When we covered Tyler, the Creator and Radiohead's crazily hyped new releases upon leakage, our initial takes had their rabid fanbases frothing at the mouth -- but reactions to both turned out to be mixed all around. Lady Gaga is the biggest pop star in the world, and biggest pop stars in the world tend to get violent reactions from the actual pop audience when they diverge. But then, Gaga has made a whole career of diverging, and people seem to already be tired of her shit, so who knows how this will go. Here's our first listen to Lady Gaga's new album, Born This Way:
"Marry the Night"
"I'm a warrior queen" and "Gonna make love to the stars" are two promises our queen boasts on this hour-long opus before the first four-on-the-floor even kicks in. Kinda power-ballady, actually. And when that beat finally arrives, a lot of Gaga's trademarks are apparent: "muh-muh-muh-marry the night" stuttering and cheap beat sounds recycled from 1997. One thing that interests me about Gaga is her total disinterest in sonic innovation -- has she even used Auto-Tune? She wants to be the most superficial artist in the world. I've never minded her pro forma synths, and this is catchy. But it's also monochromatic.
"Born This Way"
Unlike most, I actually find this nonubiquitous Madonna rip to be one of her better hits. The sonic coloring is metamorphic, which is neat up against the superfamiliar melody and clever-the-first-time "don't be a drag/just be a queen" chants. But Ke$ha's ad libs are actually surprising, and the only thing surprising about this album so far is the cover.
Right, that last song was "political," too. And a lot of people have rightfully rolled their eyes at her attempt to tell gay culture what anthems it should co-opt. But I'm still glad our biggest pop star cares about saying something, even if it has yet to extend past the title and, now, a promise to make JFK squeal. "Government Hooker" doesn't appear to say anything about the government, but it is a bloopy industrial thing with a nasty version of the beeps from "Da Da Da." It's fun to hear her twist "hooker" into bendy melodic shapes here with censor bleeps at the end. One of her best so far.
This is breezing by, despite almost every song being a good minute longer than every song on Britney Spears' Femme Fatale. Like "Born This Way" only even better, I like this one more than her usual, so I was surprised at the lukewarm reaction to it as the second single. She's at her best in that synth-orchestral-stab-heavy Europop zone ("Alejandro"), but this still has a nasty edge in the bridge. She's getting a little hooker-obsessed, though. And spoken-breakdown-obsessed. "I'm in love with Judas" is kind of the ultimate in love-triangle confession/betrayals, though, no?
Awesomely campy Spanish musical intro, as if you were expecting something different from her long-awaited song about illegal immigration. Why didn't the album open with something like that? Because ultimately, she's interested in being a singles factory; the albums are just the grab bag from which to choose her next video. This is pretty overblown, like the disco equivalent of the White Stripes' "Conquest," but that's a plus because the music finally matches her persona.
This clip-paced ballad starts with four very familiar chords and a catchy "uh-uh" Greek chorus. "I'm as free as my hair" is a great hook; her lyrics are gaining in cleverness in abstraction, which reminds me of the leap in maturity for James Murphy on last year's LCD Soundsystem finale This Is Happening. Doesn't surprise me that Taylor Swift used this exact melody to better effect on "The Story of Us." But Swift's dance beat had better momentum. Redeeming factor: the bridge.
"I don't speak German/But I can if you like," our frosted fraulein intones. The chorus unravels more Eurosynth goodies, and she really could be mistaken for Madonna this time. This is a jam. The last album I heard with both German and Spanish tunes was the Breeders' Mountain Battles. Weird.