RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
Lady Gaga’s Born This Way can be looked at in two different ways: Either as a second chapter, or as a third. Where The Fame Monster was announced as a companion piece to her debut, The Fame, I saw it as a stand-alone album, with enough strength on its own not to rely on a predecessor. Now with her third full-length CD (yeah, third) we see the music phenomenon dabbling with her formula … but not without encountering a few bumps.
As Gaga has blitzed herself into the stratosphere of stardom, she’s finding her role as a self-help guru for the disenfranchised — “the freaks,” as she’s called herself and her “little monster” fans. The plan has worked. And while her first releases were abstract perspectives on celebrity, love and partying, here she’s direct in her message not only to her fans, but to the world. She’s on a mission to change prejudices and discrimination and she’ll do it one media onslaught at a time.
Where here sound has been straightforward dance music, Gaga has begun venturing into new territory. With touches of rock and blues, she’s resisting pigeonholing as a club diva. Gaga shows such growth in “You and I” and “Electric Chapel.” The subtlety of electric guitar punctuates the still dance-y edge of “Chapel,” but “You and I” is solid bluesy despite its Mutt Lange tendencies. That signature background chorus of Lange, mostly heard in his Def Leppard tracks, detracts from the soul of the song, but plays with its gravitas.
With the buzz of her pre-release singles — “Judas” and the title track — Gaga might have known that throwing in a few obvious hits she could get away with some textures she hasn’t pursued before. “Government Hooker” delves in darker territory, but it’s also off-putting, though as it unfolds, we hear her voice in a political stance. The song is not her greatest, but the
girl obsessed with fame is developing into a woman with eyes opening into substance.
Even with its techno-sheen, Gaga does something lovely with “Bloody Mary.” Co-written with DJ White Shadow (as are several tracks on the CD), she shows restraint with visually intense lyrics minus a turbo-charged beat. Words like We are not just art for Michelangelo / To carve he can’t rewrite the agro / Of my furied heart are degrees above what other popsters are doing and refreshing to see her developing this way.
Lots of Gaga’s appeal is in her hooks and the ease of her repetitive chants. They get stuck in your head and perhaps that’s been her plan all along. Some songs still have it (“Judas” most famously), but maybe she’s moving beyond such tricks.
While she generally succeeds lyrically and musically, she does misstep on occasion. She goes Latin again with “Americano,” but not with the sophistication demonstrated on “Alejandro.” The fast beat sounds like a throbbing headache and the chorus is too abrasive to embrace. “Heavy Metal Lover” has an earworm accompaniment, but the song mostly hangs with a 3 a.m. club beat that just drones on and on.
Gaga also gets too simple sometimes, which has its pros and cons, especially in her more empowering songs. “The Queen”(from the 22-track deluxe edition) has anthemic lyrics such as I can be the queen you need me to be / This is my chance to be the dance/ I’ve dreamed it’s happening and the beat works, but the structure lacks excitement. Even the guitar touches can’t save it. The song is really an echo of Gaga’s more popular “Edge of Glory,” another simple song, but one that works much better, even if it does recall an ‘80s confidence-inducing power track complete with, of all things, a saxophone solo by Clarence Clemons.
Gaga likely has a few more hits to come from this CD. “Bad Kids” and “Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)” stand out as enjoyable treats that could score on the charts, but add little to the album’s overall package.
Artistically, she falls short of Monster, but this album is more a gateway to potentially better things. Born This Way may not be easy to swallow immediately, but time should be spent with it to explore some of its hidden parts — good and bad.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 27, 2011.