|Years active:||Genres:||Related artists:|
|2005 -||Pop, Dance, Singer/Songwriter||n/a|
When Lady Gaga first appeared in the late 2000s, I thought she would be a flash in the pan. Her sound was so trendy it’s like it was fated to go out of date in record speed and her quirky vocal hooks came across like gimmicks that would get old just as fast. I quickly filed her down as someone we wouldn’t hear again from anytime soon, and scoffed at the people who were lauding her as future of pop as she made waves in record speed. My 2008 self was, of course, proven wrong repeatedly and without mercy in the years to come as Gaga started shaping the pop scene into her own playtoy and went on a trajectory that her early hits in no way signalled.
Stefani Germanotta is a true scholar of pop history and when she abandoned the cabaret rock sound of her dive bar band and invented the persona of Lady Gaga, she put her education to good use. The early Gaga years were just as much about her golden ear for melody (which she writes herself despite the usual naysayers, even when she's always valued indepth collaboration with her producers) as it was about the extravaganza around it: the over-the-top fashion choices, the provocative interviews, the dramatic music performances and the elaborate music videos which in no time at all went from simple settings to extended short films only vaguely in service of the songs. It all got people to talk, naturally - and most importantly it got people to talk about her. Gaga knew the art of indirect promotion and she rode into the scene like she was a global superstar already. With that bravado it was a self-fulfilling prophecy and for every audacious public act that she shocked the press with, she released another hit single that stayed on the radio airwaves for months.
Those early tricks were a double-edged sword as even now, so long after those heydays and after Gaga herself left them behind completely, they've almost completely overshadowed her strength as a songwriter. Her hit singles were big not because of the extracurricular activities or because of any gimmicks, but because of her rock-solid songwriting. Gaga dresses her songs (mostly) in contemporary pop outfits but scratch underneath that surface and there's a very unique personality that powers those songs. Her musical inspirations aren't just past pop greats but also old-school jazz, musical theatre and most notably 80s heavy metal, and all those are thrown together in a blender without mercy or caution to create the core of her idiosyncratic sound. Her lyrics, similarly, could only ever be hers: they're whimsical in how she mixes in both surreal and dramatic with a genuine honestness and personal directness, and so you end up with chaotic word jungles that suddenly burst open to reveal a brutal naked vulnerability amongst all the strange turns of phrase and inside references. It's that combination of her very abundant personality and her maelstrom of influences which make her my pick of the pack out of the late-2000s big pop stars. Her music is consistent in how her own artistry comes through it, and that it so often is in the form of a danceable beat that gets even my bones shaking in rhythm is an exciting bonus.
Somewhat ironically Gaga's initial imperial years were brought to an end by her attempts to match the fame she had built around herself and which she had always sung about with tragiromantic tones, and following her crash and burn she's since stretched her wings wider across the world of entertainment. At the time of writing this her musical career is in a flux with an unclear question mark in place of what she could do next; in the meantime she's become a reasonably respected actor and has gained a whole different kind of following through her sidetreks to the world of old school Hollywood jazz that she so adores (and to be clear, this page will not feature her albums with Tony Bennett or any other jazz releases she might release in the future on her tod - I have my boundaries). But even with the relatively small discography so far, she's already made her mark: her sound and style left ripples that could be seen for years to come in pop music, rewriting rulebook chapters and inspiring imitators along with the best of them. She's left a mark in the pop culture history that she's so adept with, and everything else she's done on top of it is a fascinating continuation of it even when it's not been a perfect bullseye every time.
- 2008: The Fame
- 2009: The Fame Monster
- 2011: Born This Way
- 2013: ARTPOP
- 2016: Joanne
- 2020: Chromatica
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2008||5||"Just Dance", "Paparazzi", "Poker Face"|
1) Just Dance (feat. Colby O'Donis); 2) LoveGame; 3) Paparazzi; 4) Poker Face; 5) I Like It Rough; 6) Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say); 7) Starstruck (feat. Space Cowboy & Flo Rida); 8) Beautiful, Dirty, Rich; 9) The Fame; 10) Money Honey; 11) Boys Boys Boys; 12) Paper Gangsta; 13) Brown Eyes; 14) Summerboy; Bonus tracks: 15) Disco Heaven; 16) Again Again
The humble beginnings. A late-00s pop record, feat. one Lady Gaga.
I never actually listened to The Fame until way after Gaga had established herself as a particularly strong and unique creative force, and so when I finally got around to it, it was with expectations of hearing hints of her future adventures across its deep cuts. Turns out, the biggest surprise with The Fame is just how absent it is of all that.
A lot of it has to do with how little The Fame sounds like Gaga herself. On later albums she’d pick and choose her collaborators and producers and instruct them to work under her vision, but here the balance feels like the other way around and the producers have much more of an imprint to the songs - most recognisably RedOne who'd effectively codify his own signature sound through this album much more than Gaga established her own. I don't know if it's because as a new artist she either didn't have the courage or simply wasn't able to take a tighter control, but The Fame sounds tame as a result. It features Gaga playing the pop game of the time without doing anything to upset its ruleset, and coming from her of all people that play-by-the-books approach is just not all that interesting.
And in all honesty, there isn't much in the way of songs to really shout out about either. It’s clear that Gaga is already solid with her melodies - I can remember at the very least the chorus hook for nearly every song just by looking at their names - but the writing around those hooks is very lightweight. The songs have played all their cards by the time the first chorus has finished and they're only dealing random sets of pairs rather than surprise flushes, and once again that seems to be more tied to just how timid and stuck to its producers' formulas the album is. I don't actually mind the production job as such - I guess 2008 has now breached that point where I can start feeling faint nostalgia about the whole deal - but most of the time it's where all the kick these songs have comes from. Gaga has scattered effective hooks and melodies all over the place but they lack the detail of her later efforts and sometimes are almost desperate to stick: that's where all the everpresent idiosyncratic vocal hooks come into play, the mum-mum-mum-mahs, the do-duh-do-donts, the producer tag shoutouts and the word salad rambles like opening sloganeering of "Starstruck". I hate to use this word but lot of the songs feel downright basic in composition and lyrics and while they may satisfy the primal urge to tap your foot to the rhythm, there’s little beyond the surface. Outside the singles there’s very few songs within the selection that really grab a hold: I quite like the cheesiness of "Boys, Boys, Boys" and it has one of the more genuinely effective choruses of the bunch, and "Starstruck" has a perky robo-groove and a flow that stands out, but even those come with some caveats.
But of course there’s then the singles, which stand out massively from the rest of the album; that is, apart from "LoveGame" which gives us the infamous disco stick lyric but otherwise just fades in with the rest of the album cuts. But "Just Dance", "Poker Face" and "Paparazzi" are all miles above anything else on the record, and the latter two are the few visible links to where Gaga would head next. The dramatic "Paparazzi" has the same hallmarks of vague concepts interpreted in an over-the-top fashion that would drive Gaga for much of her career, and it's more intricate in its composition than the rest of The Fame. Meanwhile "Poker Face" not just carries the album's by-and-far best chorus, but its oddball middle-eight "rap" is an iconic Gaga moment where she makes something great out of an idea that would fall apart on anyone else’s hands. You can hear Gaga's own voice in these two songs the clearest and not by coincidence, they're also the only cuts on the album that somewhat come eye-to-eye with anything else she's done, "Paparazzi" in particular. And if Gaga is operating in the same comfort zone as anyone else in pop in the late 00s, then "Just Dance" is where she runs for the throne in that very playing field. It doesn't sound much different to other hit songs from that period, but there's a reason why it has stuck around (and it definitely isn't the Colby O'Donis feature, who Wikipedia still lists as being most famous for his brief footnote appearance on this album). It’s not a triumph of originality, but it’s a Very Good Pop Song that doesn’t need anything more to it to strike. I do also enjoy the oft-forgotten fifth single "Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)" that distills the more saccharine tracts of the album (mostly in the Martin Kierszenbaum production jobs) into a little sunshine ditty that's light as a feather but blissfully sweet. The singsongy blip-blip melody is a simple little thing that works a lot more than it probably should.
My copy of the album also comes with the bonus tracks "Again Again" and "Disco Heaven" and, amusingly enough, they're better than a lot of the songs that made it onto the record proper and probably should have swapped placed with. "Disco Heaven" is exactly the kind tribute to its namesake vibe that its name implies and possibly thanks to that, its snappier groove comes across more playful and joyous than anything else on the disc. "Again Again" on the other hand is the first real dip into the classic rock power ballads that's now become a Gaga staple, which "Brown Eyes" on the main album already hinted at. But “Brown Eyes” really shows the producer's impact is on the record, with Rob Fusari's awkwardly out-jutting slick production that would sound more at home on a club floor-filler than a piano ballad. "Again Again" on the other hand has a live band treatment closer to the genre it’s in musical tribute to and quelle surprise, it works so much better. They're not enough to really affect my opinion of the album as such, but who'd have thought some random bonus tracks would actually make more of an effort than some of the stuff that ended up on the album itself?
Although, it's not really a lack of effort that's bringing The Fame down. It's a big budget pop record with a hungry lead star backed by people on top of the latest trends and it's extremely clear that a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into Gaga getting a proper blast off. But I’ve had to revise that previous sentence several times to word it in a way that didn't imply Gaga was just along for the ride, and that's emblematic of my issues with the album - it doesn't sound like a Gaga album and if it wasn't for her name attached to this (and how this comes packed with The Fame Monster in many regions), I'm comfortable saying I never would have spent as much time with it as I have done. It's a fine, serviceable album with a few good hits and a lot of decent if a little filler-ish deep cuts, but with no real identity of its own and Gaga feels like a guest on her own album, like it’s coincidental her name is on the cover rather than someone else’s. And as she’s made her move forward, she’s naturally left The Fame behind. This was a genuinely huge album when it came out, but it’s weird to consider that now, given how in the grand scheme of things it acts as little more than a brief, expendable prologue for its artist.
Physically: My copy is the 2-CD reissue which binds together The Fame and The Fame Monster, housed in a standard 2-CD jewel case. I quite like how it's done: the booklet can be flipped to represent which ever album you prefer, with the original booklets from both releases kept in full for their respective halves. For The Fame we have the full set of lyrics and some beauty shots.
THE FAME MONSTER
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2009||8||"Bad Romance", "Dance in the Dark", "Telephone"|
1) Bad Romance; 2) Alejandro; 3) Monster; 4) Speechless; 5) Dance in the Dark; 6) Telephone (feat. Beyoncé); 7) So Happy I Could Die; 8) Teeth
A reissue bonus disc so strong it broke free and became its own era. This is where Gaga's journey really starts.
The Fame Monster was originally intended to be - and in some regions packaged as - just a deluxe re-release bonus disc for The Fame, arriving just a little over a year after its parent album, as was the trend in the late 00s music industry. But think about that, really: this was written and recorded during a really short time period (especially considering how much the promotional circuit for The Fame stretched after its success) and it was originally intended just as some token extras to pursue people to buy the album again. But something massive had happened with Lady Gaga within that year and The Fame Monster is far beyond being just an extension of its parent album and in fact, acts more as a re-establishment of who Gaga was. You could consider The Fame Monster as the real debut album by Lady Gaga as we know her now - and the fact that it’s long since broken away from its associations with The Fame and rebranded itself as an independent album further fuels that.
We can probably thank "Bad Romance" for that, which turned out to be the best possible song to relaunch yourself with. The RedOne production style familiar from The Fame is there bridge the gap, but everything else on "Bad Romance" is far more fearless and ambitious than anything available on the debut, and that applies most of all to Gaga herself. She’s gunning down the song with drama and surreality as she switches between voices, tones and languages on the fly, culminating in the middle eight and final chorus where she moves from obsessed to pleading as she belts out the words until they melt together. Bowie had always been her primary inspiration (check out that lightning facepaint all over The Fame) and while musically the two stars are light years apart, her performance here absolutely channels Bowie in its versatility and its mix of humanity and strangeness. She is the monster and “Bad Romance” is where she breaks out of her cage - and it’s a legitimate anthem as a piece of music as well. It’s a thundering pop song that posits itself on top of the world and has every right to be there, and it’s not just Gaga’s signature song but also a wake-up call to everyone who dismissed her after The Fame - a notification that she’s now taking control of where she’s heading.
The Fame Monster is Gaga's re-invention as a creative force after the tameness of The Fame and the thing is, "Bad Romance" isn't even the best thing on it. The most impressive, bombastic event? Absolutely, without a doubt. But she tops it at least twice afterwards, with "Dance in the Dark" and "Telephone". "Dance in the Dark" was never released as a single but it's hard to believe that was the case, given how absolutely essential to the Lady Gaga experience it sounds and how huge it acts - uniting so many of her common threads within one roof in a way that makes it a cornerstone in her discography. It updates and reinterprets the themes of "Just Dance" from The Fame - dance to distract yourself from your existential crisis, and set it a tightly-wound heavy-hitting beat - but it brings out those darker undertones more obviously to the surface and serves them with more grit and edge in the production and with some brilliant melodic hooks. It is, beyond anything, the superlative secret gem of The Fame Monster. Meanwhile "Telephone" is simply a straight-up banger, relentlessly and ruthlessly riding its dancefloor onslaught of a beat, vocal manipulation hooks and frighteningly effective chorus until it leaves you breathless. Beyoncé features but never overshadows, and unlike many big name star collaborations there's some actual chemistry to their vocal interplay, instead of simply riding on the novelty of celebrity billing. If "Bad Romance" is the reinvention and "Dance in the Dark" is the soul of Gaga's new flair, then "Telephone" is her showing that she can still write a straight-up club jam and make it sound as vital as anything else. And I say "at least twice" because I'm also tempted to include "Alejandro" in that top billing, which reinterprets the tropical twangs of 90s europop in Gaga’s own language, and pulls off a surreal kind of sensuality and lushness while its drums shuffle in almost military-like precision.
The other half of The Fame Monster doesn't bring the party down but it's clear they're playing second fiddle to their forerunners, though I say that with zero derision in mind. In particular, I really enjoy "So Happy I Could Die" and its only sin is how it feels a little safe and tame amidst everything else - it's by and far the most 'normal' song on the record and especially within the second half, though as a song alone it's still charming to the point that other pop musicians would fight to death for to have as a single, let alone a deep cut on their deluxe bonus disc. "Monster" meanwhile is the most obvious The Fame carryover, though still miles beyond the majority of the songs on that album, and while I really do dig its vocal effects and the back-and-forth between Gaga and the backing vocals, it's the sort of thing you would expect from a bonus track.
Meanwhile the closers of the two halves represent the furthest Gaga stretches herself stylistically on The Fame Monster, but it might just be a little too far. “Speechless” isn't actually too surprising - it's a big lighters-in-the-air classic rock anthem that she loves to indulge in, with big revving guitars around her piano and bombastic power ballad choruses that would have been right at home in a stadium in the 1980s. It's fine, but the problem with this particular strain of Gaga is that the she's seemingly able to only write one type of song within this style frame and once you've heard the best of its like (i.e. "Yoü and I" off Born This Way), the rest feel like demos on the way. At five minutes, "Speechless" also runs out of things to say well before it ends and through and through, it's the only real dip on the record. That's also partly because I genuinely have no idea what I think of "Teeth". It's a bizarre, ominously foreboding tribal stomp that's carried by a chant loop that cuts abruptly in a way that sounds downright unnerving, and it's unlike anything else in Gaga’s discography. It's a baffling song, and I absolutely appreciate its inclusion in the sense that if you wanted to show there's more to Gaga than "Poker Face" then this definitely does that, and it takes a certain amount of guts to finish a run of dance pop songs with it. But I'm not sure I actually like it as much as I respect it, as even though it is catchy it's also somewhat aimless. It's like a scare jump - surprising and memorable in its shock value, but doesn't leave a lasting impression beyond that initial surprise. I still forget how it goes after its intro.
The 'problem' with treating The Fame Monster as its own independent beast is how, despite its new ambitions, it does still feel like an assortment of songs rather than a specific entity - experiments for Gaga to carve her own path, under the veil of its parent album. Even that wouldn't necessarily be as noticeable if it wasn't for its length, which is both The Fame Monster's curse and blessing. While it has some chinks in its armour it's still an exhilarating ride of one-ups and twists one after another, but in the small company it keeps, each time it stumbles it has all the more impact. Not to besmirch it too much - The Fame Monster is a great condensed entryway into the Gagaverse and everything she would go on to do has a line leading up to it from somewhere within these eight songs. Keep in mind that this is strong enough to effectively obliterate The Fame in its wake as Gaga's real beginnings - but maybe if it had been built from the ground up as a full album, we could be talking about a true classic.
Physically: The flipside to the case shared with The Fame. The promo shots are much more abstract / "artsy" now, lyrics are served as thick blocks of text.
BORN THIS WAY
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2011||8||"Scheiße", "Heavy Metal Lover", "The Edge of Glory"|
1) Marry the Night; 2) Born This Way; 3) Government Hooker; 4) Judas; 5) Americano; 6) Hair; 7) Scheiße; 8) Bloody Mary; 9) Bad Kids; 10) Highway Unicorn (Road to Love); 11) Heavy Metal Lover; 12) Electric Chapel; 13) Yoü and I; 14) The Edge of Glory; Bonus track: 15) Born This Way (Jost & Naaf Remix)
Over the top, larger than life, sprawling - iconic.
The success of The Fame Monster gave Lady Gaga the artistic freedom to follow it up however she best wanted, and the stylistic break-out of that album had left people eagerly anticipating what her next move would be. These days it's difficult to convey accurately just how different and fresh The Fame Monster's theatrically explosive and wildly flaying maneuvres sounded in the 2010 pop scene if you weren't there to experience it, and back then The Fame Monster was still technically considered just a deluxe edition bonus disc for The Fame until its runaway success more or less turned it into a runaway era of its own. Yet, I don't think anyone was ready for just how Gaga chose to follow it up; even now, Born This Way is spectacularly one of the strangest albums to occupy mainstream space with such dominance.
The sound of Born This Way itself is a direct follow-up from the high intensity dance pop of The Fame Monster: Redone remains as the main producer and Gaga's second-in-command, with DJ White Shadow making his debut Gaga collaborations in-between. The ideas and aesthetics though - including that unbelievable/bly terrible cover image - are directly indebted to 80s hard rock. Gaga is an old-school heavy metal lover through and through and Born This Way is through and through a hair metal record, with big guitar riffs, crashing drums and a stench of whiskey cutting through the hyper-produced electronic sheen, old-fashion stadium rock theatrics reinterpreted in Gaga’s own language. Born This Way is also everything Gaga made her music out to be, super-sized up and overindulged in. It doubles down on all the eccentricities and quirks that lent The Fame Monster its strength, attempting to bring Gaga's music to the same level of unpredictability and out-thereness that her increasingly bizarre fashion displays had started to reach.
That clash of titanic concepts is what makes Born This Way so overwhelming and uniquely thrilling. The album is at its best when its pushing down the throttle pedal in a neon glow adrenaline haze and throwing together ideas that would take supreme confidence to pull off - which she does. "Judas" stomps through with an erratic pace like an elephant in a china shop that's having a bad trip, "Americano" is a rave-rock-flamenco hybrid that proudly ignores the fact that it shouldn't work, "Bloody Mary" resurrects pop's eternal fascination with a soft reggae lilt and makes it sound hair-raisingly ominous, "Scheiße" finds Gaga speaking nonsense-German over cavernous eurodance synths and a beat so big it hits right in the spine, the unhinged "Government Hooker" goes through moods and tones like it's switching radio channels from one extreme to another. These are songs that happen when no one says "no" to even the most ridiculous idea and everyone fully believes in the power of their underlying force - i.e. Gaga and her charisma that persuades any naysayer, even when she sounds like a woman possessed flicking through incoherent accents and vocal shifts as she sings through most songs in brand new manners and ways from anything before. These are songs that in lesser hands someone would have toned down but that didn't happen, and it's all for the better. They are excessive and manic, and while flamboyant they're almost dark with the bombast used to drown over any demons of self-doubt creeping in through every crack they can. Gaga always sounds like she's at the forefront of a great battle in each song, determined to come out victorious.
Sadly that energy doesn't quite reach the album's title track, even though it's inarguably the most famous song from the entire era. It's easy to view it through a modern viewpoint now and judge it as slightly tone deaf - the "chola and orient descent" didn't sound right in 2011 either - but it's a song that means well, came at the right time when LGBT+ was starting to break into the mainstream more visibly than ever and eventually it deservedly became the anthem of pride and underdog unity that Gaga desired it to be from day one, the (ultimately superfluous) "Express Yourself" controversy nonwithstanding. But despite naming the album, "Born This Way" has always been at odds with the rest of the record. In a album coloured in shades of seedy nightlife and desperation to break free from it, "Born This Way" is all rainbow lights and thin disco beats, with none of the edge or surprise that the rest of the album revels in. It never fit the album comfortably and almost exists outside it as its own entity, and despite being one of Gaga's biggest hits and nailing down her status as the heartfelt ally she sincerely wants to be, its appearance right at the start is almost jarring and in all ways - production, melody, really even the lyrics despite the message - it's throwing weaker punches than most other songs on the album. You can contrast it directly with "The Edge of Glory", another song that's covered in more neon lights than club spotlights and plays its hand brighter than the rest of the record, but also keeping truer to the album's heart. Its nods to the 80s are in line with the rest of the album (including a saxophone solo from Springsteen's right hand man Clarence Clemons) and it retains the emotion and will of what preceded it - it's the one last tearful goodbye to Gaga's grandfather and she sings it with all her abandon as the synths grow taller and louder, scraping skies as the album's ultimate pop anthem. As the closer it's the dawnbreak after the album's seedy nightlife crawl - the hopeful start to a brand new day.
Though its more peculiar moments are what ultimately define Born This Way, as "The Edge of Glory" (and "Born This Way") shows the album is content to simply be a pop record at times as well. Sometimes perhaps a little too earnestly - the theatre kid camp of "Hair" comes to mind - but by and far even at her more controlled Gaga works magic here. The grand epic kickstart of "Marry the Night" which sets the album off with a firework display, revs up from naught to hundred after its beguilingly quiet organ intro and makes the case for the album's strengths immediately. It's exhilirating, life-affirming and triumphant - so basically everything you want a larger than life pop anthem to be. "Bad Kids" goes from stuttering synth stabs and grungy guitars to saccharine bubblegum pirouettes in an instant, and "Heavy Metal Lover" might just be one of Gaga's most essential songs, tucked away unassumingly in the depths of the back half but boasting some of the album's best hooks and production: ironically not leaning towards its titular style despite the rest of the album giving the space for it, its ethereal and crystalline synth-disco sound and that instantly striking half-wordless chorus are among the most powerful moments of pure pop bliss in Gaga's discography.
What mars Born This Way somewhat is that it is ever so slightly overlong, and this is even the case with the standard issue without the (rather common) deluxe edition's bonus tracks weaved into the tracklist - although my Euro-version copy does come additionally equipped with a perfectly adequate remix of "Born This Way" that you forget the moment you stop listening to it. Some of the chaff is easier to identify, namely "Highway Unicorn" and "Electric Chapel" which largely serve to build the album's internal mythos and aesthetic rather than act as independent agents of their own. That isn't strictly speaking a bad thing and not something I would always criticise, but they sound like songs designed for live stage interludes and their hooks and vigour aren't a match for the rest of the record; not to mention "Highway Unicorn" is where the album's loudness war PTSD rears its head the most obviously as its synths and drums reach clipping heights so much it's distracting. And with distractions in mind, when the album does depart from its general ethos it really, really sticks out - "Born This Way" including, but also "Hair" that's all bright highlights and hi-NRG stomping covered in the kind of cheese that's bound to split opinions, and I'm not sure it has a place here. But this was an imperial period for Gaga and even "Hair" starts to charm when its intensity just doesn't let up and it blows off in all cylinders so charismatically you forget what qualms you had with it.
"Yoü and I" is the other main breakaway: it's where Gaga finally nails the classic rock piano ballad that she's been trying to pull off on both her previous albums, and would practically come across as a cosplay pastiche if she wasn't so convincing and giving her all with it, but what's it doing here? Besides maybe peeling off some of those theatrical layers and giving Gaga a brief moment of unarmed humanity as she so honestly both seizes in a kind of music she so obviously loves and reaches out for her man without any smoke and mirrors - "six whole years!", she adlibs with such spur-of-the-moment you can absolutely hear her giggle. Her eventual break-up from the man who inspired it of course now makes the song even more bittersweet, and arguably and very cruelly adds to its power. So even "Yoü and I" works and by the time Gaga's unleashing the final bombastic choruses you've fully bought into it, which both underlines just how much of an imperial period this was for Gaga and just how confusing the album can sometimes be.
It's not an album for everyone. The production is over the top, the lyrics can go from incoherent to cheesy to actually kind of brilliant in a moment's flash ("Love is like a brick / you can build a house or sink a dead body" is probably my favourite Gaga lyric but it also occupies the same song as "if offenced, wear an ear condom next time"), it's self-awarely high on its own pretension and absurdity - and let's face it, Gaga spent so many years spiralling off this that you could consider this the beginning of the end and see it for its warning signs and not for its strengths. Born This Way practically invites you to raise an opinion out of it with it sheer outrageousness, right down from that cover. It is an overreaching mess - but it's also a blast and a one-of-a-kind pop phenomenon. Gaga was a character larger than anything - that was her goal from day one - and with Born This Way she rose to that self-mantled throne. It's a passion project that has everything thrown into it because it had Gaga's worst enemy against it - her own expectations - and it needed to rise into the occasion. It did, with its big verses, bigger choruses, production that still sounds stylish even when it aims for a throwback vibe, the endlessly quotable lines in both content and delivery and, in a nutshell, Gaga's best set of songs. I'm a sucker for an album that dreams big and then grabs hold of that dream, and Born This Way ticks that box so well. If it were more leaner and meaner it might be genuinely legendary, but its shambling kitchen sink attitude is its own kind of iconic and it still stands out as one of the very best pop records of the 2010s.
Physically: Standard jewel case with a lyrics & photo booklet.
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2013||7||"Venus", "G.U.Y.", "ARTPOP"|
1) Aura; 2) Venus; 3) G.U.Y.; 4) Sexxx Dreams; 5) Jewels 'n' Drugs (feat. T.I., Too Short & Twista); 6) Manicure; 7) Do What U Want (feat. R. Kelly); 8) ARTPOP; 9) Swine; 10) Donatella; 11) Fashion!; 12) Mary Jane Holland; 13) Dope; 14) Gypsy; 15) Applause
Excessive, chaotic, high-energy. Gaga battles against an impending popularity comedown by frantically going all over the place, turning her internal battles into off-kilter pop monsters. It's messy, but she knows it.
Gaga loved fame. Her first two albums were dedicated to it and to the tragi-romantic notion of how too much fame can affect a person. Appropriately, she gained her own fame through it and ironically, when her imperial phase had hit its peak and she needed to keep on top of her own fame, she felt the effects too. But rather than crumble under pressure or push herself away from it, Gaga plunged herself right into it. Some artists end up recording 'fame hangover' albums where their music takes a sudden turn following exposure to something they couldn't deal with, but ARTPOP is instead the heavy binge right before that comedown; the musical equivalent of someone diving right into their addiction with full disregard to its danger. If Gaga was addicted to her own perception of her status in the pop culture world, this was her reckless junkie phase.
While Gaga was always explosive on stage, it's worth watching some of her live performances from around this tour. They're the show of a woman outright possessed on stage, pushing herself to her limits and often reducing her vocal range to a guttural scream over a series of songs that each come out more outrageous than the last, the breakdowns becoming more intense as the tour continued on. Gaga has later come clean on just how much of a bad mental state she was in at the time: she was feeling vulnerable as she was retrospectively dealing with her abused past and second-guessing her own moves all the time, which fed into a snowball of desperate measures to prove her stature. This is the era where her infamous clothing got even crazier, where she talked a great deal about a companion app to the album that'd revolutionise how music is experienced (it ended up just being some photo filters and a lot of Peter Molyneux-esque forgotten features), she was planning to be actually launched into space for a performance... Little of it actually came true in any realistic fashion, but you could tell Gaga was constantly pushing herself to be something gigantic, in a way that felt far-fetched even to her own standards. But amongst all that music needed to be made, and her mania filtered into the album and so, ARTPOP became the one real-life monument to this particularly tumultuous period.
ARTPOP is still a pop album - it's just every pop album you could think of. The character Gaga had created for herself was starting to crack and the fragments started pulling away from each other. Here's the emotional balladeer; here's the crazy art chick; here's the perfectionist dance pop superstar; here's the hip-hop hook girl. She had no filter and no idea was considered too much. The swerving opener "Aura" was originally called "Burqa", tip-toeing around the controversy right on the doorstep of all the covert islamophobia rising in media; "Swine" was a call-out against the gossip blogger Perez Hilton who Gaga felt backstabbed by after a period of fake friendship, and which on stage took the form of a scream therapy session that got more maddening the further she toured (by SXSW she was literally puking out neon paint). The message of "Do What U Want" was that anyone could take advantage of Gaga's body but no one could ever own her mind, as an abstract response to how media and paparazzi were treating her - and she invited already-infamous R. Kelly to sing a completely point-missing verse that just made it that much seedier. Somewhere among this she became obsessed over the concept of taking pop art and flicking the theme upside down, by way of an incoherent vision of bringing art into pop music; there wasn't really any kind of logical red line in her rambles, but it's the reason for all the Koons balls in the artwork, promotional material and referenced in the lead single "Applause". "Applause" itself is an adrenaline-fueled art statement of a song that's more a manifesto of Gaga's concept for the record than an obvious chart-topper, barely catching its breath for its anthem of a chorus. This was right as pop had started turning towards the Lorde-lead eat-the-rich chill vibes, and here Gaga was literally singing about people praising her in a way that many perceived as egocentric - and she sounded like she's absolutely terrified if it would ever end.
It doesn't take a long-winded analysis to realise just how all over the place ARTPOP is, but that's where its power stems from. Born This Way holds its place as one of the key pop albums of its decade because of how completely fearless it is in its execution and vision, with Gaga taking inspiration from so many different things and meshing them into something that shouldn't work but does. ARTPOP is the same but just way more unhinged, however it's got that same adventurous spirit and most importantly, Gaga is still operating on that same songwriting high that she wrote Born This Way on. When she's at her best, Gaga brings together the kind of hooks pop dreams are made of with mad ideas no one else could think of. Take "Venus", which is an absolutely ridiculous song: the stop-start rhythm with its punctuating title drops which range in tone from ecstatic to utterly bored, the ludicrous lyrics that move from "let's blast off into a new dimension - IN YOUR BEDROOM (... Venus!)" to the middle-eight where she lists off the solar system one-by-one like the planets are her groupies and where she counters her own brattishly stressed "ur-ANUS" with a histrionically shrieked "don't you know my ass is famous?!", and the sheer 70s b-movie glam space opera histrionics at all. And yet, not only it's an instantly powerful hook after another but it has two obvious choruses and both could be the shining moment of a hit song in its own right. It's stupid, but it's completely irresistable and a really wonky version of pop heaven.
ARTPOP makes an art out of throwing something unexpected and baffling into the mix and creating something of a landmark through it. It's in the gloriously ugly bass fills that steal the chorus of "Sexxx Dreams" (and its instantly iconic, endlessly quotable spoken word bridge), the sudden mosh pit ending to the otherwise impeccably slick and suave "G.U.Y" that turns a producer tag shoutout into an album highlight, or the fact that "Fashion!" features both David Guetta and Will.i.am in co-production duties and yet Gaga has such a tight control over them that the song is a glacially smooth, wondrously decadent French disco jam rather than the horror you'd expect from such a duo. The album's production drills this down, full of weird quirks of its own from raunchy distortions and split-second breakdowns to playing around with volume to a disorienting degree. It's every bit as hi-fi and hyper-produced as you'd expect from the new album of a global pop superstar, but where the odd element you'd expect to be there have been replaced by malfunctioning synthesizers and traditionally unattractive sampler choices. It does actually serve the songs too: the chaos is a creative force, a cavalcade of synthesizers and programmed elements all clashing into noisy layers that Gaga channels into a frantic, manic energy for her pop powerhouse songs. The production of ARTPOP is a wondrous thing in all its excessive obnoxiousness, because it matches the excess of the songs. It's big, maximalist pop but closer to auteur in its execution.
The best way to prove that the jumbled nature works for the album's advantage is that the song which lacks of all of it is also the worst on the record, i.e. the piano ballad "Dope". While there are other songs with questionable antics, they pull through by compensating elsewhere: e.g. you can just about ignore R. Kelly's presence on "Do What U Want" because everything else about the song is a gloriously huge pop mammoth breaking down china shop walls, and while "Jewels 'n' Drugs" is perhaps a slightly misjudged attempt to slip into mainstream rap by way of creating what sounds like an AI designed the most stereotypical rap song you could think of, every single person who appears in it is so full of charisma that they salvage the song with their presence. But "Dope" is a bad, clichéd metaphor ("your love's a bigger drug than the actual drugs, okay") and it's a dull, fake-earnest song that goes for histrionics over emotion. Gaga has done piano ballads elsewhere and they are all far better, and if she wanted to soothen the album's wall-scaling energy down with it, she demonstrates it perfectly well elsewhere on record that she doesn't need to remove everything for that. The already mentioned "Fashion!" is a frictionlessly gliding groove that's simply stylish as all heck without going towards anything outrageous, and the title track is an actual masterpiece - a hypnotic half-siren song, half-dance anthem full of ethereal atmosphere, over which Gaga lays one of her best arrangements and melodies and which culminates in a genuinely triumphant middle-eight where she lays down everything she meant with the "artpop" concept and drives it across so clearly with her performance that even the listener gets it. Some days I legitimately consider it as Gaga's outright best song.
Whether ARTPOP works as an album is another thing. It's one wild ride of a tune after another, but at 15 songs is absolutely way too much of it. It's practically exhausting towards its final segments, and whether it's because of that or the songs themselves, the latter third just doesn't carry the same excitement anymore. "Dope" is what it is, "Mary Jane Holland" is a lesser version of the mid-tempo jams of Born This Way and even though "Gypsy" is as classic and "normal" of a pop song as you can find here and Gaga sounds genuinely earnest in her love for her fans in it, it lacks the pizzazz and sounds too plain for its surrounding elements. It's enough to halt the high you were riding and if it weren't for "Applause" at the end, the final part of the album would be a completely disappointing slide to a quiet fizzle. On its own "Applause" still isn't so much of a standout; when it was first released, it came across as a disappointing first taste of the new era following the footsteps of Born This Way. But as a closer to the album, it makes so much more sense because it's less of a stand-alone song and closer to a summation of all the album's themes from concepts to production, all the way to closing both the song and the album as a whole by spelling out the album's name for no particular reason. It's the grand finale, the appropriate bow for applause. It just about saves the album from completely falling off the rails as it ends, even if I'd much rather just have a shorter but stronger record.
To some extent, the end of the album also marked a curtain call for Gaga. ARTPOP was a commercial success (though arguably because of the strength of her previous albums) but in terms of public consciousness and general consensus now, it flopped - its singles run was full of cancellations, last-minute replacement choices and aborted videos and its campaign was a messy string of Gaga jumping from one idea to the next, and they shot the album's chances of ever regaining a real foothold or a hit. Following this, her own private demons made her resent some of the choices she had taken and the public largely wrote her off as a desperate attention seeker following some of the aftermath from the first two points. Gaga herself would move away from the pop world as much as possible following ARTPOP, by sinking time into side projects and acting and eventually emerging with a whole new sound for the eventual follow-up record. You listen to the album and watch some of the era-specific videos and you sort of understand why, because it is such an inherently disorganised selection of songs and concepts and with every televised performance, Gaga is dangerously close to tripping the fine balance between serving iconic moments and trying too hard, the line which she used to be able to dance around carefully. But listening to the album, it also feels like it never got a chance to truly show its worth because there's so many things here that are so compelling and exciting, and so very thoroughly Gaga - they just got buried in the process. ARTPOP, flawed as it is, is one of my favourite things Gaga has released, even if it took me a long time to get any kind of clear footing with it. Within its sleeves is proof of Gaga's talent, but it also comes with a big asterisk at the end of the sentence. It's the pop version of a tortured artist splashing colours on a canvas and eventually throwing the entire canvas on the floor, manically explaining that the whole room the canvas is in is part of the art piece after all. During ARTPOP's best moments, Gaga manages to be viciously convincing about those ideas being perfectly on-point.
Physically: Lyrics booklet with a lot of photos, as usual. The lettering on the cover has a slight holographic tint to it and the booklet itself is super glossy.
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2016||5||"Diamond Heart", "Joanne", "Perfect Illusion"|
1) Diamond Heart; 2) A-Yo; 3) Joanne; 4) John Wayne; 5) Dancin' in Circles; 6) Perfect Illusion; 7) Million Reasons; 8) Sinner's Prayer; 9) Come to Mama; 10) Hey Girl (feat. Florence Welch); 11) Angel Down
Gaga tries to go for her roots but loses sight of the road on the way there.
Fame was the drug, ARTPOP was the binge and the painful comedown, Joanne was the detox. The whole ARTPOP period was a notoriously difficult time for Gaga mentally and physically, and to recover she needed to distance herself from everything associated with her career so far that had lead her down that path. She started to hang out in different crowds, started her acting career, there was a jazz standards album with Tony Bennett, and eventually she went home to her family for inspiration. Joanne, titled after her aunt, is an intentional clean break from everything that had come before, aiming for a rootsier sound more at home in dive bars than dance clubs - somewhere as far away from Hollywood glamour as possible.
Joanne isn't a rock or a country album even though it seems to have a reputation of being one, but that's precisely its problem: it exists in this awkward middle ground that doesn't strongly commit to anything, and so near everything featured on it sounds half-hearted or half-baked as a result. Its rock songs are weighed down by a pop production that fails to give the instruments the kick they need, its pop songs are let down by a wishy-washy need to strip things down when they would need to pop off instead, and its homebound country heart simply just means that there's more acoustic guitars in the back of the mix. You can't shake the pop away from Gaga no matter how much she tries and Joanne primarily acts as a testament to that as it tries to establish an identity completely separate to the previous albums, but is incapable of shaking off old habits. There's no doubt that it's an album that means a lot to Gaga herself, and so it's doubly awkward just how non-committed it sounds to everything it tries to do. Towards the end of the album there's an inexplicable retro tract where Gaga first flirts with a motown-esque 60s MOR flair ("Come to Mama") and then embraces 80s synths as she duets with Florence Welch in the out-of-nowhere J-folk pastiche "Hey Girl" (seriously, this sounds like an Off Course cut and the song is unexpectedly in my good books because of it), and it just highlights how disjointed the whole affair is. I just want Joanne to be something, because being in this weird partway point between everything in its DNA isn't doing any of its ideas a service.
I use 'ideas' very deliberately there because even if you were to add a little more focus to the record, I still don't think the material would be near her past peaks. Joanne is an album largely composed out of the kind of late-album filler you'd find on an average pop album, awkwardly trying to maintain a presence as they're pushed onto the centre stage. "A-Yo", "Dancin' in Circles" and "Sinner's Prayer" mash together more club-friendly beats with the country house aesthetic but they're tired on arrival and sound like microwaved leftovers of better Gaga ideas from the past few albums with some acoustic guitar slapped on top, and "Million Reasons" and "Angel Down" represent the weakest parts of Gaga's balladeering. The confused production - which sounds weak no matter what musical angle it's trying to pander to - is a big part of the blame here but it would take a lot more workshopping to bring these songs alive in the first place. So much of the record feels like it's fighting with itself and at worst, the result are quite frankly boring, which Gaga should never be by her very nature. Even some of the album's bigger successes feel like compromises. "John Wayne" is a country disco stomper which is exactly what you'd expect from the concept of Gaga putting on an Americana cosplay and it's a really stupid and in some ways a cheaply obvious song, but it's also as raucously fun as it is camp; meanwhile "Perfect Illusion" features Kevin Parker, Josh Homme and Mark Ronson as Gaga's indie cred backing band but you'd never be able to tell because any rock edge it's meant to have has been polished off so as not to scare away the audiences too much - which is a big shame because it's the most impassioned and envigorated performance across the entire album and it just begs to explode louder.
I have absolutely no doubt that Gaga had the best intentions with Joanne, that it was meant to be something more insular and act as a quiet sweep to clean the slate so she could restart afresh; there was definitely a different kind of swing to her general comings and goings after Joanne (for better or worse) and it's undeniable that the process helped her find a new spark. "Diamond Heart" and "Joanne", the album's two best songs by far, even back up the notion that the general direction for the album could've worked very well - the former is the rough and gutsy rock anthem which embodies the album's more rebellious side perfectly, the latter a gentle and genuinely lovely ballad where the album finds its heart. But for an album that comes across like an attempt to refocus, it gives the impression that the attention span of everyone involved faded away partway through and what was meant to have been a cosy homecoming country rock album became what it is now because leaning into old comfort zones was a quick and easy way to wrap it all up. Joanne has gained an ill reputation in some parts for Gaga ignoring the dance and pop sound that she made her name with, but had she actually done so we probably could've had a more divisive but absolutely a more interesting record.
Physically: n/a, I don't actually own this on CD yet. Will update if I ever scavenge it somewhere but given my ambivalence towards the album as a whole, it's not been a priority.
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2020||7||"Rain on Me", "911", "Sine from Above"|
1) Chromatica I; 2) Alice; 3) Stupid Love; 4) Rain on Me (feat. Ariana Grande); 5) Free Woman; 6) Fun Tonight; 7) Chromatica II; 8) 911; 9) Plastic Doll; 10) Sour Candy (feat. Blackpink); 11) Enigma; 12) Replay; 13) Chromatica III; 14) Sine from Above (feat. Elton John); 15) 1000 Doves; 16) Babylon
The unenthuasiastic return to dance pop but still somewhat successful with its throwback vibes against all the odds
Between 2016 and 2020 - Joanne and Chromatica - Gaga gave the impression that she would rather be anything but a pop star. She instead pushed on in her acting career and her co-lead role in the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born broke her through in that department after years of trying, and when she wasn't sharing the accolades for the movie her social media accounts primarily flogged her growing cosmetics line where the rest of her focus seemingly went. Her one notable musical milestone was the announcement of her Vegas residency, a career move more commonly made by former giants in their waning years, happy to just play the hits to groups of casual strangers from night to night and so not a move that felt particularly promising. She, in fact, announced two residencies of which one was a conventional pop show and the other a retro cosplay set of jazz standards - and it was the latter that Gaga seemed far more excited about herself. When Chromatica was revealed in early 2020 it was practically a shock, given the circumstances.
Chromatica is Gaga's grand return to the world of dance pop after the slight gear change of Joanne, which was something so many of her fans openly and vocally welcomed - but Gaga doesn't seem to be too personally convinced about the move herself. The 90s house and club influences that she named as her biggest influences for the album are present but watered down, the songs hover around the sub-three minute mark in a way that sound truncated and geared for streaming above musical expression, and the big concept she seemingly had for the album based on the initial promotional fluff, about the planet of Chromatica and its various battling tribes, lasted for a brief moment before it all disappeared. When COVID-19 closed down everything in the early months of 2020 and where her peers quickly adopted alternative methods of promotion, Gaga barely acknowledged that the album even existed following its release week. "Fun Tonight" here all but spells it out: "You love the paparazzi, love the fame / Even though you know it causes me pain" is about as blatant as you can get, and from an artist formerly so associated with encouraging her fans to develop parasocial relationships with her, it's strikingly direct about shoving those same people right out ("I'm not having fun tonight", goes the plot twist in the chorus). Much of the album echoes similar feelings of anxiety and lack of confidence, and at times the lyrics behind the perky dance beats are like a call for help that no one's listening to. It becomes clear this isn't the space where Gaga's head is right now - but it's the role she thinks she has to play and she's trying to push through it.
And yet, from the ashes of Gaga's creative frustration rises a fairly good album. There's a lot of would've-could've-should'ves: I wish she had done more with the 1990s influences, I wish half the songs didn't sound like they abruptly end 2/3s the way through, I wish the hints of something conceptual (per the arranged 'suites' split by the orchestral eponymous interludes) actually went anywhere beyond surface dressing to make the tracklist more interesting than it is. The lead single "Stupid Love" finds Gaga obviously phoning the whole assignment and it has so little to do with the rest of the album sonically or thematically that it's like homework completed at the last minute to make a simple Gaga-esque bop in line of the general public's expectations, and it stands as a middlingly OK entry to her otherwise pristine collection of lead singles. But on the flipside, the 90s inspiration that is there fits in marvellously with Gaga's aesthetic - the mysterious and foreboding club banger "Alice" and the cheeky and camp euro-disco-goes-to-New-York jaunt of "Babylon" are the prime examples - and she never sounds like she's just riding on the coattails of nostalgia. You can't excuse everything and particularly the whole stretch from "Plastic Doll" to "Replay" (the latter of which sounds like a forgettable song from a shovelware PS2 racing game) finds the album trapped in a swamp where Gaga is blatantly going through the motions, with the exception of "Sour Candy" but we'll get to that. The thing is, even a disinterested Gaga can still knock out a great hook (see: most of the record) and when she is clearly inspired, it makes the entire album worthwhile. Besides "Stupid Love" the first half is engaged and often exciting, and that sequence appropriately ends with "911", the album's by and far best song. "911" is a monster of a track about Gaga dealing with her panic attacks through prescription pills and it's worthy of standing next to any of her most iconic songs, tightening its corkscrew anxiety deeper and deeper through glitchy vocals and hammering beats that are somewhere between danceable and industrial. The song releases its strangehold right in its end and the now-unfiltered Gaga sounds genuinely desperate for help, and it's the one time where the cold turkey endings that the album is so full of works from an artistic perspective, leaving the listener hanging on the final emotional tone like with an intense cliffhanger. It's marvellous, and sounds like the "classic Gaga" that some yearned her to go back to, but she's updated and reconfigured her own theatrics and doesn't just repeat past glories.
The previous paragraph already mildly hinted at it but the big surprise here are the guest features, all of which carry with them a certain level of cynicism at first glance but they all turn out to flesh out Chromatica to make it a richer album. Both "Rain on Me" and "Sour Candy" give the impression of Gaga (and/or her label) trying to piggyback on the popularity of the contemporary pop hitmaker Ariana Grande and second tier K-pop stars Blackpink respectively, and though there's absolutely no chemistry between Gaga and her co-singers the songs are actually among the album's most interesting. "Rain on Me" stretches its throwback-seeking feet all the way to the turn of the millennium and sounds like a classic Big Pop Girl smash from ca. 2000-2001, and it's a joy in all its glittery, glamorous, catchphrase-throwing fervour; Grande's usual non-presence is a mere whisper as usual but in a roundabout way it gives the second verse where she takes over a kind of unintended gentleness that makes the impending chorus even more explosive. "Sour Candy" is obviously underwritten, features the album's most faceless lyrics (half of which feel like placeholders) and Blackpink are basically present just to inflate the streaming numbers through their fanbase, but it goes in deep into its 90s house rabbit hole and is astoundingly compelling from a pure production perspective. If it was more of a fleshed out song and not a repetitive demo given a bit of polish and pushed out, it could be a contender as a real highlight. "Sine from Above" comes with an appearance by Elton John, who has spent his 2020s jumping into the periphery of various female pop singers in an attempt to get more hits in the last years of his own winding-down career - with his age-shot voice, typically "feat. Elton John" in the post-20th century years is something that immediately gets my skin crawling when it jumps out in the tracklist. "Sine from Above", however, is one of the few times on the album where Gaga seems fully connected to the music on a deeply personal level (with its religious undertones it's like a techno-prayer) and she immerses herself in it in a manner she rarely does throughout Chromatica, and John's theatrical bluster sounds like it's in the right place for once as a counterweight to Gaga's ethereal highs. It's also one of the most fully composed songs on the album and ending the track with a sudden burst of drum and bass is the kind of left-field creative spark that Gaga has typically been synonymous with and which is a otherwise largely missing across Chromatica. It's not the album's best song but in some ways it's like its beating heart, and a hint of Gaga's passion coming through.
Overall Chromatica feels like it's good by sheer accident. Gaga barely acknowledged the album at the time (even when it actually delivered a real hit with "Rain on Me" and the late single release of "911" built a buzz of its own) and she still hasn't, and you just know her heart wasn't in it - that's never a good sign for an album, but you can also hear that lack of commitment across the record through the various dents in its armour. Ever since ARTPOP more or less wrecked her mental state and public standing, Gaga has been battling the legacy she created herself and publicly shown herself as a conflicted artist, and while it may not even be clear to her what she actually wants to do, the one thing it isn't for sure is to catch up with her past again. The fact that Chromatica has some brand new ideas and for most parts solid songwriting to begin with is a testament to how even when throwing in the towel, Gaga isn't so lackadaisical with her own reputation that she wouldn't at least try to do something new and put some effort in. So much about the album feels haphazard, and yet warts and all it's such a solid listen as if by a random twist of unexpected fate defying the clear recipe for disaster. It doesn't match her former glories - and maybe it doesn't even try to - but it still manages to captivate, intrigue and entertain. It remains to be seen whether the process of bringing Chromatica to life is the wake-up call that she needs to more confidently change tact in her music for her own good, or if it's the first sign of her musical career descending towards its twilight years - but she's still such a good songwriter in her own game that even something a little half-baked is far more enjoyable than it perhaps would be in the hands of another artist.
Physically: Jewel case, as usual. The booklet has all the lyrics and tons of artwork and photoshoot material adorning that GPU card box CGI models ca. 1998 aesthetic that she seemingly envisioned as the album's design theme. It's a hot mess but it works, in a surreal level.
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