Just in case you were busy buying supplies to survive the end of the world and didn’t get a chance to go online last week, this small time popstar called Lady Gaga put her second full-length album, ‘Born This Way’ up on the interweb for streaming before its official release today. It elicited a pretty mild response, y’know – just a few billion tweets and heaps of blogs and reviews both ranty and rapturous from critics. At a gig last year in Poland, Gaga promised, “to give you the greatest album of the decade.” So then, has she done it? (Clue: no.)
NME’s Dan Martin heaps all manner of praise all over ‘Born This Way’, giving it 8/10 and stating that, “what you definitely cannot fault about this album is the scale of its artistic ambition.” A couple of paragraphs later, however, he seems to have decided that you could maybe fault it a bit, noting “Lady Gaga can be guilty of trying too hard … It’s not the clarion to the dispossessed that it thinks it is. And after pushing so hard in this direction, she should probably strip it back to just her and a piano next time if she really wants to shock. Because rather than an exercise in hype, what ‘Born This Way’ really is is an exercise in the pushing of everything to its ultimate degree. And for all the black, white and silver, it passes that test with flying colours.”
BBC's Ian Wade is almost as evangelical about the record, noting the grand dame's individual stamp all over it. "Gaga could have filled this album with guest slots from hip names and phoned-in cameos from rent-a-rapper types. But with the exception of Brian May axing all over 'Yoü & I', and the E Street Band’s Clarence Clemons honking over 'The Edge of Glory', there’s none of that. 'Born This Way' is pretty much pure Gaga." Gathering his wits about him, he comments that "this is not quite the revolution, and certainly not the greatest album ever made. It’s a storming collection of high-concept pop brilliance designed to soundtrack every preposterously tremendous Gaga moment for the next 18 months. If there’s a gripe to be had, it’s regarding the length: at an hour long, Born This Way initially feels more like an assault than an event, and it could easily lose a couple of tracks." He closes by calling it "simply a marvellous record," and urges the sneerers to stop sniffing at it. Did you hear that, Hamish Macbain?
Rob Sheffield over at Rolling Stone, who also gives the record 4/5, hasn't failed to notice its sledgehammering bombast: "The whole album thumps like the soundtrack to a lost Eddie and the Cruisers sequel, one where Eddie gets crucified by Roman soldiers, while Gaga stands under the cross weeping and sending dirty texts to the DJ." Rather than the album coming across as affected artifice however, he moots that "Gaga loves overheated cosmic statements for the same reason she loves dance pop and metal guitars – because she hears them as echoes of her twisted rock & roll heart. That's the achievement of Born This Way: The more excessive Gaga gets, the more honest she sounds."
The Independent's Andy Gill disagrees entirely, however, chastising Gaga for her self-proclaimed representation of the disenfranchised and the dilution of her identity in the process: "The irony being, of course, that she is probably the most assiduous, serial self-alterer in pop history – the last thing that Lady Gaga wants, one suspects, is to remain exactly the way she was born. But the more often she changes, and the broader she spreads her net musically, the less distinctive her art becomes."
But dividing opinion is the whole point of Gaga, argues Brad Sanders with a strong voice of reason over at The Quietus. "Gaga has half the world convinced she's the reincarnation of Jesus (or Judas) in the form of a pop star and the other half convinced that she's a talentless hack who disguises her musical shortcomings with garish costumes and a pretentious public image. It should go without saying that neither of these things are entirely correct." He notes that a few filler tracks aside and despite the comparisons to the likes of Madonna, 'Born This Way' is "the quintessential Lady Gaga studio experience to date, and that "Gaga's status as a pop oddity may have been much of what kept her relevant through her first two albums' song cycles, but her songwriting has almost completely caught up."
The Guardian's Tim Jonze states that despite its strengths, 'Born This Way' is unequivocally not the greatest album of the decade, "even by the standards of a pop star who thrives on stretching the imagination." Despite giving the album 4/5, Jonze speaks sense when he points out that "Gaga has surrendered her artier leanings in the quest for a pure pop record, the consequences of which are that it occasionally strays too far into cheese territory," concluding that "this, perhaps, has always been the thrilling paradox of Lady Gaga – that she can be the most exciting, confounding and mind-bogglingly creative artist on planet pop while still sounding like an early-90s Tampax advert."
So, that's that then. A pretty resounding success, by these accounts (although The Times were less generous, calling it "the album equivalent of a finely cooked meal with a load of tomato ketchup splurged all over it"). What do you reckon? Is 'Born This Way' everything you were hoping for and more? Does everyone need to STFU and stop relentlessly making excuses for this interminable slab of tinny pop? Personally I loathe it, but then I am the pop and fun hater, according to one tweeter. Over to you.