Critique and illustration by: Chris Talbot-Heindl
All over the Internet, people are in a tizzy as news has come out that Lady Gaga has fired her manager. Everybody wants to know why. After reviewing the new album, I think I may have an idea…
In all honesty, I only made it (begrudgingly) through eight songs in the fifteen-song album. I should probably also preface this review by saying that I am not a pop aficionado, and have never been a huge fan of Lady Gaga until her song “Born This Way” came on the scene, at which point, I took notice and fell in love.
It seems to me, though, that she is falling into the same trap as all contemporary artists who have been on the scene for a minute or two, in that the newest albums suffer greatly, either due to a lack of time or a lack of luster. And specifically, “ARTPOP” lacks editing.
The lyrics, the delivery, the sounds are all shockingly bad, coming off the back of “Born This Way.” The album falls flat on its face, with the only redeeming quality being the Jeff Koons artwork for the cover, an exquisite Lady Gaga sculpture with his signature metallic item between her legs. But let’s be honest about the rest of the cover as well – Koon’s sculpture of Gaga is masterful and gorgeous; the cleaved and reorganized background of what appear to be black and white nudes with the masterwork of Botticelli is, over the top, and a bit insulting. The cover art could have used the same thing the entire album does, which is a good old fashioned edit. “ARTPOP” is as much art as is my shoddy, line-drawn rendition of “The Birth of Venus” is true to form.
I’d say, if you are a Gaga fan because you enjoy electro-pop, you probably won’t be disappointed. If you are a Gaga fan because you appreciate her unique and innovative performance art-style in her music videos and live, you probably won’t be disappointed.
However, if you were expecting another ground breaking song like “Born This Way,” intelligent or ingenious lyrics or meaning, artistic collaborations, or original sounds, you will probably be disappointed, much like I was.
For your reading pleasure, a synopsis of my opinions of the eight of fifteen songs I managed to get through:
“Aura” is a shockingly bad auditory mix of obnoxious synthesizers, a simplistic and heavy-handed beat, and lackluster vocals that are so heavily mixed that one cannot even understand the lyrics. As an editor of a compzine, if the lyrics came across my desk as a submission, I would suggest that the excessive pop-ization of the lyrics destroys some of the deeper meanings suggested in it. Highlights include “Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura? / Behind the aura? / Behind the curtain? / Behind the burqa?” The rest of the song’s lyrics just appear to be a mish mash of random words strung together.
“Venus” is a song that makes absolutely no sense and goes through so many transitions, I can’t help wonder if it’s an amalgamation of three completely different song ideas that got thrown together last minute in order to round off the record. The most ludicrous part of the whole disheveled mess are the lyrics which seem to have been picked at random from a hat: “Have an oyster, baby / It’s Aphrod-isy / Act sleazy / Venus / Worship to the land / A girl from the planet (to the planet) / To the planet.”
“G.U.Y.” again borrows too much from synthesizers. The lyrics are atrocious, but we do get to hear the two sides of Gaga’s performance voice, the talented vocalizations and the staccato rhythmic delivery of lyrics, which I guess we could count as a win.
“Jewels N’ Drugs” is just pitiful. The collaboration between Lady Gaga, T.I, and Twista, is awkward at best.
“MANICURE” is what you would expect from a pop star. It’s got all the boxes ticked and nothing unique in the slightest. But hell, we need another win. Let’s call it.
“Do What U Want” initially has the background sounds of a Knife or Fever Ray song, with the vocals of Lady Gaga, which I actually digged upon first listen. But 20 seconds of Mariah Carey-esque vocal gymnastics is a little bit much to handle. This is, after all 2013, not 1982. Eventually, the interesting sounds give way to the synthesized version of a 70s-style pop song, and R. Kelly comes in, instantly taking away any edge the song may have had. By the time that we get to apex of the song, it just loses it between the 70s, Knife-esque, improperly mixed slap bass, R. Kelly, and Lady Gaga, along with the mediocre and repetitive lyrics.
“ARTPOP” sounds like something Donna Summer sang in the late 70s only with the most uninspiring performance of vocals I think I’ve ever heard from Lady Gaga or any contemporary pop singer. “ARTPOP” borrows from Depeche Mode, an amalgamation of “Never Let Me Down Again” with a sped-up version of the high-pitched synthesizer of “Useless,” combined with the type of lackadaisical delivery that Shirley Manson would give post throat operation. The lyrics, again, are very Gaga-esque, in the way that the verses have absolutely nothing to do with the chorus in any fashion.
“Dope” is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. More so after doing some research. I was trying to determine if the song was a PSA misinformation campaign, the kind that led my mother to believe that marijuana kills people; or if Lady Gaga was talking about heroin. It’s a fair question – those who have never used marijuana call pot “dope” and those that have call heroin “dope.” In my research, it seems that the misguided singer is talking about her fans. This kind of crap annoys the hell out of me. In a statement she said that, “I would rather be poor and happy than rich and alone,” and indicated it was about needing her audience. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would compare needing validation to a medicinal herb (if she’s referring to marijuana) or a debilitating addiction that usually ends in death (if she’s referring to heroin). It’s really just tacky if nothing else.
Besides the atrocious analogy attempt, “Dope” is a horrifically bad song. The vocals are so overdone that my ear drum rattled a few times in my bad ear (I had a little diving accident as a teenager, and clangy type sounds sometimes do that – never before has produced and edited vocals off a song done that).
All in all, I think the album could have used just a couple more months or years in production. Better to get it right than put out a dud. Of course, if you don’t care about lyrics or meaning in your music, this may be the album of your dreams. You hear that, Paul Ryan? Maybe you can use this album when you do your P90X.