Edge of glory

_sm_Judas_cover_v5-RGBLady Gaga dabbles with new sounds on the album ‘Born This Way’

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

PAWS THEN PLAY | Even with some growing pains, Lady Gaga expands her artistic vision into some nice maturity in ‘Born This Way.’

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.

—  Kevin Thomas

Changed women

Cyndi and Anne take different directions on latest releases

Cyndi Lauper and Anne McCue
WHO’S THAT GIRL? | Venturing into different genres, Lauper, above, and McCue change their music game by trying on new sounds.

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

3 out of 5 stars
Broken Promise Land
Anne McCue
Flying Machine Records

With four albums under her belt, Anne McCue takes a musical turn on her fifth, Broken Promise Land. She veers from her usual acoustic fare and plugs her guitar in to satisfying effect. With some high pedigreed musicians backing her up, Promise Land works — except that she drowns out her vocals so much.

McCue’s step is a valiant effort, but the album plays as if it’s wearing a veil. A muddled production takes away the drive and her vocals are reduced to unintentional mumbling. Either that or I got a bad copy. Much is lost in the album’s final production value that she, um, also produced.

Beyond that, it isn’t half bad. Promise Land opens with the strong “Don’t Go To Texas (Without Me),” a vibrant ode to an almost lost lover. This is also the album’s first single and its most commercial. Had she put the closing song, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaw.” next to “Texas,” the album would make more a declarative impression of her rocker chick ways. Instead, we downshift into the slower “Ol’ Black Sky.”

McCue has a nice grip on the dreamy rocker song ala The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” She’s never as epic but McCue maintains a magical latch to keep an audience alongside her. Her voice, which is notoriously thin on this album, is suitable for this and similar songs “Motorcycle Dream,” and “The Old Man’s Talkin’.” The trio of songs is seductive and lulls the listener into fascinating depths of aural journeys.

Her guitar growls on “Lonesome Child” and follows a similar galloping gait in “Cruisin’ Paradise (Tenerife)” and the title track. However, she almost falls victim to it. McCue almost wants too much to break away from her usual sound, that her guitar playing takes center stage and begs the question: Who is the star of this album, Anne McCue or her guitar playing?

McCue never lashes out vocally until “Outlaw” when she had plenty of opportunity in the nine songs prior. She felt restrained and almost afraid to have at it vocally. Perhaps a part of her thinks she’s not ready to be the next Joan Osborne or Sheryl Crow.

But if Broken Promise Land is any sign, then she’s at least not far off.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Memphis Blues
Cyndi Lauper
Mercer Street Records

Two things are absolutely true when you put Memphis Blues on. First, if you don’t like blues music, you won’t like this one. Second, if you’re a Cyndi Lauper devotee, you may wonder what she’s up to.

Calling this the album she’s always wanted to record, Lauper heads to the south for some blues on her 11th CD. Boiled down, this is a cover album, but consider it a celebration of the genre. Lauper may not be vocally adept for this style, but her appreciation shows in both her conviction of delivery and some star-studded help from the likes of Allen Toussaint, Jonny Lang and B.B. King.

Lauper’s signature voice is a little too quirky for these blues bits as in the bawdy “Just Your Fool”or “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” She doesn’t have that soulful quality or throaty longing in most blues, but her efforts are respectable. Lauper is giving herself all to this style and the good intentions don’t go unnoticed.

In fact, the album plays more like Lauper the actress singing rather than the pop star. Her performance is just that instead of an emotional delivery. The artist isn’t saying much here that would further her credibility, but she has fun here like she’s introducing listeners to some old friends of hers.

Her raspiness though is ideal for the slower tracks. “Down So Low” reflects that bluesy downtrodden tone while “Romance in the Dark” makes the most of her nasally vibrato which can be an acquired taste. But here, she’s less gymnastic with her vocals. She gives in to the song and almost lets it take her where she needs to go.

The music itself is lush. Blues may play better with some grit, but Lauper and Scott Bomar have produced some intricate layers of horns, drums and guitars that are as comfortable as any Serta mattress. Lang’s and Toussaint’s appearances are most prominent but when Lang chimes in on “How Blue Can You Get?,” all is just right with the world.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice