For many, its been a long wait for the latest from Lady Gaga.
The Fame Monster dropped in November 2009, only weeks before the pop star embarked on her record-breaking Monster Ball tour. Weighing in at eight tracks, it was long for an EP but apparently too short to be taken seriously as a full-length album. Disregarding ambiguities over labels, there’s no question that The Fame Monster was heavy on the hits: Successful radio singles “Bad Romance,” “Alejandro” and “Telephone” were all taken from the shorter-than-average album.
With eighteen months of separation between releases, it’s only natural to assume the performer would have changed or evolved. What listeners will find on Born This Way is a Lady Gaga that hasn’t grown so much as been entirely reborn.
Fans got their first taste of the new album when the title track dropped in February, and the reaction was mixed at best. Heavy-handed lyrics bogged down what was sometimes panned as a complete rip-off of existing pop melodies (the song was so frequently compared to Madonna’s “Express Yourself” that Madge issued a statement of support for the self-affirming single). “Judas,” with its controversial religious motifs and similarities to “Bad Romance,” felt more like vintage Gaga, and “The Edge of Glory” and “Hair” were released without much fanfare on the Mondays leading up to the complete album release date.
Now that Born This Way is available in its entirety, it’s precisely the mixed bag the singles would have suggested. Stylistically, Lady Gaga is truly all over the place, lapsing occasionally into banda-style melodies on “Americano” and indulging in operatic preludes on “Government Hooker,” but the album can almost pass as cohesive in its complete lack of consistency. “Heavy Metal Lover” and “You and I” hardly seem as if they could come from the same album, let alone the same artist, but the unexpected pairing makes for an always engaging listening experience.
Lyrically, the album vacillates between nonsensical dance anthems (“Scheibe”) and message-driven pop (“Born This Way”), but fails to find a happy medium. Never before has the singer ventured so far into preachiness or ridiculousness, and the boldness does nothing to strengthen the album.
The one constant is Lady Gaga’s steadfast insistence on inclusion, with no fewer than three of the 14 songs on the standard edition being of the affirming “be true to yourself” ilk. As a public figure, the 25-year-old Stefani Germanotta has made a platform of fighting for equality for all, delivering impassioned sermons in front of the Capitol and even giving a keynote speech at an annual Human Rights Campaign dinner (President Barack Obama opened for her).
The music shines most brightly in songs where she doesn’t take herself as seriously. “Scheibe” and “Marry The Night” represent the danceable “Poker Face”-era Gaga that the world first fell in love with. She even speaks in fake German throughout the former.
The alternating dark and optimistic tones of the album offer an emotional roller coaster for listeners, but the experience is, if nothing else, unlike her previous work.
Born This Way will certainly garner more than a handful of negative reviews from critics who expect lighter pop, and is sure to satisfy the simple demand for new material from the singer’s “Little Monsters.” But if she hopes to hold onto old fans and gain new ones, a return to the more accessible stylings of The Fame couldn’t hurt.