Just four years later, however, Gaga is a much different artist than the aspiring superstar who gave us the disco-pop of “Summerboy” and Bowie-as-Ziggy-Stardust pastiche “Brown Eyes” — tracks off The Fame that sound downright quaint compared to the jagged and spiky production on ARTPOP (out today, ).
Gaga’s third studio LP (sure, okay — let’s just go with the notion that the brilliant The Fame Monster is not a full album) states its case up front: If The Fame was about ambition and Born This Way was about acceptance (plus, you know, mermaids with green hair, government hookers and heavy metal lovers), ARTPOP’s opening number asks us if we’re ready to see “the girl behind the aura, behind the curtain.”
Lyrically, Gaga delivers on the insights. And, unsurprisingly, there’s not really much here that we haven’t heard from the singer’s predecessors in pop and rock over the years — tales of sex, love, drugs and Donatella. Melodically, though, with the exception of woefully out-of-place hip hop headscratcher “Jewels N’ Drugs,” ARTPOP is Mother Monster’s most cohesive work to-date. It’s here that she finally cements her “sound.”
Upon first listen — or even second — the employment of EDM throughout ARTPOP comes dangerously close to miring the whole thing down in a sloppy heap of overproduced mess. But you have to hand it to Gaga’s knack for savvy songwriting — those choruses chainsaw through the album’s flaws and rise like cream. “Aura,” “Venus,” “G.U.Y.” and “Sexxx Dreams” kick it all off like four relentless sucker punches to that part in the head where our craving for addictive pop is generated.
Said sex and drug references run amok on ARTPOP, as Gaga clearly tosses any hangups about being a “role model” for her younger Monsters out the window. “I lay in bed and touch myself and think of you,” she confesses on the not so subtle “Sexxx Dreams,” which, as mentioned, is one of the album’s standouts. Later, on the equally straightforward “Mary Jane Holland,” the singer declares, “When I ignite the flame and put you in my mouth, the grass eats up my insides and my brunette starts to sprout.” Not even the piano ballad “Dope” is without mention of intoxicating substances, as, of course, the title implies: “Been hurtin’ low from livin’ high for so long,” she laments, before offering, “Toast one last puff and two last regrets, three spirits and twelve lonely steps up heaven’s stairway to gold.”
The album’s centerpiece is “Do What U Want,” an unlikely duet with R. Kelly that succeeds in combining funk and ‘80s synth flourishes while still managing to sound timeless. With its harmonies and impeccable ad libs from both vocalists, the song is one of Gaga’s greatest compositions to date — one that also allows Robert Kelly the perfect vehicle for reminding us why he became one of R&B’s brightest stars two decades ago.
Quickly, back to “Jewels N’ Drugs”: WHAT THE HELL IS THIS DOING ON THE ALBUM? Okay, moving on…
While the first half of ARTPOP finds Lady Gaga driving through EDM territory, the record winds down with a bit of a throwback. “Mary Jane Holland” sounds like a first cousin of Born This Way’s “Heavy Metal lover.” Likewise, the upbeat, curiously sweet “Gypsy” is the twin sister of “The Edge Of Glory.” (It’s probably no coincidence, then, that the latter track was co-written by longtime Gaga collaborator RedOne.) The album closes out with its lead single, “Applause” — a song that, let’s face it, plays like a retread of the best bits from 2009 chart topper “Poker Face.”
At this point, the innocence Gaga displayed on The Fame and The Fame Monster is clearly a thing of the past. ARTPOP‘s greatest achievement is showing us a more focused artist than the one behind previous, all-over-the-place effort Born This Way. She might not have nailed it 100% this time around, but now more than ever, Lady Gaga has found herself on the right track.
Pops Like: A bible for weekend nightcrawlers doubling as Paris runway music.
Possible Future Singles: “Gypsy” would be the safest choice here, but why not throw caution to the wind and select the randy “Sexxx Dreams”?
Idolator Score: 4/5
— Robbie Daw
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