I usually don't feel the need to justify myself before writing a review but I have been taking the piss out of Lady Gaga rather frequently around here due to her sticky fingers, so I thought I'd start by bringing your attention to this link. It's my 2009 'best of' countdown. As you can see, I ranked "The Fame Monster" the second best album of that year and hailed it "the new measuring stick for dance-pop". And I still stand by that. When Lady Gaga is making solid pop music without desperately trying to be outrageous or groundbreaking, she is almost unbeatable. Like a demented cross between Madonna, Britney and someone with actual talent - she lifts pop to dark and dangerous new heights. Take "Bad Romance". To this day that song gives me chills. Strip away the "rah rah rahs" and you're left with one of the most honest 'Dear John' letters ever committed to music.
I guess that's half the reason the beginning of the new era has irked me so much - it's all image and hype. Lady Gaga can talk about tackling the big issues until the pointy implants in her face explode but nothing she has released since "Dance In The Dark" - her last great single - has connected with me at all. Happily, there is a lot to like about "Born This Way" when you dig beneath the unnecessary trappings but it doesn't change the fact that the album crumbles under the weight of her own ego. Mother monster needs to stop advocating for minorities that (she mistakenly believes) imbue her with credibility and put together a cohesive album. She's so busy trying to prove she can do everything that she ends up doing very little right. One minute the most powerful woman in pop is bringing back 90s house, then reviving disco, before moving on to 80s soft rock and the industrial rave scene. Her fans call it eclectic and Lady Gaga herself has gushed that this is the album she has always wanted to make. I'm sorry bitch but that doesn't make it good. Just unforgivably self-indulgent. At its worst, "Born This Way" sounds like the soundtrack to a beginner's party at the Hellfire club. At its best, the album reminds me of a mixtape my mum might have made back in 1987 with heavy lashings of Starship, Laura Branigan and Foreigner! It's no masterpiece but definitely salvageable. Here is my track by track review below:
Marry The Night
This is the song Lady Gaga premiered on Facebook application Farmville. I'm guessing people who tend to imaginary sheep don't hit up the club all that often but whatever. "Marry The Night" is a rather inoffensive if somewhat stillborn opener. Which is surprising because I love Fernando Garibay and he usually brings the best out of Gaga. The explosive introduction is exciting and raised my expectations until the song changes pace and becomes a rather strange mish-mash of 80s Bruce Springsteen and bad 90s techno. It definitely has its moments and has grown on me immensely but the track lacks the catchy hook that Lady Gaga usually does better than anyone.
Born This Way
I've already said enough about this heinous mess. "Born This Way" makes me ashamed to be gay. If we've reached the point where we need a middle-class, heterosexual attention seeker who looks like a 47-year-old transvestite to advocate on our behalf with the supposedly uplifting message that we're all freaks but still deserve love and acceptance then I'm out. There is nothing joyous or inclusive about the lyrics and Gaga can deny ripping off "Enjoy Yourself" all she likes but the similarities are undeniable. Everything about this makes my skin crawl.
Yuck. If any song sums up what is wrong with Lady Gaga circa 2011 then this is it. "Government Hooker" is the most pretentious song you will hear all year. From the pointless lyrics to messy production, this is one big cry for attention. I could probably cope with an instrumental because there are some interesting flourishes but what exactly is the point of this? To prove that Gaga is cool and edgy and can write lyrics about sex workers and dead presidents? Bitch, please go back to riding that disco stick and leave the faux intellectualism to someone with more to say. I will give her credit for the high camp operatic intro though.
The fame monster's unauthorised remake of Loli Lux's stunning "WannaBE" is the biggest flop of her career. And for a while looked like it would derail the incredible momentum she had built over the past two years. The problem is that "Judas" is a massive step backwards. It's a fairly standard RedOne production that sticks to the tried and tested "Bad Romance" formula without bringing anything new or fresh to the table. Even the religious imagery that pervades the lyrics in getting boring. Madonna and the Pet Shop Boys did this shtick better in the 80s - it's not shocking, just lazy and boring. And then there's the chorus that sounds like the worst song Aqua never released. Having listened to the rest of the album, Gaga must have been smoking crack when she chose this as the second single. There are so many better songs on "Born This Way".
By this point I was lamenting the death of my love affair with Lady Gaga. I thought the time had come to throw my paws into the air one last time and leave the monsterhood for good. "Americano" is so fucking lame it needs a walking stick. A sad re-imagining of "Alejandro" that combines Mariachi music with bad Euro-disco, the track apparently tackles heady issue of illegal immigration. It's as hideous as it sounds. If the prospect of a white woman singing chunks of a song in bad Spanish before breaking into the occasional burst of "la la la" then this is for you. If not, do your ears a favour and press delete. This is the worst song Fernando Garibay has ever put his name to. Shame.
Just when I was ready to write of "Born This Way" as a total trainwreck, along came "Hair" and instantly revived my interest in the project. One of the many buzz singles released to promote the album pre-release, this got lost in the circle jerk over "The Edge Of Glory" but I think it's every bit as good. Although not quite as amazing as Ashley Tisdale's genre-defining song of the same name. But back to Gaga. This is just a solid, I am who I am pop song that I can imagine Cydni Lauper belting out in the 80s. It's fun, catchy and genuinely uplifting. RedOne is such a strange producer. He's done more for recycling that Planet Ark but occasionally he pulls one out of the bag and I love this odd hybrid of 80s Starship-esque pop and dance elements. Great use of sax too. This has to be a single.
As it turns out, Lady Gaga - I can speak German and your pathetic attempt at butchering my mother tongue in a bizarre bid for Teutonic chic is an epic fail. It doesn't even make sense. Is this some kind of anthem for scat lovers or just a lame attempt to revive late 90s house? Whatever the case may be the title accurately describes the song. This is shit.
The dubiously talented DJ behind "Government Hooker" returns for "Bloody Mary" - a song that has been singled out by many critics as one of the album's highlights and a future single. I'm not that enthusiastic about it but it is definitely one of the most straightforward floorfillers on "Born This Way". It's like a less intense but more authentic "Judas". The lyrics are less ambitious but they work and there's something hypnotic about the simple chorus. Not great but not bad at all. And if the rumours about this becoming a single I implore Lady Gaga not to ruin it by sitting on a crucifix shaped dildo in the video. Because we all know that's the moment she's been waiting for her whole life.
"Bad Kids" is everything I want from Mother Monster - a fun pop song with a catchy chorus and universal lyrics. This encapsulates the sentiment I think Lady Gaga wanted to say with "Born This Way" until her pretentious streak got in the way. "I'm not that cool and you hate me, I'm a bad kid that's the way that they made" sings the diva against the crispest 80s beats to hit the airwaves since the glory days of Stacey Q. Who didn't feel like that as a teenager? There's something organically anthemic about "Bad Kids" that makes it a standout on the album. I know that Lady Gaga likes to sing about being shunned and different but more often than not it strikes me as a marketing exercise. This, however, no doubt comes from a time in her past when she was just a mannish teenager called Stefani. Credit must go to producer Jeppe Laursen (of Junior Senior) for bringing the diva back down to earth.
Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)
This has singled out by some critics as the worst song on "Born This Way" but I kind of like its 80s hair band on acid sound palette. Sure, the lyrics are completely inane but I love the hands in the air chorus and I can imagine singing along to this in the car. As long as I was sure no one was listening. The production meanders and it's generally a bit of a mess but I find this kind of good natured experimentation a lot more forgivable than something like "Government Hooker" or "Scheiße".
Heavy Metal Lover
"I want your whiskey mouth all over my blond south" is the worst lyric of the year. I'm sorry but a song about eating Lady Gaga's pussy was always going to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Pun intended. I get the frenzied monster response to this. It's pure filth and the sleazy beats are great - I'd love to hear a dub - but it's nothing but distracting filler for me.
Now I know bringing up plagiarism claims are a big no no when it comes to Gaga but damn this reminds me of The Cardigans' classic "Losing My Favourite Game". Those "do do dos" are so familiar and I think she's lifted the guitar riff too but whatever. This is a nice song and sometimes you don't have to break new ground to deliver a decent pop song. Ever since "Speechless" I've been wanting Lady Gaga to explore her inner rock chick and she almost does it here but her current obsession of mixing guitars with electronic elements takes over yet again. My problem here is the lyrics. What exactly is this song about? I just get visions of Elvis weddings in Las Vegas but knowing mother monster it's probably about resolving the Middle East conflict or famine in Africa.
Yoü And I
This has been doing the rounds for a while now. Lady Gaga has performed it during her Monster's Ball tour for the best part of a year and the studio version isn't all that different. Produced by Mutt Lange, "Yoü And I" - what is with that fucking umlaut? - is this album's "Speechless" or "Brown Eyes". An overwrought piano rock ballad that is supposed to highlight the diva's versatility but just sounds like a Richard Marx B-side. I can't help but think Mutt would have been better off giving this to his ex-wife. Shania Twain would have nailed this. Gaga tries so hard to imbue it with pathos and meaning that it ends up being an empty exercise of vocal acrobatics. If nothing else it gives her something new to sing behind a flaming piano on the next tour. Distinctly average.
The Edge Of Glory
First things first. This does sound very similar to Soraya's iconic 2008 smash "Sin Miedo" with a bit of Cher's "Song For The Lonely" thrown in for good measure. But they are two of my favourite songs of all time, so anything that borrows elements from them was always going to be a winner. I'm not convinced that this is the masterpiece that some have held it out to be (now that I've listened to them back to back a couple of times I think I prefer "Hair") but there's no denying it's a great song. There's a real sense of melancholy that permeates the verses, which only serves to make the explosive chorus all the more joyous. I love the now or never theme that runs through the lyrics and applaud Gaga from not making stupid noises or randomly singing in a different language. She has treated this song with the respect it deserves and Fernando Garibay moulds the craziest mix of Eurovision ready pop with "Born To Run" Bruce Springsteen. I even love the crazy sax solo. "The Edge Of Glory" is a worthy addition to Gaga's cannon of hits and deserves to sit proudly next to "Poker Face" and "Bad Romance". I just hate the fact that she will ruin the video with those stupid face implants but whatever. This is a reminder of what Lady Gaga is capable of when she just lets the music flow. It also underlines how sub par the vast majority of the rest of the album is.