elegance comes from seems to indicate that to me and because I don’t think even Gaga is wilfully publicity hungry enough to take an openly pro-fur stance. Funny as it is, I do wish she would clarify her feelings on the matter one way or another though.
And no, even if it is real I won’t suddenly stop being a fan – that’s patently ridiculous – although I would definitely be pretty sad about it. I have a small handfull of friends who I would allow to argue with me on that but the rest of you can go back to your chicken fillets and zip it.*
*With love, of course 😉
Gaga responded tonight:
To the fans. i want you to know that I care deeply about your feelings and views, and I will always support your philosophies about life. We’ve been having over-arching conversations about society, equality, and politics for the past five years, and we should continue. I do not however support violent, abusive, and childish campaigns for ANY CAUSE. Particularly one that I respect. “Animal Rights.” I am choosing not to comment on whether or not the furs I purchase are faux fur-pile or real because I would think it hypocritical not to acknowledge the python, ostrich, cow hide, leather, lamb, alligator, “kermit” and not to mention meat, that I have already worn. This should already put me in a category as one who appreciates and adores the beauty of animals in fashion, but am not a strict vegan. I have truly always stayed away from skinned fur, especially as i have never been able to afford a nice one, but this does not mean my morals are rigid and that I won’t bend at the sight of an absolute art piece of a coat. I have no chains about this. You see a carcass, I see a museum pièce de résistance. But I am truly sorry to fans who are upset by this, its a fair and applaudable feeling about the health and safety of animals. I respect your views, please respect mine.
And to campaigners, Save your flour to make bread for the children who are hungry. And Kim Kardashian is fabulous.
I may not share her feelings but she has articulated almost exactly the points I felt about the blowup myself. I agree with her about PETA’s approach and although I would have loved a more emphatically anti-fur response I am just relieved to see that she respects and understands the issue itself and the feelings of her fans.
Edit: I know that sounds a bit wishy washy and confused, it’s hard to explain exactly what I mean. I like her response in so much as it’s honest. It teeters on pro-fur but is more ‘never say never’ than ‘fur is fabulous’. As I said before I have a hard time seeing why fur is any more grotesque than the millions of everyday, invisible crimes that are committed against animals by almost everyone – it was reading about what is considered ‘free range’ and ‘humane’ that tipped me into veganism not couture coats.
I do think fur is abhorrent and I respect the more hardline views of other vegans but I have issues with meat eaters and leather weathers being sanctimonious about fur. I realise I’m a bit contrary in this and I don’t expect many people to agree with me. I’m not saying Gaga’s position is good – I’m just not any more (or less) horrified by it than a whole lot of other horrible stuff. I think the view she is expressing is probably also less of a distance from the way most people feel about animals than they allow themselves to admit – and I respect her for manning up, even if I think she’s wrong.
I predict the media will skin her alive for this though. Boom Boom.
An innocuous-looking memory stick, no longer than a couple of fingernails, came into the hands of a Guardian reporter earlier this year. The device is so small it will hang easily on a keyring. But its contents will send shockwaves through the world’s chancelleries and deliver what one official described as “an epic blow” to US diplomacy. The 1.6 gigabytes of text files on the memory stick ran to millions of words: the contents of more than 250,000 leaked state department cables, sent from, or to, US embassies around the world.
“I would come in with music on a CD-RW labelled with something like ‘Lady Gaga’ … erase the music … then write a compressed split file. No one suspected a thing … [I] listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga’s Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history.” He said that he “had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months”.
I realise this is actually a rather serious story – but I have to admit I’m still giggling at ‘lip-synched to Lady Gaga’s Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history’.
Our Lady gets everywhere 😉