Saturday 17 March 2018

Albums: Lady Gaga - Born This Way **

Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

"I promise to give you the greatest album of this decade," declares Lady Gaga in another of her typically grandiose, attention-grabbing and, quite frankly, irritating statements.

While it makes a change from anonymous and grey indie bands modestly mumbling about the tedious genesis of their latest magnus opus, Gaga has rather ridiculously hammered home that there's some kind of greater relevance to her work, spouting on about Andy Warhol and other such guff.

There isn't, and while she almost deserves some admiration for getting away with it, Born this Way proves that, while she can certainly play the game, her successful efforts at perfect pop are fleeting and half-baked.

Of course, Lady Gaga is much more than another pop star, but something approaching a cultural monolith, knocking Oprah Winfrey off the top spot in the Forbes annual celebrity 100 list. Her omnipresence and power is almost becoming frightening. Lest we forget, Born this Way is only her second studio album. Her brand is so strong and her early singles so brilliant and instantly defining, she arrived as the fully fledged article, assuming a gravitas and power that no one has achieved since Madonna.

Speaking of Madge, the chorus of the current single and title track Born this Way sounds like a not-too-distant relative of Express Yourself, a blindingly obvious likeness that Gaga claims not to have spotted. It's wrong to think that Gaga is offering up a facsimile of the pop goddess' hits, as just about everything else on Born this Way is big, brash and huge sounding. You can't fault the ambition, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Born this Way sorely lacks belters such as Poker Face, Bad Romance and Let's Dance. There's a painfully weak brace that forms a faltering middle section, namely Bad Kids and Fashion of His Love.

At her occasional best, Gaga's greatest achievement is an effortless-sounding knack of turning repetitive, brain-numbing bubblegum pop into an art form. Judas is a surreal slice of nonsense with histrionic wailing in each chorus, but it's also one of the best things to be found here. Bloody Mary is on similar lines with the messianic chorus, "I'm going to dance, dance, dance/With my hands on my head/Just like Jesus said". The problem is that for all her staged 'weirdness', Gaga is not that eccentric. Calculated? Obviously. Mad? Absolutely not, it's the quiet ones you have to look out for.

Another annoying paradox is how Gaga presents herself as a great American musical institution, hiring E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons on what's essentially a disco pop record, but also stubbornly has a token lash at being a eurotrash queen. She sprinkles some Spanish into the ridiculous Americano and German into the pointless Scheibe. The production is grating, kitchen-sink stuff without the faintest notion of where it wants to go.

The greatest album of this decade? Not by a very long shot, it's not even the best album of this week. Still, it's a lot of trashy fun and will be hard to avoid her cocktail of sex, celebrity, religion and art this summer. It's fun and disposable, so just enjoy the best bits and don't ever, ever believe the hype.

Burn it: Judas; Bloody Mary; Black Jesus + Amen Fashion

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