Friday, November 15, 2013

Lady Gaga - ARTPOP

I've listened to Lady Gaga's ARTPOP countless times, already reaching to the extent of learning each lyric backwards and forward.  From the twisted cell phone quality intro of "Aura" to the final A-R-T-P-O-P of "Applause", there's so much to talk about.  It's overwhelming, really.  There are so many ideas and embellishments packed into this record and some of them are amazing and fantastic, while others are much less fortunate.  Have it be known that I love each of Gaga's three previous records and consider The Fame Monster to be her best.  The upcoming criticisms don't come from an unwarranted "hater" and the praise isn't from a "little monster" who harasses non-fans through social media.  It comes from expecting the best and receiving something less.

Let's start with the good news.  There are some real winning moments on ARTPOP.  Moments where you forget about the disappointing tracks and think, "Now this is Gaga".  "Venus" is her return to weird, something we've all come to know.  It's intergalactic and suggestive - what does Venus really sound like?  She pairs "Uranus" with "Don't you know my ass is famous!" and it's really a classic single for the Gaga vaults.  It also happens to be the first track produced solely by Gaga, quite the success.  "Fashion!" sounds like Madonna and David Bowie mind-melded "Holiday" and "Let's Dance". It's a definite highlight that begs for repeat plays and is insanely refreshing after hearing heavy tracks such as "G.U.Y." and "Swine".  I would've never guessed that and David Guetta took on the production duties.

The absolute centerpiece of ARTPOP is "Gypsy".  Everything about it signals the coming of Gaga's next signature tune.  "I don't wanna be alone forever, but I can be tonight" is the new "I'm on the edge of glory".  The lyrics are insightful and powerful, while the production and songwriting are prime. Other standout singles are "Aura" and "Do What U Want", sans R. Kelly.

Each of Gaga's past albums have focused on a precise and cohesive theme.  The Fame was about the rich glamourous life, The Fame Monster was the dark companion piece, and Born This Way was through and through a self-empowerment album.  ARTPOP is confusing.  Sure, she clearly states on the title track that "ARTPOP could mean anything", but the songs randomly touch on sex, drugs, fashion, love, and even pure unrestrained anger, which sounds completely startling after the extended anti-bullying message of Born This Way.  The chorus of "Swine", one of her most extreme ventures into straight up electronic dance music, actually includes a screeching "you're just a pig inside a human body... you're so disgusting".  Maybe the title of ARTPOP was really just a scapegoat to do whatever she pleases thematically.

Production credits on ARTPOP include DJ White Shadow, Zedd, Madeon, David Guetta, Rick Rubin,, and Gaga herself.  That's a pretty noticeable difference from her former crew that often recruited RedOne and Fernando Garibay.  It's obvious on the album, as well.  "Jewels N' Drugs", a rap song featuring T.I., Twista, and Too $hort, would not be missed if the master tape had been horribly lost after the recording studio caught fire. That song is a prime example of the questionable decisions on the album. Some of it ends up being hilarious, such as the synth on "Swine" that literally sounds like an oinking pig and her spastic tone during the "paint your face and, paint his face and, catch the beat" bridge.  There's also the sarcastic and artificial Versace ode, "Donatella", where she opens with an exaggerated "I'm so fab".

But then things start to get inconsistent again.  The sudden and horribly drastic differences in vocal production make ARTPOP sound like a singles collection rather than a complete piece of work.  When "Dope" flows into "Gypsy", you're lifted out of a pure untouched vocal take and placed into heavy reverb within the span of seconds.  The reasoning behind this is a transition from Rick Rubin to Madeon, and a lack of attention to detail.

It really sounds like she's desperately trying to appeal to the general public, something she doesn't need to do.  For the first time, she seems visibly concerned about record sales.  I mean, she asked fans to buy multiple copies of "Applause" on iTunes.  Why would she ever need or want to do that?  It's baffling because she's Lady Gaga.  She a label executive's dream come true, a sales monster.  Not because she begs for false number one singles, but because she creates music like "Bad Romance" and "Born This Way".  She writes music with progressive ideas and pushes the mainstream boundaries.  She brought politics and social issues to the VMA's and started a non-profit organization because she cared about the cause. ARTPOP doesn't match up with that track record.

Maybe she's been placed on a pedestal of higher judgement.  Would I even be writing something like this against Rihanna or Katy Perry?  Probably not, but that's why she's Gaga and that's why she hangs out with the likes of Elton John, Cher, and Yoko Ono.  She's projected herself out of the pop singer realm and into something higher, but somewhere in there the music still needs to meet that same quality standard.  She's always written lyrics about sex, but it's so blatantly straight forward on songs like "Sexxx Dreams" that it sounds lazy instead of clever or metaphorical.  The overflow of drug references is also a tacky sign of the lyrical slump.

I really feel like Gaga needs to take a step back and reconsider everything. Some of the songs sound like any other pop star could tackle it and do just as well.  Why do we need R. Kelly and a song where a trio of random rappers overshadow the star?  ARTPOP could've almost served a better purpose as a condensed eight track LP, since only parts of the album truly shine.  She said that Born This Way was created for her fans and those same fans might end up listening to that album again instead of ARTPOP. Born This Way was simply better.

No comments:

Post a Comment