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The Critics Corner: Albums
Born This Way
Lady Gaga | Born This Way
Pop superstar returns with solid but inconsistent sophomore full-length effort
Album Name:  Born This Way
Label: Streamline/Interscope
Release Date: May 23, 2011
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Review written by: Alan Ho
What else is there to say about runaway pop phenomenon and generally undisputed superstar Lady Gaga?  Undeniably unconventional from her musical evolution, her songwriting, of course her fashion and even her actually long ascent into superstardom (does anyone remember her performances on the 2007 Vans Warped Tour or her work with Akon?).  While her debut album “Fame” shot her up to the top of the pop charts, her sophomore effort “The Fame Monster” saw her evolve from a dance-pop princess into a pop superstar queen in the same vein of pre-1999 Madonna with a newfound habit for crossing the lines and inviting controversy like the imagery perceived in “Alejandro”.  So the question was how would the Gaga evolve on her next album?

The Gaga definitely shows more signs of evolving on her latest effort titled “Born This Way”.  The album is replete with plenty of Eurodance, Eurotrance and the kind of rave beats and structure that one expects in any dance club around the world.  However, signs that Lady Gaga is looking for more evolving of her sound is shown in a couple rock pieces that also showcase the powerful vocal chops she does possess and she tries her hand at 80s-style glam rock that could make Gary Glitter and Duran Duran proud.  She also builds a possible trio of songs around subtle and overt religious imagery, which has brought upon some controversy for the always predictably unpredictable Gaga.  She also throws in her attempt at linguistics, partially singing her songs in German and Spanish and several tracks are soaked in an operatic theme that oddly works on those songs.  Finally, as everyone may know what theme she touched on the title track, the whole album is generally sealed around a relentless journey for self-expression, self-image and self-confidence sprinkled with some political awareness and in your face, if not endearing sincerity.

The album kicks off with “Marry The Night”, an above-decent effort to show her critics that she is not a one-trick pony (although most of the album is soaked in Eurodance/trance/rave) as she spins “Marry” in a seeming tribute to 80s glam rock, the kind of music that American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert is seeking to bring to the 21st century.    The oft-controversial title track “Born This Way” at the end of the day is what it is, an anthem to the current generation and even the last 2, 3 birth years of the previous generation that brings about a “I am what I am, I am who I am, get used to it” attitude.  If you can get past the alleged pilfering of “Express Yourself” from Madonna, you will get the manifesto that Gaga brings to the table.  “Born This Way” is also an undeniably catchy song with a very memorable refrain that can get stuck in your head for days on end.

Another song whose musicianship gets overshadowed by its curious lyrics would be the next track “Government Hooker”.  The beginning is definitely a hook to reel you in with the operatic melodrama, chanting her last name and ends with chanting the song title itself.  The operatic beginning then transitions into a symphony of post-disco dance beats with a sprinkle of Eurotrance and is vocally delivered right out of Madonna’s playbook from the late mid to late 80s minus the helium-induced vocals. 

Controversy is abundant in the duo of tracks following “Government Hooker”.  “Judas” is a failed and veiled attempt at casting a metaphor at bad boys and devolves into a controversial piece that even calls into question her own Catholic upbringing.  However, from a musicality standpoint, “Judas” rings a bit of “Bad Romance”, quite possibly one of her best tracks ever but the unfortunate part is that the song gets swallowed by the failed attempt at a metaphor.  Some will end up interpreting “Judas” though, especially her most ardent “Little Monsters” as exactly that metaphor.  The slightly less controversial “Americano” touches upon the sensitive political and social impact of both gay marriage and immigration.  In that regard then, “Americano” succeeds in showing Gaga’s political awareness and her fearlessness in expressing them in her music.  However, the piece gets washed out by a bad mix of dance beats and stereotypical mariachi music.  To be honest, the terribly conceived mix distracts the listener from Gaga’s successful attempt at political and social awareness and for good measure, her attempt at linguistics left a lot to be desired (Spanish).

“Hair” might be one of the best tracks on the album hands down.  The 80s type power pop/rock ballad still uses electronica beats but strips Gaga’s vocals to its bare essence.  Her chops as a pure vocalist shine in this power song about liberation and personal style.  “Hair”, despite its honestly brutal beginning is a real feel-good-about-yourself anthem that is very memorable to say the least.  The only problem was the unnecessary saxophone from Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. “Bloody Mary” follows “Judas” in the religious imagery department and is certain to infuriate the Catholic Church on her interpretation of the Virgin Mary.  However, chorus is literally delivered in a Madonna-like fashion and delivery to the point where you almost think Madonna’s the one singing it; that could be another source of discussion.  “Black Jesus-Amen Fashion” should have just been “Amen Fashion” as the fashion runway anthem of “Amen” gets totally lost in whatever story Gaga spins in the horrible titled “Black Jesus”.

“Bad Kids” is a very preachy slacker anthem that opens with the line “I’m a LOSER baby!” that could end up becoming the anthem for the current generation of high school and junior high kids.  The song though makes very good use of the electric guitar and allows Gaga to deliver her vocals unfiltered in spots that gives the anthem a further edginess.  “Electric Chapel” is another strong point in the album as she lays off the heavy electronic influence and puts a more rock feel with the magnificently heavy guitar riff and would make for a very interesting song to use at a wedding! 

“The Queen” continues the surprising strength tracks of the album and is easily one of the best vocal tracks of “Born This Way”.  There’s an excellent guitar riff solo in the middle one has to listen!  Focus on her musicianship has by and large been the focal point but “The Queen” should begin to shift the focus to Lady Gaga’s surprisingly strong vocal chops and one could begin to wonder if she should tone down the heavy Euro-everything and let her own voice shine through more often.  “You and I” is by and far the most superior and well balanced piece by Lady Gaga yet.  It is about as heartfelt and pop rocky as one has ever heard from Gaga and the song is further brought along with an amazing guitar solo from Queen’s Brian May.  The cherry on this great piece of pie is putting her vocals to the front and it shines as bright as it has been.  In addition, who would have thought she was capable of a country-fried rock track?  “You and I” is a MUST listen on this album.

“Born This Way” will certainly be snatched up in loads by her “Little Monsters” all around the US and around the world and probably for at least one week end UK import Adele’s hold on the number one spot on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart.  However, from a reviewing standpoint, “Born This Way” had a chance to cement and even elevate Lady Gaga further up the superstardom chain and this album generally fell short in many areas.  There were some tracks whose musicality got washed up by badly designed metaphors like “Judas” and some tracks could have done without the heavy use of Euro-everything and as a result those tracks suffered from over-production.   In addition, she needs to know her audience; some may see the lengthy runtime as an issue as the original is clocked at 61 minutes and the special edition at nearly 90 minutes.  There is however, especially “Hair”, “The Queen” and “You and I” that shows what the Gaga can do both vocally and production-wise.   If she can take that, bottle it up and still have her inclination to Eurotrance/dance/rave every so often, she could make one of the best albums music has seen in ages.  The strength of those tracks alone makes “Born This Way” a definite must-have in one’s CD or iTunes collection. 
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