The past couple of weeks have been pretty crazy and I haven't had a lot of time to devote to music, which is frustrating because my bedroom is littered with CDs I've been meaning to write about. I'll try to cover the majority of them in a giant round up post but "The Fame Monster" deserves more than that. Other bloggers have already written about Lady GaGa's pop triumph with more insight than I can hope to muster (see Adem's review and Will W's musings for starters) but I can't resist throwing in my two cents. "The Fame Monster" is a revelation, and while I wouldn't go as far as calling it the pop album of the decade (like Chart Rigger), it has to be in the running for the best release of 2009. Lady GaGa has given birth to that rarest of creatures - a consistent and coherent collection of electro-dance anthems that not only entertain but occasionally stretch the boundaries of popular music. As much as I loved "The Fame", its follow up/re-release (depending on who you listen to) is darker, stronger and considerably more ambitious. The filler that occasionally weighed down Lady GaGa's debut has been culled and we're left with 7 brilliant songs and one piece of shit. 7 out of 8 ain't bad! It would have been nice to get a few more songs but this is most definitely a case of quality over quantity.
Strangely, I absolutely hated the album's lead single when I first heard it. "Bad Romance" initially struck me as a rather lazy re-hash of "Poker Face" - only with really annoying chanting ("rah rah rah rah") and poorly pronounced French lyrics. Since then it's grown on me like a bad case of Athlete's Foot and I can't seem to get that epic chorus out of my head. I'm still not completely taken with the verses and I think RedOne has learned some tricks from the Stargate/Timbaland school of beat recycling but this is still an impressive piece of work, made even better by its brilliant video clip.
Unlike "Bad Romance", it was love at first listen with "Alejandro". I love the clear influence of 90s Eurodance and the sweetness of the chorus. Lady GaGa does dark and dirty dance better than just about anyone but this is a rare example of the diva encroaching on Kylie's joyous brand of soft and pretty pop. I'm slowly losing interest in RedOne as a producer but this proves he's more than just a one trick pony. The strings and elegantly arranged synths perfectly compliment the wacky spoken interludes and cute lyrics. As much as I love lyrics about riding disco sticks and bluffin' with muffins, it actually makes a nice change to hear Lady GaGa sing a relatively straightforward love song. This would make my short list of potential singles.
When talking about the album, Lady GaGa listed Eastern European discos as an inspiration and "Monster" kind of sounds like an extremely polished Romanian Eurovision entry and I mean that as a compliment! From the corny intro to the camp chorus and sublime middle eight, this little gem is a burst of pure pop. I love the juxtaposition of Lady GaGa's gory imagery with the insanely perky melody and RedOne brings his usual sheen to the proceedings. Having said all that, "Monster" is still probably one of the album's weaker tracks - making it pretty amazing filler.
Lady GaGa channels Freddie Mercury and the result is one of the best tracks of her budding career. "Speechless" is an absolute triumph. It not only underlines GaGa's incredible versatility but also showcases the diva's most overlooked asset. Her pipes. The ease with which she slips into 70s rock star mode is astounding and Ron Fair's organic production gives her voice an unexpected warmth. I never thought I'd be interested in a Lady GaGa ballad but this is brilliant stuff. If I had one criticism it would be that "Speechless" sounds slightly out of place next to the electro-dance tracks but I'd love her to pursue this sound in the future.
Dance In The Dark
This gets my vote as the album's equal best track along with the Beyoncé duet. "Dance In The Dark" is dance-pop perfection. Fernando Garibay effortlessly blends modern electronic elements with an orchestra of synths that sound like they were stolen from Madonna circa 1985. Fernando is really on fire at the moment. "Nothin' But Love" is perhaps the best song on Whitney's amazing comeback album and he achieved the impossible by making U2 sound slightly interesting on "I'll Go Crazy, If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight". This is the perfect sound palette for Lady GaGa's attitude filled verses and anthemic chorus. A future gay classic.
Telephone (featuring Beyoncé)
I've already devoted a post to this amazing duet, so I'll keep this brief. In a nutshell, "Telephone" is probably the best superstar duet since Barbra Streisand joined forces with Donna Summer on "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)". The song isn't particularly deep or original but it does put a new spin on the always popular genre of female empowerment anthems and allows both parties to shine. Lady GaGa displays her usual fierce attitude, while Beyoncé almost steals the show with her best crazy woman impersonation. Only fan fatigue (the two divas have released about 216 singles between them in 2009) will stop this being massive.
So Happy I Could Die
I'm slightly disturbed by the fact that two of my favourite songs at the moment are littered with masturbation references (this and Vanessa Amorosi's "Touch Me"). I think I need to get out more. Anyway, RedOne returns with another fairly standard production straight from his Swedish conveyor belt of catchy pop tunes. What saves this from being RedOne by the numbers is Lady GaGa's quirky lyrics about doing her hair and touching herself. "So Happy I Could Die" should be a load of rubbish but there are more hooks than a tackle shop and I have a soft spot for meaningless pop songs with dirty lyrics. Not exactly single material but still pretty damn good.
It's a shame that "The Fame Monster" closes with its only stinker. That's probably a bit harsh but the Teddy Riley produced "Teeth" is the kind of over-sampled mess that was hot about five years ago. It's unlike Lady GaGa to be so off trend so I guess she was probably trying to be ironic or revive an old sound but this is an epic fail on every level. I hate the lyrics, the non-existent melody and busy production. It's a sad day when J Lo did it first and better.