Album Review: JoanneWonkeyDude98 Mini-Description: In my twenty-second album review, I delve into the complicated double-meanings behind Lady Gaga's new experimental folk-rock album -- and why it's one of the best of the year.
Best Songs: "Hey Girl" ft. Florence Welch, "Angel Down", "Joanne", "Sinner's Prayer", "Dancin' In Circles", "Diamond Heart", "Come To Mama", "Million Reasons", "John Wayne", "Ayo"
Worst Song: "Just Another Day"
There's no easy way to do this review. I am very openly a Lady Gaga fan. While she's never really been perfect or even all that amazing mostly, she's always managed to stick out. She's, musically, not even that weird, more than that she has a lot of personality, a great voice, and lyrics that mean way more than their trashy, overblown surfaces. I will fully admit that she's capable of making some of the worst songs of all time mainly by going in way over her own head with her analytic nerdiness, and it often leads to unlistenable garbage trying way too hard to be over-the-top.
Regardless, I like all her albums, with my personal favorite until now being The Fame Monster (why judge The Fame over this when TFM was treated as an official release despite being a issue?), which despite having a bit more of a polarizing tracklist than its first issue The Fame, it was definitely an album with much stronger and more common high points.
Then came ARTPOP. I don't hate it, I actually quite like it, but beyond songs like the lead single Applause, it was an album that was a tad more miss than hit in its ambitions, especially when you bring the hack R. Kelly on a song called Do What U Want, which for that reason stands as her worst song to date for me (yes, worse than LoveGame and Bad Romance). It was very frustrating to think about, and kinda left me wanting more, and despite Cheek To Cheek being a great cover album, it didn't really leave me knowing whether or not it would affect Lady Gaga's ongoing solo career.
And let me be honest, even I was a bit terrified for this album. Sure, Perfect Illusion was good, but it wasn't great. Then came the amazing Million Reasons as well as the lineup of assisting artists on this album being a feature from Florence Welch (calling this a match made in heaven is an understatement), and production from Mark Ronson, Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age, and...John Tillman of Father John Misty? This was an amazing sign, because I really like all these artists. So what did I get from Joanne?
Well, let me be honest: I don't like this album. At all.
I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT.
This is easily the best thing she's done since The Fame Monster, maybe even ever. I don't know if it's because of the casting, or the experimental instrumentation, or the much heavier subject matter, but this easily stands as one of the best albums of this year bar none.
Let's start with the most palpable changes from other Lady Gaga albums and that's her vocals. Lady Gaga has always been a hard place to pinpoint when it comes to her performance, she's just too versatile. One thing's for sure, it's that she's amazing. She's like the female Max Martin for singing, in that she's always been able to perfect that pop formula. Sure, when she dips into her lower range for songs like Bad Romance, it's somewhat of a disaster, but even then she can pull that off.
But on this album it's easy to describe her voice: raw. She's never sounded better, so impassioned and emotionally vast, complete with having a lot of comfort when it comes to musical transitions and having some very well-placed shrieks. She sounds way more invoking on these louder, more impactful songs even more so than her slicker pop roots, particularly when placed alongside Florence Welch for the best interplay of all year on Hey Girl.
And that brings us to the instrumentation and the production. Now, I'll admit, this isn't for everyone. And I'm not talking about it being inaccessible, no, it's more of an acquired taste. And that's kind of a shame, because Mark Ronson and Josh Homme OWNED it with this album. Every song on this album tries as hard as it possibly can to sound as raw as our frontwoman herself. Most of the album does, to be fair, have a bit of emphasis on percussion, but it does manage to bring a lot of smoky bite within the guitars and bass groove, especially on Diamond Heart and John Wayne. That's not saying the more mellow, mid-tempo folk songs don't work, because the title track, Million Reasons, Sinner's Prayer, Come To Mama, and Angel Down invoke a lot of emotion in their own right. And that's when it goes in one of these two main directions at all. Dancin' In Circles does have a bit of acoustics, but most of it is shrouded in a grimy synth that mutates against a sparse, popping beat. Ayo beats out Chris Brown's by a long shot thanks to a punchy gallop of a groove that's easily one of the most energetic on the album. Probably my favorite song on this album is Hey Girl, though the production is mostly just groove and a thick, glossy synth running through.
Now, I'm not saying the production always works. Perfect Illusion, despite probably having the best groove on the album and an opening guitar snarl that promises for a lot, along with a great key change, Mark Ronson really smooths out the guitars in favor of the drums, it's just a bit too polished and save is all. Probably the weakest song here is Just Another Day, because despite the pretty good backdrop, the song is introduced by a thin, buzzy layer of chiptune, just not really my type of MIDI, you know?
But that can be excused, because now we have to talk about the lyrics and themes. And...there's no easy way to talk about this, because...okay, I know all of you are sick of me talking about this album in reviews (especially those reading this on RYM, who I know for a fact resent me at this point), but this album's narrative can mostly be directed at, well, pop music itself, in the way that Blurryface by twenty-øne piløts was. This is where the folk-rock experimentation is crucial, because it only further accentuates Lady Gaga's unsureness of pop. She's aware that she has about a million reasons to just abandon it completely, but all she needs is that one good reason to stay within the genre. She's realized that her career itself up to now has been nothing but an experiment by a music nerd, it was an illusion, but it was an amazing one at that. But after the singles, it gets all the trickier, because you really have to dig into the details to find the double metaphors. She's not flawless, she knows she's not a perfect popstar, but she's gonna give it her best effort anyway. She also begins to deal with her transition to country and how pop ends up fading off, because she can't find that one good reason, referencing the country archetypes (eat your heart out Thomas Rhett) and trying to defeat her demons through the understandable method of female masturbation, and it gets really powerful.
The double meanings aren't always there, and these often cause for even stronger, more personal songs regardless. The primary example, the title track, a song dedicated to her late aunt, and starts off angry and in denial of her death, but ultimately grows to accept it, though there's still something missing. It's more historical on Angel Down, where she cries out to her leaders to come out and show themselves in the wake of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin.
And that brings us to the big question: what is Lady Gaga wanting to do with Joanne? Well, if this review was any indication, this is a transitional album. Closing the door to one point in her career, opening it up for another. While I do wish for a real resolution to give the plot a real finishing blow, that doesn't change the fact that this really does hit home.
Yeah, this is one of the best albums of the year. An astounding vocal performance from Lady Gaga, a composition team that's only helped her go through the experimentation smoother, and a complex, personal story, this is a pop masterpiece. For me, it's a very strong 9/10 and my highest of recommendations. I can't guarantee you'll find something like I did, but I guarantee you'll find something to love here.
This is WonkeyDude98, and can you all please lay off the studio release recommendations for a while? I'm extremely busy, because along with all the albums I've been teasing, I still have a big surprise for you all, and I have to review Starboy and Run The Jewels 3 when they come out soon! Point is, especially with school, I'm stressed. Whatever, D.R.A.M.'s next, so stay tuned!
Can't wait for D.R.A.M
and good review like always - ProPanda
You said Sufjan would be next... - djpenquin999
I swear he's next, then Cosmic Hallelujah, then the Brand New album. - WonkeyDude98
Lady Gaga's Joanne is her best work since Born This Way.
Ranking from Good to Great:
6. The Fame
The Fame is only good, I guess. Sure, it has Poker Face, Beautiful Dirty Rich (underrated) and Just Dance. And also underrated songs such as Brown Eyes and The Fame but it was prevented due to LoveGame which is promiscuous and sexual due to the "I wanna take a ride on your discostick." and Don't Give Up of being flop.
Fact: Poker Face was about bisexuality.
Well, I really love it but Gaga became a sex pyscho especially in Sexxx Dreams and Do What U Want but my favorite song is ARTPOP, Venus, Applause and G.U.Y. and my favorite single is G.U.Y. since it shows depiction of art, I think it was her best single yet.
Fact: Koons Ball is her icon during her era in Artpop, the artist who made it was also the one who made Michael Jackson and Bubbles.
4. The Fame Monster
It was so good, I loved it. Gaga was a great artist in her generation. Paparazzi and Bad Romance were so catchy and Bad Romance was one of her greatest videos with Telephone, the said G.U.Y. and Born This Way.
Fact: Gaga's Telephone is a part 2 of Paparazzi.
3. Cheek to Cheek
One word: Jazz.
2. Born This Way
1. Joanne - ArigatoKawaii
The Fame - bubbles
The Fame Monster- Dark
Born This Way - Gay awareness
Cheek to Cheek -'door fir Gaga
Joanne- A new era of revolution for Gaga - ArigatoKawaii