JOANNE by Lady Gaga


Image Source

Genre: Pop Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Joanne,” “John Wayne,” “Dancin’ In Circles,” “Hey Girl,” “Angel Down”

Gaga. The name alone is synonymous with 21st century pop music, adorned in torn fishnets, flamboyant wigs, and those sparkly, Alexander McQueen crab-claw high heels. It’s hard to disagree with her declaration from 2013’s ARTPOP: “Pop culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture, in me.” Indeed, Lady Gaga’s early career was just as much performance art as it was music, with consistently explosive headlines about her latest costume-as-daywear or red carpet entrance, so it’s inarguable why her eruption into mainstream music in 2008 quickly created a dance-pop legacy that easily draws comparisons to the likes of Freddie Mercury, Madonna, and Michael Jackson.


Never shying away from magnificent spectacle, Kiss FM shone a little darker after Gaga decided to take a hiatus from pop music following the release of her fourth studio album. In the meantime, she recreated her image (again, and again, and again, and again) in a collaborative jazz album with Tony Bennett, a Christmas EP, a tribute to THE SOUND OF MUSIC for the 87th Academy Awards, and a stint on AMERICAN HORROR STORY, among other things. Taking into account the progression of her mainstream solo work, it seems her penchant for reinvention might have lead Gaga to decorate herself in some combination of cured hams and Swarovski crystals once again — whatever produces the most shock value. However, the past couple years of her career have informed a much tamer reincarnation for this go-around, which leads us to 2016’s newest pop baby: JOANNE.


Gaga veterans might be jarred not to hear a single producer tag for RedOne — instead, JOANNE’s credits list Gaga as executive producing aside Mark Ronson, with BloodPop (who has worked with Madonna, Justin Bieber, and Grimes) trailing close by. But, with guest collaborations from the likes of Josh Homme, Kevin Parker, Josh Tillman, Beck Hansen, and Florence Welch, one can certainly hear the rock ‘n’ roll side of Gaga that was teased on BORN THIS WAY from 2011. This sound has always been a part of Gaga’s repertoire, and furthermore, her latest trends of makeupless-ness and dressing in the laywoman’s couture of vintage band tees and cutoff shorts are superficial (although equally valid) qualifiers of this observation. There should be no surprises here — Lady Gaga’s reinvention this time around is just as organic and personal as the last eight or nine or twenty. If Bowie can do it, so can she, although whether or not it’s a successful transformation is up for debate.


Infused with heavy rock drums, a handful of synthetic elements, and oscillation between ripping electricity and romantic acoustic guitars, JOANNE takes a sharp steer away from the glitzy electronic pop of Gaga’s former work. Gaga typically glamorizes darkly sexual or religious allegories behind punchy hooks and pulsating dance beats, but JOANNE unveils more explicit inner thoughts on love, sexuality, liberation, unity, and identity between intermingling influences from heartland rock, Euro-pop, disco-rock, and country music. One moment she’s in the club that inspired THE FAME (“John Wayne”) or performing sacrilege á la “Alejandro” from THE FAME MONSTER (“Dancin’ In Circles”); the next moment she’s two-stepping at the dive bar (“A-YO”), and then jamming beside a throaty saxophone borrowed from Billy Joel (“Come To Mama”). While these stylistic jumps lack the fierce radicalism that has always propelled Lady Gaga’s celebrity, the album at least retains a sonic cohesion that makes each song befitting to JOANNE alone. On the one hand, it’s somewhat of a disappointment to hear a pop zealot such as Gaga fall for predictable songwriting tropes, but on the other hand, perhaps retrograding after blazing quite the pyretic trail through radio hits and pop stardom is an act of extremism in its own right.


Because listening to JOANNE necessitates consideration of Gaga’s past polemics, some of the most uniquely intriguing songs on this album are the ones that take us wading through fields of wheat, back home on the range. Tracks like “Joanne,” “Sinner’s Prayer,” and album single “Million Reasons” feature a nostalgic, country ambiance that only reinforces Gaga’s chameleonic ability to mutate herself as an artist. By dropping crooning-cowgirl buzzword combinations like “aching heart,” “Daddy’s feast,” and “little red devil” over rootsy acoustic guitar riffs, Gaga sentimentally plays yet another character we haven’t seen from her before, through whom she can speak candidly while echoing deeper musical admiration for artists like Bruce Springsteen and Carrie Underwood (whose colleague Hillary Lindsay co-penned a couple tracks on JOANNE).


Despite the underwhelming composition of the album as a whole, it’s satisfying to listen to JOANNE’s light flirtation with genre-bending, and it’s a path that could prove promising for Lady Gaga’s musical career in the future if she continues to invest in it. The sound might alienate many fans, but for others, it may be a liberation from suffocating hyper-pop fanaticism and leave room for a more endearing and mortal portrait of Stefani Germanotta. In spite of it all, JOANNE appeals to loyal followers and radio DJs with a handful of danceable bangers, while giving the icon room to strip away the pop surrealism that fueled her rise to fame, taking a breath of fresh air from the rock ‘n’ roll generation that inspired her to make music in the first place. If that’s not a noble pursuit, then who knows what is?

Verdict: Recommend

Sienna once drank a cup of bleach as a toddler and has believed time to be a flat circle ever since. Her style goal is Agent Dale Cooper from TWIN PEAKS and her life goal is to live in forested seclusion à la Henry David Thoreau.

You may also like...