After spending the last few years being down-to-Earth, Lady Gaga has made her seventh studio album her return to what put her on the map in the first place: the last two or three decades of electro-pop, the lush bass-driven arrangements, the flair for the dramatic. This is what propelled 2011's Born This Way into the pop zeitgeist overnight; not to say that her down-to-earth journey with Tony Bennett or her Oscar winning song "Shallow" on the movie "A Star Is Born" or even her acoustic-driven Joanne proved that she was much more than the meat-dress wearing personality
But what sets Chromatica
apart from Born This Way is that the latter was a masterpiece journey whose runtime was well worth its awesome journey while the former looks to seek the same reaction but with a far much shorter runtime to reflect the current state of pop music, which is to keep it short, sweet and fleeting. The album is still set up the way Gaga is known for...the album is divided into three parts, each on preceded by an orchestral led interlude and then right into the next part.
The first part has a decidedly retro feel, inspired part by some of the biggest DJs of the 80s and 90s with the head bopping "Alice" and then right into the disco-inflected banger "Stupid Love," which was the first single released to radio. There's plenty of hints from the kind of music Gaga was in early in her career. "Rain On Me," her collab with Ariana Grande is probably about as close as one will get to some of the more dramatic pieces heard on Born This Way
, namely the title track itself. Ariana's signature smooth vocals are a very good juxtaposition to Gaga's comparatively raw vocals and sells the song right to the top.
After a second orchestral interlude (titled Chromatica II), the second part goes right into all the things that made/make Lady Gaga tick. "911" is a callback to the glory days of Daft Punk, Kraftwerk and yes, Depeche Mode. The robotic, cyborgy nature also adds a small element of funky weirdness, which hey, is not bad at all because Gaga is one of the few that can pull it off and pull it off good.
"Plastic Doll" is full-on Gaga, weird, metaphoric and again, just weird and that is also perfectly OK and even fun. Using the metaphor of a Barbie doll as symbolism for what sounds like broken love ("I'm not your plastic doll" or "I'm no toy for a real boy") is a real nice touch and this is about as personal as Gaga gets in the entire album. Now comes the next track, the head and feet banging "Sour Candy," Gaga's collab with K-POP superstars BLACKPINK, continuing the metaphorical spree using candy as the metaphor for love once again. "Sour Candy" though is the shortest track, clocked at 2 minutes and 37 seconds but moves so fast it might as well be more like 1 minute and 37 seconds. We'll leave it up to the listener to decide for themselves.
After the filler-like "Enigma," the next track "Replay" serves as a kinda-sorta ode (maybe?) to her fanbase, known as Monsters" while seemingly trying to reconcile that with who she is as an artist. Then we go right into the final interlude into her collaboration with Elton John; "Sine From Above" might be the best track in the entire album.
Gaga's ever changing vocals depending on the mood is juxtaposed with Elton's signature vocals is what sells the song, but the chaotic musical arrangement behind it kind of takes away the dual vocal delivery of the piece. Production could have been better, especially when you do bring in a legend like Elton John for the ride. Think of when OneRepublic brought in Peter Gabriel, that worked perfectly. "Sine From Above" works from a vocal standpoint, but production, especially close to the end of the 4 minutes plus seemed a bit messy and distracting.
Too bad for next track "1000 Doves," Gaga tried to combine Eurodance with lyrics that evoke "Electric Chapel" and "Judas" from Born This Way
and unfortunately gets a bit too preachy in all its metaphors. Final track "Babylon" seems to be a strange way to end an album, as the obvious homage to Madonna's "Vogue" sounds more like something to start or be in the middle of an album. If there were any doubt that one of Lady Gaga's idols was Madonna, "Babylon" puts that doubt to rest. Just would prefer it to be not at the end of an album.
In the end Chromatica i
ndeed marks Lady Gaga's return to electro-pop music. But if you were expecting it to be as big as Born This Way
or even Fame
, you might be a little disappointed. But what you won't be disappointed by is that after spending several years down on Earth, she hasn't forgotten what put her on the map, she still does it well, just more tailored and produced for the shorter attention spans of today's pop music and yes, there are some missteps along the way but it's Lady Gaga we are talking about here. Maybe in a year or two, her next album will be in the pop zeitgeist overnight? Stay tuned.