Lady Gaga – Born This Way

I think with an album review for Lady Gaga, the enigmatic 21st century pop star, you have to consider the social context of the work. I was requested to write a review for Born This Way and it has taken me a lot of time to mull over, to weigh in contextual factors with musical qualities (because, let’s face it, Lady Gaga is not just a musician). Gaga is an image, some might say a beacon of light for those left of centre in society and Born This Way is one whole hour dedicated to the fringes of the social and cultural milieu (homosexuals, transgenders, delinquents, flamboyants, the abused, the used etc). So in establishing this record as a tool for social ingenuity we can analyse it in several different ways.

This is an album that melds a lot of 80’s stylistic popular influences with hard-hitting club beats. In fact the beats here are at times frustratingly obtrusive and stand in the way of the records dynamics. I count 12 of the 14 tracks on the standard edition that all contain that 1-2 stomp of kick drum and splash snare, all at relatively the same pace bar a couple of slower tracks – and this for me just annoys the flying fuck out of me. This singular dynamic tends to make every song on the record sound like an anthem, and maybe that is what Gaga was trying to do – make an anthem for all those fringe groups. In context with her social agenda it suits, but for a reviewer of musical content I cannot view it as innovative and dynamic (and can think of many other records that pander to a subjugated minority as much more unique and fulfilling).

Lyrically it is much the same. Hair uses (yes, you guessed it, hair) as a metaphorical object signifying individualism and a fight against being oppressed while the title Government Hooker is a little confusing sans the single reference to John F Kennedy (I still don’t know why Government is included in the title). In essence the records lyrics, much like it’s beats are unidimensional. Americano descends into laughable steretypicality, mixing that 1-2 stomp with hispanic swagger makes it painful to listen to.

Not everything about this album is negative from me though. Gaga has some serious vocal qualities (check it standing well out on Hair and You and I, damn)! There are also some songs I can say that I enjoy. Edge of Glory is so catchy that I just forget about that one beat again while Marry the Night has that irresistible swathe of retro synths and stuttered vocal hooks (I particularly love how she closed out this track). Scheibe also holds its own unique qualities until it descends into typical anthem chorus territory.

So in the end, I cannot say I enjoyed this album as a whole. Compared to The Fame Monster it does not stand a chance (and I can’t understand how established magazines like NME can give this 4 stars out of 5). Pop music is not my thing in general, and I think given the social context of the record Gaga has fulfilled what she wanted to do – make an album full of anthemic fringe tracks, but this just does not do it for me. There is a lot of fat to trim, and I suspect if she had done so and released something similar in length to The Fame Monster it would be a much, much stronger release than it actually is.

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