*Insert The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly‘s theme song*…
As of 2016 alone, many acclaimed and respected musical artists have decided to spread their wings and attempt new musical styles. A few examples are the new albums from Onerepublic, Panic! At The Disco, Young The Giant, and The Avett Brothers. Each of these artists, with varying results, attempted to branch-out and throw off the norm they had previously been labeled to, but none of these cats can hold a candle to the head-turning direction of Lady Gaga’s new track, Joanne. Because the usual pop, flamboyant, and ultra-eccentric diva (and recent Golden Globe winning actress) has turned in her alien costumes for a Stetson Hat and a largely stripped down album. And it’s not just the music that might seem unfamiliar, but even some of Stefani Joanne Germanotta’s perspective on life itself.
I must admit, while Gaga is quite controversial/immoral when it comes to her lyrics and persona, I’ve always respected her knack for writing catchy and unique pop-songs, as well as her similarly talented vocals. But there has been something obvious as of late. While she’s still the same gal, the changes in her personal life, as well as her intriguing new projects (the Sound of Music and her fun collaborations with Tony Bennett) have given away the fact that something new has been a’brewing. So, where exactly does this new style and direction leave us when considering Lady Gaga?
First off, I should clarify this new musical style. While the sound and tone does largely sound reminiscent of old-timey “westerns,” a better definition would be “Americana.” But this isn’t necessarily a new sound for Ms. Gaga (think of a western Americano and You and I concoction), because there are still traces of the pop-star we are familiar with. A few examples are the singles Perfect Illusion, A-YO, and the black sheep of the album (more info later), Diamond Heart and Dancin’ in Circles. But while there are still a handful of familiar sounding pop-tunes, each of them still mold to this Americana infusion Gaga is gunning for. As far as those stripped down western tracks I was referring to, Joanne, John Wayne, Sinner’s Prayer, and Million Reasons will leave you completely flabbergasted as to how different Lady Gaga can sound, while still maintaining a very “Lady Gaga-esque” nature. Within these tracks we hear a lot of guitars and beautifully restrained vocals that truly demonstrate that Gaga isn’t just a one sound wonder. But it should be noted that the final 3 tracks end up sounding a bit distant from the genre previously described (Hey Girl and Come to Mama both sounding rather unique and a bit 1970’s, and Angel Down as a beautiful and heartfelt ballad), but still somehow go rather well with the overall flow of the album.
Secondly, as far as her lyrics are concerned; well, those are still rather mixed. As a heads-up, this review is that of the Clean Album version (contrary to the explicit label – which features 2 harsh words). The reason for this is because I discovered the clean version to be extremely accessible, nearly as easy as the explicit version – so why not? Now, it should be pointed out first off that the album seems to be displaying a different approach in perspective for Ms. Gaga. With her own maturing years, her recent separation from her fiancé, and especially the death of her beloved Aunt Joanne, we see that Lady Gaga has changed (if only a bit) with how she perceives life. Some is good, some is rather great, and of course, some can be quite familiarly immoral. With this new outlook of life of hers, we notice that she has become quite comfortable in her skin, even when she knows there are flaws. What she has done in a sense is look back at her personal history and see that many of her life decisions and characteristics are rather regrettable. The biggest and most difficult areas she makes is eluding to her recent acknowledgement regarding her sexual abuse she endured at a younger age. While not always very explicit, we do see that she seems to be fighting it within when she makes poor life decisions in Sinners Prayer (a song that features 3 H words) and Diamond Heart (a song that seems to take place in her previous line of work, a strip club). These are difficult songs to hear, and while they don’t necessarily apologize for her actions, they still seem to be sorrowful songs as to how she got to such difficult places. But out of these difficult songs, the most heinous is Dancin’ in Circles; which is an unredeemable song (except for its unfortunately catchy melody/vocals) that vulgarly refers to masturbation and uses the word “Funk” in place of a nasty word.
But this new perspective of hers seems to come across in her priorities of life. Rather than just being vulgar and controversial, she seems to want to make the world around her better (not necessarily something she’s never attempted before). It seems the crux of this viewpoint is through the passing of her Aunt Joanne. With this difficult loss, it seems that eternity and mortality have shaken her, and she wants something grander in life. This transcends to how she views her struggling/unhealthy relationships in songs as the beautiful and chilling Million Reasons and the ear-pleasing Perfected Illusion. It is seen in how she views the feud driven world of celebrities (*ahem*…Katy Perry and Taylor Swift), where she and the immensely talented Florence Welch question in Hey Girl why ladies ought to compete when they can have each other’s back instead (some have questioned if some of the lyrics can be taken as lesbian, but that seems to be an unnecessary stretch)? This is seen especially in the cultural-observed tracks of Angel Down (my favorite), where she sees that the world just needs people to stand up and fix the chaos. And in Come to Mama, where she asks why people can’t just get along? While most of it is good natured, there are times when it seems to ask people to drop their convictions, which as we know can’t always be done. Finally, it should be noted that there are a few (questionable) songs that have little to do with the themes throughout. One is John Wayne, a song where Gaga is ultimately looking for an (overly) rambunctious cowboy as a companion, and A-YO (a rather catchy song against critics) where several smoking and even suggestive references are made.
The idea of “Godly sorrow” in 2 Corinthians 7:8-13 seems to be knocking on the door in Gaga’s recent release. While we oughtn’t jump the gun and call her album wholly good, it is still refreshing to know that the things we face and the difficulties we endure can make our viewpoint much more wholesome. As I’ve said previously, this album still contains a number of defects (especially Dancin’ in Circles). But what is found herein is a near perfect and admirable display of creative and evolutionary art, as well as the hope that Lady Gaga might let Joanne’s influence lead her to more positivity in her musical career.
7/10 (6/10 for content, 9/10 for quality)