The Zero Hour

Reviews, rants and oddities on video game and film culture.

Born This Way (Album Review)

It’s been a couple of weeks now, the year or so of hype has died down, and I’ve listened to it a fair few times, so it seems a good time as any to talk about the self declared “album of the decade” Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. First off, I’m reviewing the standard edition, not the special edition with an extra disc, or the extended edition with more tracks shoved in the middle for some reason. Whilst yes, I am a fan of her music, I think it’s just ridiculous that the record company feel they can cash in on the hype this album’s built up, rather than the artists vision of the record, especially when this same artists equivalent of a cash-in deluxe edition for her last album was almost an album in itself.

On the subject of hype, the whole enigma of Lady Gaga and her “crazy outfits” and sheer phenomena (it’s really hard to deny her as anything else) has made her so impossible to avoid that when she decided to start work on the follow up to The Fame, her evil record company made her blurt it out all over the place, so naturally the press were on it like flies to poop. FOR. A WHOLE. YEAR. That’s right. Gaga spends the best part of a year just hyping up her record with producers, record company executives and Elton John claiming it to be the greatest thing that will ever happen. By the time the title track came out, we’d had her posting the lyrics online, revealing the title cryptically and having Elton John claiming it as “the greatest gay anthem ever” so to be honest, it was a tad disappointing to get a song not dis-similar to Express Yourself with about as much subtlety as bashing your head against a brick wall that comes across (especially in the video, where she claims it as a “manifesto”) as a tad pretentious and I suddenly became a tad worried that maybe the hype had built her up to a giant fall,  this wasn’t helped by the frankly dire artwork, which just put me off buying a physical copy altogether and I became convinced and a bit worried that the album was going to be terrible (I’d write wouldn’t sell, but that’s clearly bollocks because it was bound to),  but thankfully I couldn’t be more wrong.

Born This Way is one of those rare albums that really grabs you on first listen, every track rightfully has a hook or style that separates it from another and whilst I think it gets a bit lost after a couple of listens, you’re still left with a fairly strong impression from it. Gaga is an artist who just bursts out of her shell here (or her…egg…yeah). She knows she’s this massive force and she’s going to just go for it, regardless of whether it works or not. When it works, it’s fist in the air epicness, as evidenced by opener Marry The Night. It’s full of energy and power, it’s sexy, mad and just awesome. However, when it fails, it’s easily more noticeable. Unicorn Highway isn’t awful per se, but it just feels like this big track that never really starts and Heavy Metal Lover is forgettable. For an album that’s been this anticipated, it’s a shame for it to come with a batch of filler tracks, which is one of the big problems with The Fame as well, I could have done without a whole batch of those tracks and it’s the same here. It’s a shame, but it doesn’t distract the album from its real highlights. Americano particularly is just this searingly multi-lingual burst of madness that’s basically the greatest Eurovision entry that never was, to the point where after it finished my reaction was exactly the same as to after watching Moldova’s entry earlier this year and that is a good thing.

Lyrically, the album threads some common themes together, the most obvious is the idea of self-acceptance evidenced obviously by the title track and then even better a couple of tracks later by Hair, which contains lyrics of empowerment that pretty much make the title track utterly redundant. There’s religious imagery and mentions of Jesus crammed down your throat considerably that kind of becomes a bit of a pain and takes you out of the music eventually, which is a really big shame, as is her insistence of doing that thing that young artists do where they try to get their name in the song somewhere. There is no need to say “gaga” in nearly every song on the album, we know who you are, we’ve bought your album, you don’t need to promote yourself anymore.

But all faults aside, I really do have to give credit to Gaga to actually have the balls to make an album like this. She’s not massively known for her albums, she’s known for wacky outfits and Pokerface, which I think completely overlooks her actual talent of making damn good pop music. Born This Way is mind-blowingly eclectic, there’s shades of both Human League and Crystal Castles in Government Hooker, Bruce Springsteen baiting epic Americana in Edge Of Glory (complete with The Boss’ resident Saxophonist, Clarence Clemons who recently passed away) that wouldn’t sound out of place at the end of big 80’s movie, and I’m a tad disappointed it’s being released as a single, because I believe it should be left as a special treat for those who listen right to the end because it sounds nothing like anything else on the album and on the subject of uniqueness; You and I sounds like Queen (the drum beat in the verse IS We Will Rock You and Brian May plays guitar on the track) meets Bon Jovi meets country and western and works insanely well and then Scheiße begins with what sounds like a U-Bahn safety announcement. It’s typically bizarre and nothing feels like it should work, but it so does.

So at this point, 1,000 words done and up to the conclusion stage and I genuinely only feel like I’ve scratched the surface of this record, which feels bizarre when you consider the sheer lack of subtlety on show. So I suppose in the end, does Born This Way live up to the hype? Well, sort of, there’s some disappointments in there and there’s about 4 tracks of filler, but the rest of the tracks certainly live up to any expectation and just scrapes past the quality over quantity. The bottom line is that Born This Way is surprisingly inspired. Gaga really didn’t need to completely go all out with her production, she could have just written 12 more Poker Face’s, (arguably a good chunk of The Fame was this, fade outs are lazy outros) but the fact she went out and made this album proves she really cares about her music more than she’s given credit for. Which is fantastic, because whilst The Fame was a good album, it wasn’t anything more than a shiny pop album and it’s here that Gaga proves she’s an enormous talent with a keen ear for hooks and melodies. She lacks inspiration lyrically, but makes up for it in sheer energy and creativity that this album is just a joy to listen to and will probably be the best pop album this year, and no amount of silly dresses and meat hats can change that.

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