Launching onto the scene in 2008 with the single “Just Dance,” Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, known by her stage name as Lady Gaga, would quickly become a household name in the pop culture realm, familiar to both music award shows and the Billboard charts.
She built a name for herself as a fearless innovator with “The Fame” and “The Fame Monster” and her public appearances in outlandish costumes (the meat dress or Kermit the frog dress, anyone?) and the hit songs that dominated radio.
By the time Gaga’s 2011 album “Born this Way” released, we had a solid understanding of who Lady Gaga was. With tracks like “The Edge of Glory,” “You and I,” and of course, the title track, she carried on the name she had previously created for herself as the eccentric queen of pop. Her 2013 album “ARTPOP” was a modest attempt to maintain her reign at the top of the charts, and did not produce the instant hit singles as did “The Fame” and “The Fame Monster” but the album succeeded in furthering our concept of Gaga as the innovative, funky Mother Monster.
Yet with her latest release, “Joanne,” Lady Gaga dispels the notion that we have any clear idea of who she is. A departure from her previous albums, “Joanne” is an experimental fusion of country/folk, electronica and jazz. Gaga takes steps in a new direction, showing a mellower version of the weird that was highlighted in “Born this Way” proving that the only steady thing about her is her unpredictability.
“Joanne” reveals a new sound that is more mature and refined, with lyrics tackling personal issues, but the album is also more “blah” than the disco-stick, cosmic glam persona we initially fell in love with.
Opening the album with “Diamond Heart,” Lady Gaga croons true country-style with a surprising twang over an electropop beat. Following that up is “A-YO,” Miley Cyrus-esque country-pop that’s annoyingly poppy, but just isn’t enough to get you on the dance floor.
The title track, “Joanne,” an acoustic tribute to Gaga’s deceased aunt, a sexual assault survivor, starts out both boring and cringe-worthy. Despite having such honest, raw lyrics, the vocals feel forced and emotionless, similar to “Speechless” from “The Fame Monster.” However, where it worked to convey contempt and disillusionment in “Speechless,” this time it feels all wrong, making the only likeable part of the song the repeated chorus.
Where “Joanne” falls short as a ballad, “Million Reasons” succeeds. It is more intricate musically, and much more intimate than the insincere-sounding eulogy “Joanne.”
Songs like “Perfect Illusion” and “John Wayne” are reminiscent of the Lady Gaga of the past, with their familiar use of strong beats and catchy hooks. They are the dance anthems that hint that maybe Gaga hasn’t done a total stylistic 180 on us.
“Hey Girl,” the collaborative track with Florence Welch (of Florence & The Machine), proves to be the album’s best display of Gaga’s vocal talents. Demonstrating her range and ability to convey emotion, the song provides the downtempo beat yet addictive hook to make it onto the perfect road trip playlist. It’s simultaneously mellow, study session music and something that you can tap along with on the steering wheel.
Overall, Lady Gaga has succeeded in shattering expectations once again with her latest record. While the first few listens feel awkward and make us yearn for the bizarre Gaga of old, “Joanne” may be something we can play on repeat once we get over the initial shock of her new country-glam-electronica sound.
Favorite tracks: “Hey Girl,” “John Wayne,” “Dancin’ in Circles,” “Million Reasons.”
Rating: 2.7 / 5