Lady Gaga: Born This Way Review Time!

The Fluffster has managed to obtain listenage to most of the Gaga’s new album, which has not officially dropped yet.  (Yes, the manner in which this was obtained was related to a certain unnamed social game.)  While anybody who plays this game– and its players are legion– has access to the album now, I’ve yet to see a review of it, so I’m here to fill that void in the universe.  I have no idea whether the tracks have been presented in order, but here is the lowdown, song by song.

The opening track is the amusingly titled Government Hooker, which has a heavily industrial sound that oddly reminded me of Nine Inch Nails.  (It was originally called Hooker on a Church Corner; I am not sure which appellation I prefer, since the song’s message of exploitation could apply to either institution.)  Though this song was chosen to lead the presentation I listened to, I felt it was the weakest of the bunch musically in spite of its operatic opening (which felt like overcompensation for the rest of the song),though not necessarily lyrically.  I’m not a fan of mixes which distort the natural rhythms of the song, and this one just feels overproduced.  Mixes which stutter and sound like a skipping, stuck CD do not warm my fluffy heart.

Next up is Americano, which both revisits the Latin-flavored territory of Alejandro and ups the ante, becoming an all-out, frenetic mariachi fiesta.  Production is also a bit heavy on this number, but not so glaringly as on the first track; it’s slick rather than messy, and the end result is pure fun.  Thematically, it’s a sober reflection on the right to love (and marry) whom we choose whether that person happens to be of the opposite sex or not, but it’s set to such an infectious beat that it never comes off as preachy (even when she’s denouncing what mainstream religions have to say on the subject).

Scheisse literally translates from German as “excrement” or the less polite term for it, and it’s at first nearly incomprehensible, since, as the song says, “I don’t speak German but I wish I could.”  Once I’d Googled the meaning, it made a little more sense.  This tune is, of course, Euro-influenced and club-ready, and its tagline, “If you’re a strong female, you don’t need permission,” is destined to become a t-shirt slogan.  I didn’t Google what the rest of the parts in German mean and don’t know if they affect the rest of the song, but the English parts slam against the walls of the box into which women have been placed by a male-dominated society.  And you can dance to it!

Bad Kids is a gleeful, bass-thumping anthem to embracing your inner jerk/twit/nerd,  and seems a valentine to the Little Monsters: “Don’t be insecure if your heart is pure/You’re still good to me if you’re a bad kid,”  sayeth Gaga, who makes being that “bad kid” seem a little less disheartening.  Have you been labeled degenerate or absurd? OWN it!  Be who you are even if it pisses off The Man!  WHOOT!!  This track was one of my favorites– I love a pretty bass line, and must try this one in my car.

You and I is that rarity, a slowish Gaga song.  For some reason she seems to be channeling Sheryl Crow here (handclaps, steel guitar), though that’s not necessarily a bad thing– the girl is showing some range.  This tune feels like it comes less from Lady Gaga, more from Stefani Germanotta– I could definitely see her wearing plain old jeans and a t-shirt with those red high heels she speaks of  to sing this, and from Gaga, what could be more shocking?  There’s almost a country feel to the song, but it still rocks (that is a quick justification, as in Fluffy’s world Country is A Very Bad Thing).

Everyone has heard Judas already, but the album version is slightly different from the single– notably in that a nice hook in the chorus is absent in the radio mix, and you miss it terribly once you’ve heard it.  This one is about taking revenge on a betrayer, while still having feelings for him, and it’s bombastic in the same way Madonna’s Like a Prayer was over twenty years ago, though it substitutes a driving dance-beat break for the gospel choir and is considerably bleaker in tone.  Without the religious imagery, Like a Prayer was just a sweet love song, and Judas is anything but.  She’s still in love with Judas, but she wants to bring him down.  (Like a Prayer II– The Revenge? It would seem a natural progression.)

The title track has been rendered here almost unrecognizable from what we have heard already.  For the most part the melody has been stripped away in favor of the stuttering overmixing I don’t like and a curiously generic, sterile hookless beat.  There are moments where the single’s brilliance still pokes out, but this rendition evokes early-90’s video game music.  Remember Sega Genesis?  I didn’t want to remember it while listening to Born This Way, and that’s all I have to say about that.

This brings us to what is probably the album’s best track, Marry the Night.  A rich evocation of the excitement of nightlife, New York, and hooking up, set to the fabulous strains of a rock’n’roll pipe organ, this song is just a relentless treat.  I’m reminded of Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For a Hero or Stevie Nicks’ Stand Back musically– well, minus the pipe organ, of course.  It’s actually better than either, which from me is saying something, since I’m an Eighties child. It’s so wonderfully retro, yet stands squarely on its own feet.  Did I mention the rockin’ pipe organ???

Electric Chapel is a standout track as well, with a delightfully catchy verse and raspy guitar.  It has an Eighties feel too, and employs bells rather than pipe organ to convey the sense of Chapel-ness, and it’s so much fun!  I keep being reminded of other songs while listening to this album (in this case, Howard Jones’ The Prisoner) but somehow it is never derivativeit only evokes, while being purely its own animal.

The final track in the set I’ve heard, Fashion of his Love, is a bit of pretty, glossy fluff, also Eighties-flavored, with hints of Madonna’s CherishLyrically, it’s closer to Dress You Up, but includes an homage to late designer Alexander McQueen, who crafted many of Gaga’s more memorable ensembles, and it’s every bit as lovely as one of his creations.

Overall, Born This Way is a sort of throwback– a cohesive album rather than a set of radio-friendly tracks bonded with filler.  There is a unifying imagery within the lyrics and, despite a few musical missteps– due to production rather than Gaga herself– it gels together quite well.  This aside, any of these tracks could work as singles (even Government Hooker– I’ve heard even more annoying things on the radio)And that is the particular strength of this album– I want to download the whole thing now, rather than just the singles.  


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