18 May 2011
Albums | Reviews

Lady Gaga – Born This Way

album cover

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Oh, it’s so wearying to even begin. But we must, for somehow this mad-eyed, yellow-haired, sinew-limbed posh little nutjob has become one of those musical phenomena who forces you by permeation of every last corner of the media spectrum to choose between embrace or outright rejection, both camps being already packed full of absolute tools.

So, after all the bizarrely managed build-up (really, pity her publicist), the Farmville and the Metro streams… it’s alright. Just that. Just alright. Not dreadful, not a total sham, not shocking, not surprising, not brilliant, not even really good, just alright. Opener ‘Marry The Night’, rather than swinging in like a space-metal-disco-bitch axe to your face is kind of like Bonnie Tyler’s ‘I Need A Hero’ given a gym-trance workout by whoever it was that did that remake of ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’ and as such is fun. The title track is, yes, still quite similar to ‘Express Yourself’ but its relentless, four-to-the-floor pounding positivinanity also apes the best Xenomania Girls Aloud with touches of the stellar-scale leather jacketed robo-heft of Justice, but only ever enough so you could still play it as background music over 60-Minute Makeover. It’s fine, but it’s just not big enough, not hard enough, not mad enough for what the preamble’s led you to expect. I want a song that’s as bonkers as a dress made of meat, that shreds my ears like the revving of a motorbike with a woman’s head.

But should we be surprised that it sounds a bit tame, a bit half-arsed? She just keeps shoving her protuberant prosthetic horns into a huge category error. We shouldn’t be comparing her to Bowie; we should be comparing her to Black Eyed Peas, because the Haus Of Gaga is a big money-making media domination machine, one cog of which is hammered from serviceable music. Or to put it a kinder way, she’s a performance artist by nature, and the songs make much more sense live, melded with image and dance so that weak themes and disparate sounds can be bolstered and soldered together with smoke and mirrors. The music COULD be better, but it in a way, it doesn’t need to be. Equally, though, there’s no reason that someone with her trumpeted influences, her need to ‘outrage’, her amazing voice and the massive resources she now has at her disposal not to make this album amazing just for the hell of it, and that’s what’s a disappointment. There’s no quality control here. These songs should ALL be as good as ‘Paparazzi’. Or better.

There are moments of parma: even if it was total horseshit I would find some way to like a song called ‘Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)’, but fortunately if it’s not a meat dress, this is a least a shoe hat of a song. It’s a sort of glam metal sci-fi rom pop trance… mess with a chorus Pat Benatar would blast her hairspray in joy at. ‘Americano’ — something to do with immigration laws — is as completely, relentlessly revolving-bow-tie ridiculous in its fancy-dress appropriation of Latin American musical themes as the Macarena or Sash’s ‘Ecuador!’, or indeed, Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’, or Gaga’s own ‘Alejandro’. It’s a Mexican chain restaurant of a song, and you better believe people are going to be troughing these burritos.

‘Government Hooker’ opens with a soprano trill of ‘Gaga-aa-aaaaaa” and then an intense Crystal Castles-esque bleep and buzzzzz-crunch before romping into pure hen-night stripper material, camp and empty and dressed up in a bikini made out of a Senate flag. Like ‘Poker Face’ it’s intercut with comically deadpan male vocals, intoning “wake up and turn around”, while Gaga comes out with nonsense Bobby Gillespie would give a standing ovation from sheer awe such as “put your hands on me John F. Kennedy… I’m gonna drink my tears tonight”.

But it’s barely enough musical ham for a bikini, really. ‘SchieBe’, the first thing to be released months back is much better, filthy and cheap with that bigfishsmallfish “pow pow pow  ppppp-pow” hard house synth and the chanted German. As long as you can ignore the shampoo-advert go-girl feminism (“When I’m on a mission I rebuke my condition/If you’re a strong female you don’t need permission”) it’s probably the album’s most satisfying moment, along with ‘Bloody Mary’ — slow and dark and Italo-disco, like motor oil pooling slowly over the dancefloor.

That dirty, dirty synth breakdown in ‘Judas’ is what the whole thing should sound like; what the images look like. The rest of that song is fine, for a ‘Bad Romance’ retread. There’s bits of all these songs that are brilliant, but in the main they’re overworked, have too many different sections, don’t know whether they’re trying to be scary or silly or soaring, don’t, for all her witterings about fame as art and religion, have a coherent theme, and can’t decide whether they’re mainstream or underground or silly or beautiful so just try and be all of them at once and as such end up feeling like… nothing very much. “I could be anything/I could be everything” she says on ‘Government Hooker’ and indeed that’s kind of the problem. Isobel George

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