Lady Gaga’s Joanne album ditches the decadence and loses its charm
Artist: Lady Gaga
Label: Streamline and Interscope Records
Release Date: Oct. 21
In the three years since her last solo album, the extravagant Artpop, Lady Gaga has reinvented herself.
Along with establishing her acting on television by winning a Golden Globe for her performance in “American Horror Story” – Gaga has been nominated for an Academy Award for her song “Til It Happens to You” and released an album of jazz standards with Tony Bennett.
The album Joanne is the latest entry into the artist’s catalogue and is representative of the current state of Lady Gaga’s career.
The decidedly dialed-back decadence acts as a showcase for Lady Gaga’s considerable vocal talent, furthering her transition from guilty pleasure to serious artist. While this may make the music more respectable, it definitely makes it less fun.
The album opens strongly with “Diamond Heart,” an anthem in the vein of “Born This Way.” Powerful guitar riffs from Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age bolster some obvious lyrics by Gaga, (“I may not be perfect, but I've got a diamond heart”) and drive the song.
The follow-up “A-Yo” is an upbeat pop track that dares listeners not to dance and clap along to the beat. The track “John Wayne,” named after the Western film legend, approaches the ridiculous heights of Artpop.
It begins with a spoken word introduction by Gaga who speaks about her love for cowboys in her Valley Girl voice, her desire to be strapped to the back of horse and details Gaga’s late night joyride with a cowboy.
An alt-country dance beat pulses with more guitar from Homme, as an electronically garbled Gaga sings about country boys like Shania Twain’s strung out little sister.
Unfortunately, there’s not much more of the trashy fun fans have come to expect from Mother Monster.
The title track “Joanne” is a folk ode to Gaga’s deceased aunt whom the singer says was a huge influence on her life despite dying years before Gaga was born. Mark Ronson – writer of “Uptown Funk” co-produced this album with Lady Gaga.
Ronson plays acoustic guitar under Gaga’s raspy vocals. By itself the song works, but sandwiched between “A-Yo” and “John Wayne,” the most fun tracks on the album, it brings the album to a halt that none of the remaining songs are able to recover from.
“Dancin’ in Circles,” a co-produced joint by Beck and Gaga about the healing powers of masturbation should have been a winning combination, but Beck’s presence is not felt at all on this generic dance beat.
Other guest stars include hipster folk hero Father John Misty and Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine on the tracks “Sinner’s Prayer” and “Hey Girl” respectively. “Sinner’s Prayer” opens strongly with a dirty spaghetti western vibe complete with Ennio Morricone-esque yelps in the distant background.
Gaga and Welch’s vocals complement each other nicely on the hoes-before-bros ode to sisterhood that is “Hey Girl,” but the electronic piano sounds distractingly like Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets.”
Even more distracting however is the closing track standard edition of the album “Angel Down” which Gaga claims was inspired by the death of Trayvon Martin.
Four years after the incident, the lyrics are still as relevant and Gaga’s delivery is raw and powerful but one can’t help but long for the days when the singer would take us on a tour of the solar system while singing about how famous her ass is.
If Lady Gaga is serious about reinventing herself as a sober artist as opposed to the trashy pop icon she was previously known as, then Joanne is a step in the right direction.
The singer has ditched most her trademark excess in favor of a more personal sound. Unfortunately, the few attempts at capturing the ridiculous fun of her past works don’t blend well with the new direction the artist has taken.
The tracks stand well on their own, but would be better served if Lady Gaga had not tried to combine the two sounds.
David Tunis-Garcia is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at: