‘Joanne’ album review
By Carlos Bilan, Staff Writer
Lady Gaga has finally released Joanne, her first album in three years. You may remember reading the pop diva’s name in the headlines years ago for her eccentric fashion and bizarre theatrics. She called herself “Mother Monster” in reference to her EP The Fame Monster (2009), and addressed her legion of fans as “little monsters” to convey the sentiment that being weird is good.
In 2013, Gaga tried to level up this eccentricity with ARTPOP, but it turned out to be a catastrophic EDM mess that ultimately bombed in sales. It was clear that Gaga had to revamp her image to become likeable to the public eye. The following year, she tapped into the jazz industry by collaborating with Tony Bennett in Cheek to Cheek. While the album won a Grammy Award, many of her devoted fans wished for a return to pop. People have been predicting that Gaga has been going through a process of reinvention, and her followers have been eagerly awaiting the result.
In Joanne, released on October 21, Gaga has incorporated country, classic rock, and blues elements, while still offering some dance-floor tunes. In the edgy “John Wayne,” she fantasizes about having a cowboy lover since she is sick of the “Johns” of New York. “Dancin’ in Circles” stands out as one of the album’s deep cuts. Co-written by Beck, the track contains the innuendo “Let’s funk downtown” in the chorus. Gaga delivers this hook in a flirty, whispering tone, a singing style executed in many songs from The Fame Monster. “Dancin’ in Circles” is also reminiscent of The Fame Monster’s “Alejandro” thanks to its Latin flourishes. Another highlight of Joanne is the potential women empowerment anthem, “Hey Girl” with Florence Welch, all about lifting other women up instead of competing with them. The pair’s powerful vocals shine throughout and complement each other beautifully in this soulful duet.
Gaga is undeniably talented and was actively part of the production process, but Joanne has noticeable flaws. The album’s lead single, “Perfect Illusion,”is a monumental mistake, and placing it as the centre track drags the entire album down. “It wasn’t love, it wasn’t love, it was a perfect illusion,” Gaga wails repeatedly, and this verse is stretched out through the whole track to the point of intolerability. The vocals and instrumentals are oddly discordant, considering this single was produced by a star-studded team, including Mark Ronson, Kevin Parker from Tame Impala, and Bloodpop. The supposed-to-be club-ready breakup song sounds like an unfinished demo, and is noticeably all over the place. Her ballads, such as “Million Reasons” and “Angel Down,” are audibly lacklustre despite their personal and social themes. The sentiment is there, but the results are weak. Even songs penned by Father John Misty (Joshua Tillman)—whose album last year received widespread acclaim—are unremarkable and sound like fillers. “Sinner’s Prayer” seems bland, and “Come to Mama,” with its message about charity, feels cheesy.
Gaga mentioned in recent interviews that she made Joanne because she wanted to release something authentic—but this implies that everything she released prior to this was insincere, when she has always said that she makes music as an outlet of her artistry and integrity. The truth is that Gaga has been—and will always be—a pop artist, so using rock and blues as means to be musically authentic is naïve. Earlier in her career, Gaga was considered a pioneer in the industry, inspiring many of her peers to follow in her footsteps in being visually provocative. Unfortunately, with Joanne, she arrives at a level of modesty and does not change the game. However, if this album does manage to fix her image, then maybe she has succeeded.