At midnight last night Lady Gaga released her latest solo effort out into the world. Entitled ‘Joanne’ (in honour of her late aunt) the album sees Gaga veer in a completely new direction from all of her previous records, a move that has been questioned by many. For such an extravagant, flamboyant performer to hang up her pop shoes and record a more stripped back, rock focused album is a big risk. Has she pulled it off?
This blogger thinks yes. Quite definitely actually.
Upon release I had a listening party over on my twitter account where I posted my immediate thoughts on each track as I heard them. My initial reaction was that the songs were good, although each one didn’t seem to quite hit the nail on the head.
Then I listened to the album again and I fell in love.
It’s important with ‘Joanne’ not to compare it to albums like ‘The Fame’ and ‘Born This Way’ because Gaga’s music is always changing. Like her inspiration, the late David Bowie, she is an artist who is constantly evolving, and therefore to comment on how ‘Joanne’ fares in relation to her previous work is unnecessary.
I am a massive fan of Gaga’s great list of pop hits, but I don’t listen to this thinking it lacks the high-scale production power of her other albums. At least I didn’t the second time around. The first time was just a practice to remind me that this album is on a completely different level to her music from the last decade.
‘Joanne’ provides a varied mix of songs across it’s 13 tracks.
The underappreciated yet powerful disco-rock anthem ‘Perfect Illusion’ provides a great kick to the album, supported by songs like ‘John Wayne’ and ‘Diamond Heart’. These tracks keep the album alive among some of the other softer, slower moving tracks, but without diving into Gaga’s familiar dance-pop territory.
There is quite a strong country vibe in ‘Joanne’, present in songs like ‘A-Yo’ and ‘Sinner’s Prayer’, as well as the album’s title track. This song, as expected, is about the singer’s late Aunt, and whilst on the surface it may not appear to be the heartfelt ballad one might expect, the track is particularly poignant. On the fifth or sixth listen I spontaneously burst into tears, finally grasping the beauty of the song in it’s simplicity.
Other ballads featured on the album are the promotional single ‘Million Reasons’ and all-round perfect song ‘Angel Down’. The former is one of Gaga’s less breathtaking ballads, but it’s a track that gets better with every listen. The latter is a song of pure heartbreak, written about the current unjustice towards black lives in America. It’s the only song from my first listen that I knew had no faults. The lyrics are moving, the music tragic yet beautiful, and Gaga’s vocals passionate, particularly towards the end of the song. The work tape version of the track provided on the deluxe edition is a touching addition.
Songs like ‘Come To Mama’ and the deluxe edition bonus ‘Just Another Day’ bring a somewhat camp feel to the album, and are perhaps more reminiscent of Gaga’s familiar sound. They evoke the music of artists like Elton John, and in the case of ‘Just Another Day’, it particularly brings to mind ELO’s classic Mr Blue Sky.
These merge well with some of the funkier numbers on the album, in particular the Beck collaboration ‘Dancin’ in Circles’. Acting almost as a sequel to ‘So Happy I Could Die’ from Gaga’s ‘Fame Monster’ era, it’s the most musically diverse song on ‘Joanne’, but it still fits nicely between ‘John Wayne’ and ‘Perfect Illusion’ on the album’s tracklist.
The final tracks to consider are the Florence Welch duet ‘Hey Girl’ and deluxe edition track ‘Grigiot Girls’. Whilst the former may not be one of Gaga’s most striking collaborations (her duet with Christina Aguilera on ‘Do What U Want’ is still my favourite), it’s a beautiful girl power number that is a lot stronger than it first seems. The feeling of girl power is also reflected in (Pinot) ‘Grigiot Girls’ which almost makes you want to get your friends together and chant along to the song’s strangely heartwarming chorus (with a glass of white of course).
‘Joanne’ is definitely a collection that asserts Gaga as more of an album artist than anything else, given none of these tracks would fare particularly well as single releases. This would explain the somewhat poor reception the tracks received prior to the album’s full release, and hopefully this will not put people off from buying the record.
Gaga’s next album will more than likely see her release something more upbeat and pop-esque, but we shouldn’t rely on her as an artist to constantly give us more of the same. ‘Joanne’ shows a side to Gaga that many people seemed to demand of her when she dressed in outrageous costumes and released questionable music videos, so why can’t we all accept that? This is possibly the most cohesive Gaga release to date, and dare I say her best?
I suppose at the end of the day that is down to personal preference. However, what I do know is that much like Gaga’s diamond heart, ‘Joanne’ may not be flawless, but it is an absolute gem.
*header image taken by mlange_b at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mlange_b