Lady Gaga‘s second full-length album, ‘Born This Way’, is released on Monday 23 May
Monday saw the endgame of a process of countdown to the new Lady Gaga album that has lasted for months (and months, and months). Ever since the title was announced all the way back in September, there has followed a drip-feed process of hints, details, lyrics, backlashes, counter-backlashes, probable hoaxes and – oh yes! – actual songs that have created a myth around the ‘Born This Way’ album that has been truly quite extraordinary.
The security has of course been ridiculous. And on Monday, a selected few journalists were invited to a top-secret playback in Chiswick, and asked to keep details to ourselves. We were then presented with the only iPod in the world containing the album, which was briefly left in the custody of her publicists, before being couriered back to her security, and then flown back to the States.
The album will have now gone ‘to parts’ in factories across the world ahead of Monday’s release, after which point all records leak, so Team Gaga have countered this by streaming it all over the world. You’ll have heard it now. Here are my first impressions, track-by-track.
Marry The Night
‘Born This Way’ announces itself in quite unassuming 80s drivetime style, before kicking into thumping Moroder electro, before revealing the record’s agenda with a climax that sounds weirdly reminiscent of Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’. An impressive but strangely conservative opener.
Born This Way
You know this one already (well, you could hardly avoid it). And I’ve caused quite enough trouble writing about this song as it is, so will leave it there. Except to say that any song which gets an episode of a major US network TV drama based around it within weeks of release, which in turn upsets all of the correct American right-wingers must at least be doing something effectively.
Lady Gaga, ‘Born This Way’ – track review
Two songs in and ‘Born This Way’ drops down into claustrophobic techno with remarkable efficiency, swerving to a place a world away from the heavy-handed camp of the title track. This is freeform and industrial and quite mad. Although lines like “Put your hands on me, John F Kennedy” suggest there’s less of a coherent political agenda and more the fact that putting the government and the sex trade together in one sentence sounds kinda cool. A trap Gaga falls into rather too often.
But saying that, people were unfairly harsh on ‘Judas’ for a lot of those same reasons. Again, the pre-hype did it no favours, but this is a banging, brave and complicated cousin of ‘Bad Romance’ that I suspect history will judge with more kindness.
A camp mariachi take on the ‘Alejandro’ formula, via Evita and any number of swashbuckling Latin stompers, but most notably ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ by Santa Esmerelda. As flourishing classical violins battle with flamenco guitars doing their own battle with woofy rave bass, this bilingual romp just serves to prove that while Gaga is best when she’s stylised, she’s even better when she’s ridiculously over-stylised. And sometimes, more is more.
A really quite breathtaking song that at once does a better job of being a) an inspiring anthem of empowerment and b) quite the gayest thing you have ever, ever heard other than the title track. It starts off like the power ballady theme song for the greatest John Hughes movie you never saw, throws in a touch of saxophone, explodes into a manic rave cacophony, peaks with one of those classic Gaga choruses capable of burning itself into your cerebral cortex after one listen, before finally wigging out in a deranged musical theatre singalong. This may be the best thing here.
Miss Kittin-ish German rapping by way of ‘Fitter, Happier’ by Radiohead ushers in the album’s first proper banger, before morphing into a commanding pop song somewhere along the lines of a sped-up ‘Erotica’ by Madonna. Apart from the odd bit of clunky lyricism, this is also very good.
Another highlight. Dainty plucked strings pirouette around filthy beats, as an elegant vocal glides serenely over the top of it, going much the same thematic job as ‘Judas’. This works because it’s a classy, graceful moment on an album not exactly pre-occupied with being either classy or graceful.
And it’s straight back onto the floor for a track seemingly inspired by the New York Club Kids of the late 1980s (read Disco Bloodbath for the full horror) via Donna Summer and some electric guitar. The relentless “I’m a bitch!” declarations will only annoy further the people who find Gaga to be annoying, but then it lurches into a chorus which is impossible not to adore, instantly and forever.
Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)
The moment where ‘Born This Way’ finally buckles under the weight of its own ambitions. There’s some pagan gothic science fiction thing going on here, and for the sake of further ridiculousness it aiming to be some kind of chamber metal concerto. In reality it just sounds like a mess.
Heavy Metal Lover
The brutish cousin of ‘Teeth’ from ‘The Fame Monster’, as more mechanised rave woofs pummel underneath. It’s all very nice and Berlin-inspired, but all the filthy-filthy sexy-sexy growling (“I want your whiskey mouth/All over my blonde south”) all just get a bit too much.
If you’d ever wondered what that Madonna doing the soundtrack to Blade Runner might have sounded like (and who among us hasn’t of a Wednesday morning?) then wonder no more. Channelling classic rock on its intro, and then briefly and bizarrely Opus III’s house anthem ‘It’s A Fine Day’, it nevertheless sounds like sci-fi gone sexy, and no less credible for that.
Yoü And I
There’s no stripped-down ‘Brown Eyes’ or ‘Speechless’ moment here, but the closest we get is this, a cousin of Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ with added crunches and squelches. One might wonder whether it might not be more effective without all the crunches and squelches, but you’d be pushed to deny with any credibility that this is A Very Good Song.
The Edge Of Glory
Finally, things level out with some pure, glistening Abba-brand pop at the end of all of that thrilling clanking. In Carlisle, Gaga declared this was about her late grandfather. Which is mildly peculiar since the nature of the lyrics are romantic and sexual. But let’s not go there, it’s a figurative statement about the purest form of love, which leaves Gaga dancing “on the edge of something final we call life.” And leaving here there, rather triumphant at having made a mostly very good album, is a rather beautiful image.