Last week Lady Gaga's second full-length hit stores. The Madonna comparisons abound, and one fits perfectly here -- In 1992, Madonna's juggernaut of Erotica and the SEX book was one of many images she wore - but when it didn't quite spark things up the way she [probably] planned, she put her clothes back on, and continued on her path - and kept making great music afterwards anyhow.
"Born This Way" is Lady Gaga's Erotica - only she hasn't remembered she should put her clothes on every now and then. Where her debut was simple light hearted dance pop with production flourishes of the current day, Born This Way is all over the place.
From the "sounded better when it was called 'Express Yourself'" groove of the title track to the cluttered rev-up-and-slow-down synth washes of "Judas" on this disc Gaga is trying way too hard to inject over-exaggerated image into the music. Each song is stuffed to the brim with disparate musical styles to the point they can be distracting to listen to.
Is it an 80's power ballad? Is it a techno dance floor stomper? These questions plague nearly every track on the album. She occasionally manages to make the style soup mix well - see "Government Hooker" which cribs from the Garbage playbook of angry-grrl stomp, but stays in homage territory and isn't a rip-off. "Judas" is also a tad too obvious in its attempt to shock, and so is hardly shocking at all. "Americano" is a love it or hate it affair, with vaguely Godfather-esque strings mixed in with the typical Gaga bass thuds. Weird, but it gallops along pleasantly enough, and dials back the over-stuffed feel most of the album up to that point has.
There are moments where she taps into a certain sound, feeling, whatever you want to call it, that are simple, catchy, and sound more like a SONG than a jumble. The opening lines of "Marry The Night" come to mind - simple chimes, a vocal, and pleasant to the ears. The thump comes in soon enough and overtakes it, but it's still one of the brighter spots. "Bloody Mary" slinks along with a sultry slowed-down James Bond-ish groove - and here you have to admire her chutzpah (or roll your eyes at her narcissism) via her blending in vaguely monastery-chant sounding "Gaga" behind the music as she sings. (Sample it here and see what you think)
Lyrically, this album is also packed with tunes so silly they defy description ("Hair" among them... "I'll live as free as my hair"...umm, really?). And the eyebrows will surely arch a bit at "Heavy Metal Lover" - a track that owes nothing to heavy metal at all - and yet, this track has a warmth and easygoing mid-tempo pulse that gets you nodding your head - so it stands above the rest. The closer "The Edge of Glory" is all 80's power ballad thrown in a blender with the aforementioned icy synths - it's cheesy, yes, but it's GOOD cheesy.
Bottom line, Lady Gaga shows for a few fleeting moments on this album that she and her producers know how to craft catchy pop songs that ARE fun to listen to. If she takes time to remember how to focus on that and back-burner the image-injection barrage, her 3rd album could be amazing from start to finish. Time will tell if she delivers or not.