Friday, 27 May 2011

Lady Gaga - Born This Way

So after all the hype and leaked snippets, Lady Gaga’s new opus, ‘Born This Way’ has arrived.  Let me declare my interest up front – I like Lady G a lot and feel she has brought some much needed colour to a bland corporate musical landscape.  And she does have a talent, which is always a bonus.  So what of ‘Born This Way’?

First up, at 15 tracks and over an hour in length, it is too long in the way that many CD albums are too long these days.  I was brought up in a time when albums were limited to about 40 minutes so my attention span is pre-conditioned to this span.  As a consequence, BTW plays like a short double album and like most double albums would benefit from some pruning.  Nevertheless there are some cracking songs here, not least the title track, the Queen inspired ‘You and I’ and the finale, ‘The Edge of Glory’ which would give the Boss himself a run for his money.  When Gaga is on form, there is no one to touch her, but in places this album feels a bit forced and sledge-hammer-like as if the pressure is beginning to tell and the only solution is to over-produce everything.  When she calms down a bit, like on the sublime semi-ballad, ‘Bloody Mary’ her efforts have so much more soul.  Cut this album by about 3 or 4 songs and I’d have no hesitation in recommending it unreservedly.  But in the wider world, it is not just criticism of her work that she has to contend with, but comparison with past musical icons.

Many commentators have compared both this album and Gaga herself with the life and works of Bruce Springsteen and Madonna and suggest that she falls short.  The comparison with Springsteen is the more relevant as they are both writers and performers and it is probably true to say that Gaga has some way to go to match the esteem in which Springsteen is held in both categories.  Funnily enough, the track, ‘Hair’ is a curiously Bruce-like rocker – imagine a disco version of any of the boss’s stadium anthems and you get the idea – although I can’t quite see her competing at this genre.

However, I get a little irritated with the Gaga/Madonna comparison as I feel that we are looking at two quite different entities.  Madonna is primarily an astute business woman who happens to work in the music industry.  She is supremely adept at surrounding herself with the right people at the right time and manipulating business contacts to get the best for herself, be it songs written by others especially for her or marketing effort.  Whilst she has a passable voice and musical awareness, she is not a musician per se but the ultimate corporate money-making machine.  Lady Gaga, on the other hand, is primarily a musician who is most at home writing songs at her piano, an assertion she has alluded to on several occasions.  And there is no doubt in my mind that when she does this, she excels.

It is interesting to note that during her live performance at Radio 1’s Big Weekend recently, her best work was when she sat at her piano with her live band around her and sang her heart out.  Consequently, I can’t help feeling that with ‘Born This Way’, she is trying too hard and that the burden of creating her own music and maintaining her undoubted fashion consciousness is weighing heavily upon her.  Perhaps she should take a step back next time out, relax, play to her strengths and just concentrate on her writing?

If she were really bold, she would shut herself away with a piano and a portastudio and create her own ‘Nebraska’.  It would finally set her apart, as it is something Madonna could never do.  Put Your Paws Up!

Here's an emotional Lady G doing 'The Edge of Glory' at the Radio 1 Big Weekend.  If you want to skip the preamble, go to about 1:10 where the song starts proper.


Jayne said...

Your reviews are so good. I really get a feel for the album and whether I want to buy it. I can well believe there will be some over production here and I really hope she does create her own 'Nebraska' one day. As for Gaga/Madonna media comparisons - could it be as base as they both being blonde? I doubt whether musicianship really comes into comparisons these days. It's all about image and marketing, which is rather unfair when one person is primarily a musician and the other primarily a show-girl (show-woman?). However, as you say, Madonna is a brilliant business woman and chose to sing brilliantly catchy songs, with a career that has stood the test of time - for that she is to be applauded. I doubt Gaga would be sad at the comparison.

music obsessive said...

Hi Jayne. Thanks for your kind words. Obviously, the media love to speculate on high profile persons - it fills column inches (and blogs!) but these days I try to enjoy things for their own merit. And I've always loved song writers.

luminous muse said...

I do think LG is talented. I also think it's a shame that she feels the need to jump through all these circus hoops and can't just make music. It's not her fault. If she didn't do it I doubt anyone would pay her the attention she gets.

music obsessive said...

Hi LM - glad to see you are back in circulation. I agree, although sometimes the circus hoops are fun too! I'm sure over time she will fell less pressured and will be in a more relaxed frame of mind when writing. In the meantime, I am basking in the delight that is 'Bloody Mary' - worth the price of the album alone for it's relentless structured ramp up to a melt-in-the-mouth chorus. Just beautiful.

Rock Brigade Blogger said...

As someone who is normally into guitar driven rock, Lady Gaga has managed to catch my interest and to pay attention. She certainly has added some color and brings a "rock" attitude to the pop world. Your review is excellent. Thanks a lot. Feel free to stop over to my blog:

music obsessive said...

Greetings RBB - thanks for leaving a comment. I've had a look at your blog and you are are clearly a hard rock fan as you suggest. Me, I'm more of an indie/pop/rock devotee but it does seem that Lady G appeals to us both. I think that is the secret of her success. She does appeal to all sectors.

Rock Brigade Blogger said...

Rock is definately my passion, but I do enjoy many other types of music and enjoy your blog very much. Drop by mine anytime. All the best!