Born This Way – album of the decade?

Born This Way – album of the decade?

We seek out two different views on Lady Gaga’s new album, Born This Way, which is possibly the most eagerly anticipated disc of the year – and certainly the one carrying the most expectation.

While one reviewer is left wanting, the other walks away totally satisfied with Mother Monster’s follow-up album.

The current Lady Gaga backlash coming from some quarters was to be expected – you don’t release 10 radio-conquering singles in three years and walk red carpets encased in giant eggs without some people getting sick of the (increasingly bizarre) sight of you.

What’s surprising, though, is that so many of those who now sneer at her are ‘the gays’, the very audience who initially embraced her so readily and to whom she’s unashamedly played since.

Born This Way, a commendable (if lyrically clumsy) equality anthem that gave the word ‘transgender’ its first appearance on the pop charts, seemed to be the tipping point. In a pop climate littered with Britney’s dead-eyed exhortations to the dancefloor and Katy Perry’s idiotic sex kitten shtick (“I wanna see your peacock, cock, cock,” indeed), the wide-eyed earnestness of the song didn’t sit well with some listeners.

Cynical types will find more to sneer at here: from the addictive bubblegum pop of Bad Kids to the glorious ‘80s power ballad Hair, Gaga stays on ‘inspirational’ message for much of the album, spinning words of wisdom for her Little Monsters.

Lyrics aside, Born This Way is an intense, inventive aural assault that doesn’t let up for 17 songs. Even the one laidback moment, You & I – debuted in concert as a stripped back, Elton-esque piano number – is given a high gloss sheen courtesy of super producer (and Shania Twain loverat) Mutt Lange.

It’s marvelously risky at times, too. No other mainstream pop star – no, not even Madonna – would record songs as wilfully bonkers as Government Hooker (which plays out like some sort of demented underground remix of Funkytown) or Americano (a mariachi lesbian love song), let alone place them among the first five tracks of an album.

And fear not, disco stick lovers – Gaga does deviate from her Born This Way message on a few songs. Take the sexy, slinky Heavy Metal Lover’s opening (pick-up) line, in which she purrs “I want your whisky mouth all over my blonde south…” Even cunnilingus sounds appealing to a gay man if it’s accompanied by a hot electro pop soundtrack.

Not everything works – the three bonus tracks that come with the deluxe edition are inessential (although the I Wanna Dance With Somebody-aping Fashion Of His Love is worth a listen). And the kitchen sink production does threaten to overwhelm some of the lesser songs – preposterously-titled Highway Unicorn (Road To Love), I’m looking in your direction.

So as Gaga herself puts it on this album’s life-affirming finale, she’s on the Edge of Glory. At 25 and barely three years into her career, where she goes next is anybody’s guess.

At this stage, only one thing’s certain: if you can’t at least appreciate the talent, the commitment and the sheer pop nous of Lady Gaga, you just don’t like pop music.

It was always going to be hard for Born This Way to live up to the crushing expectations from fans and critics, but if I had to bet on anyone pulling it off – it would be Lady Gaga.

The Fame introduced mother monster as a formidable talent, but The Fame Monster raised the bar even higher, becoming the new measuring stick for dance-pop.

When the most powerful woman in music isn’t trying to be outrageous or groundbreaking, she is almost unbeatable. Take Bad Romance. Strip away the “rah rah rahs” and you’re left with one of the most honest ‘Dear John’ letters ever committed to music. I guess that’s half the reason this new era has irked me so much – it’s all image and hype.

Lady Gaga can talk about tackling the big issues until the pointy implants in her face explode, but nothing she has released since Alejandro has really connected with me. Happily, there is a lot to like about Born This Way when you dig beneath the unnecessary trappings – but it doesn’t change the fact that the album crumbles under the weight of hype and ego.

Mother Monster needs to stop advocating for minorities that (she mistakenly believes) imbue her with credibility and put together a cohesive album. She’s so busy trying to prove she can do everything that she ends up doing very little well.

One minute the 25-year-old is bringing back ’90s house, then reviving disco, before moving on to ’80s soft rock and finally sifting through the embers of the industrial rave scene.

Her fans call it eclectic and Lady Gaga herself has gushed that this is the album she has always wanted to make. But that doesn’t make it good. Just unforgivably self-indulgent.

At its worst, Born This Way plays like the soundtrack to a vanilla party at the Hellfire Club. At its best, the album sounds like a mixtape my mum might have made back in 1987 with heavy lashings of Starship, Laura Branigan and Foreigner. It’s no masterpiece but definitely salvageable.

Here is my track by track review:

Marry The Night
This is the song Lady Gaga premiered on Facebook application Farmville. Though I’m guessing people who tend to imaginary sheep don’t hit up the club all that often. Marry The Night is a rather inoffensive if somewhat still-born opener. Which is surprising because I love Fernando Garibay and he usually brings the best out of Gaga. The explosive introduction is exciting and raised my expectations until the song changes pace and becomes a rather strange mish-mash of ’80s Bruce Springsteen and bad ’90s techno. It definitely has its moments, but the track lacks the catchy hook that Lady Gaga usually does better than anyone.

Born This Way
If I never have to hear this heinous mess again it will be too soon. Born This Way makes me ashamed to be gay. If we’ve reached the point where we need a middle-class, heterosexual attention seeker to advocate on our behalf with the supposedly uplifting message that we’re all freaks but still deserve love and acceptance, then I’m out. There is nothing joyous or inclusive about the lyrics and Gaga can deny ripping off Madonna’s Express Yourself all she likes, but the similarities are undeniable. Everything about this makes my skin crawl.

Government Hooker
If any song sums up what is wrong with Lady Gaga circa 2011 then this is it. Government Hooker is the most pretentious song you will hear all year. From the pointless lyrics to messy production, this is one big cry for attention. I could probably cope with an instrumental because there are some interesting flourishes, but what exactly is the point of this? To prove that Gaga is cool and edgy and can write lyrics about sex workers and dead presidents? Please go back to riding that disco stick and leave the faux intellectualism to someone with more to say. I will give her credit for the high camp operatic intro though.

The fame monster’s unauthorised remake of Loli Lux’s WannaBE has been the biggest flop of her career thus far. And for a while looked like it would derail the incredible momentum she had built over the past two years. The problem is that Judas is a massive step backwards. It’s a fairly standard RedOne production that sticks to the tried and tested Bad Romance formula without bringing anything new or fresh to the table. Even the religious imagery that pervades the lyrics in getting boring. Madonna and the Pet Shop Boys did this shtick better in the ’80s – it’s not shocking, just lazy and boring. And then there’s the chorus that sounds like the worst song Aqua never recorded. There are so many better songs on Born This Way.

By this point I was lamenting the death of my love affair with Lady Gaga. I thought the time had come to throw my paws into the air one last time and leave the monsterhood for good. Americano is so lame it needs a walking stick. A sad re-imagining of Alejandro that combines Mariachi music with bad Euro-disco, the track apparently tackles heady issue of illegal immigration. It’s as hideous as it sounds. If the prospect of a white woman singing chunks of a song in bad Spanish before breaking into the occasional burst of “la la la” then this is for you. If not, do your ears a favour and press delete. This is the worst song Fernando Garibay has ever put his name to. Shame.

Just when I was ready to write of Born This Way as a total trainwreck, along came Hair and instantly revived my interest in the project. One of the many buzz singles released to promote the album pre-release, this got lost in the circle jerk over The Edge Of Glory but I think it’s every bit as good. Although not quite as amazing as Ashley Tisdale’s genre-defining song of the same name. But back to Gaga. This is just a solid, I am who I am pop song that I can imagine Cydni Lauper belting out in the ’80s. It’s fun, catchy and genuinely uplifting. RedOne is such a strange producer. He’s done more for recycling that Planet Ark but occasionally he pulls one out of the bag and I love this odd hybrid of ’80s Starship-esque pop and dance elements. Great use of sax too. This has to be a single.

As it turns out, Lady Gaga, I can speak German and your pathetic attempt at butchering the language in a bizarre bid for Teutonic chic is an epic fail. It doesn’t even make sense. Is this some kind of anthem for scat lovers or just a lame attempt to revive late ’90s house? Whatever the case may be the title accurately describes the song.

Bloody Mary
The dubiously talented DJ behind Government Hooker returns for Bloody Mary – a song that has been singled out by many critics as one of the album’s highlights and a future single. I’m not that enthusiastic about it but it is definitely one of the most straightforward floorfillers on Born This Way. It’s like a less intense but more authentic Judas. The lyrics are less ambitious but they work and there’s something hypnotic about the simple chorus. Not great but not bad at all. And if the rumours about this becoming a single are true, I implore Lady Gaga to refrain from recreating Linda Blair’s crucifix scene from The Exorcist in the video. Because we all know that’s the moment she’s been waiting for her whole life.

Bad Kids
Bad Kids is everything I want from Mother Monster – a fun pop song with a catchy chorus and universal lyrics. This encapsulates the sentiment I think Lady Gaga wanted to say with Born This Way until her pretentious streak got in the way. “I’m not that cool and you hate me, I’m a bad kid that’s the way that they made” sings the diva against the crispest ’80s beats to hit the airwaves since the glory days of Stacey Q. Who didn’t feel like that as a teenager? There’s something organically anthemic about Bad Kids that makes it a standout on the album. I know that Lady Gaga likes to sing about being shunned and different but more often than not it strikes me as a marketing exercise. This, however, no doubt comes from a time in her past when she was just a mannish teenager called Stefani. Credit must go to producer Jeppe Laursen (of Junior Senior) for bringing the diva back down to earth.

Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)
This has been singled out by some critics as the worst song on Born This Way but I kind of like its ’80s hair-band-on-acid sound palette. Sure, the lyrics are completely inane but I love the hands in the air chorus and I can imagine singing along to this in the car. As long as I was sure no one was listening. The production meanders and it’s generally a bit of a mess but I find this kind of good natured experimentation a lot more forgivable than something like Government Hooker or Scheiße.

Heavy Metal Lover
“I want your whiskey mouth all over my blond south” could be the worst lyric of the year. I’m sorry but a song about eating Lady Gaga’s pussy was always going to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Pun intended. I get the frenzied monster response to this. It’s pure filth and the sleazy beats are great – I’d love to hear a dub – but it’s nothing but distracting filler for me.

Electric Chapel
Now I know bringing up plagiarism claims are a big no-no when it comes to Gaga, but damn this reminds me of The Cardigans’ classic Losing My Favourite Game. Those “do do dos” are so familiar. This is a nice song and sometimes you don’t have to break new ground to deliver a decent pop song. Ever since Speechless I’ve been wanting Lady Gaga to explore her inner rock chick and she almost does it here but her current obsession of mixing guitars with electronic elements takes over yet again. My problem here is the lyrics. What exactly is this song about? I just get visions of Elvis weddings in Las Vegas but knowing mother monster it’s probably about resolving the Middle East conflict or famine in Africa.

Yoü And I
This has been doing the rounds for a while now. Lady Gaga has performed it during her Monster’s Ball tour for the best part of a year and the studio version isn’t all that different. Produced by Mutt Lange, Yoü And I – what is with that fucking umlaut? – is this album’s Speechless or Brown Eyes. An overwrought piano rock ballad that is supposed to highlight the diva’s versatility. I can’t help but think Mutt would have been better off giving this to his ex-wife. Shania Twain would have nailed this. Gaga tries so hard to imbue it with pathos and meaning that it ends up being an empty exercise of vocal acrobatics. If nothing else it gives her something new to sing behind a flaming piano on the next tour. Distinctly average.

The Edge Of Glory
First things first. This does sound very similar to Soraya’s iconic 2008 smash Sin Miedo with a bit of Cher’s Song For The Lonely thrown in for good measure. But they are two of my favourite songs of all time, so anything that borrows elements from them was always going to be a winner. I’m not convinced that this is the masterpiece that some have held it out to be (now that I’ve listened to them back to back a couple of times I think I prefer Hair), but there’s no denying it’s a great song. There’s a real sense of melancholy that permeates the verses, which only serves to make the explosive chorus all the more joyous. I love the now or never theme that runs through the lyrics and applaud Gaga from not making stupid noises or randomly singing in a different language. She has treated this song with the respect it deserves and Fernando Garibay moulds the craziest mix of Eurovision ready pop with Bruce Springsteen circa Born To Run. I even love the crazy sax solo. The Edge Of Glory is a worthy addition to Gaga’s cannon of hits and deserves to sit proudly next to Poker Face and Bad Romance. This is a reminder of what Lady Gaga is capable of when she just lets the music flow. It also underlines how sub-par the vast majority of the rest of the album is.


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14 responses to “Born This Way – album of the decade?”

  1. Hmmmmm people, let’s be realistic.
    I think what the Star has cleverly shown here is that music is a very subjective subject.
    There are those who enjoy some kinds of music and those who prefer others. This is clearly going to affect the way you view releases.
    While I am neither impressed nor dissatisfied with the album, I concur that there is too much Gaga theatrics for my liking.
    It over shadows the music and, when the looks and gimmicks fade, the music is all you have left.
    Sure, Gaga is very now, but I am more interested in how she will stand the test of time.
    I will continue to let the album develop … but I am more interested in seeing how she develops as an artist and, this far, I am not impressed.

  2. Clearly some of the commentors here are Lady Gaga fans feeling butt hurt cus reviewers don’t agree with them.

    Gaga is all hype and her album is a let down. She’s nothing without her image.

    I’m going to have to agree with Mike’s review. It’s flawlessly written and 100% unbiased.

  3. I am getting so sick of reading that “the gays” have turned on Lady Gaga. As a representative of “the gays,” I would like to know where you’re getting your information from. I know a few dozen other gay men ranging in age from 25-55 and only one of them has decided he’s sick of Gaga’s pro-gay shtick. I for one appreciate having someone stick up for me in mainstream music, as do most of my friends. Regardless, it’s hardly fair for me (or you, or anyone) to state the opinion of “the gays.” We don’t have a single hive brain.

    Anyway, I think the album is fantastic. It’s exactly what I was hoping for from her and think she absolutely nailed it. I’ve been listening to it over and over again since I got my copy in the mail on Friday (it arrived early for whatever wonderful reason.) It’s not going to revolutionize music as we know it, but it is 1000 times better than the crap that’s filled the pop genre for the last 10+ years. Also, her voice is incredible. I knew she could sing but she really shows off her vocal power on this album.

  4. Well, this review was a bit harsh, I think that the album was fantastic and almost flawless (excluding the title track – Born This Way – that song truly did not need to be released)!
    However, I really don’t understand why all of the reviewers are being so harsh on Ms GaGa’s new album.
    I must say the highlights for me are “Scheiße”, “Marry The Night”, “Fashion Of His Love” – from the special edition, “Bad Kids”, “The Edge Of Glory” and unlike most others I actually really like “Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)”.
    All you have to do it close your eyes, press play on your iPod, put your paws up, and embrace the diversity and unique messages that truly make “Born This Way” an eccentric and fabulous record, and possibly the best release of 2011!
    …And then you’ll understand what a truly talented artist Mother Monster really is.

  5. Yeaaaah. Gaga still identifies as bisexual last time I looked. Thanks for erasing her sexuality though, Mike. I mean, she’s not a balls out lesbian so she MUST be heterosexual, right?

  6. I have to disagree completely. Marry the Night’s message is about overcoming the negative feelings one has from not feeling “good enough.” I can definitely see past the theatrics and “attention-seeking” and realize she’s making the music she wants to make. I am tired of Britney and Ke$ha-loving queens bashing Lady Gaga because she’s over the top and completely uncensored about being the underdog. Being on top is new for her, and she isn’t sure how to deal. At first, she was obsessed with becoming famous (The Fame), realized it was poisonous (The Fame Monster), and wanted to show her true colors instead of pouring out more Radio Top 40 hits (Born This Way). She’s unapologetic but she’s humble. Unlike every other pop star who thinks we should kiss their butts.

  7. If you take away all the self-promoting hype you are left with little more than another dance diva …

  8. Couldn’t agree more – a couple of great tracks, but mostly self-indulgent crap.

  9. How refreshing to see someone on the gay community able to look past the theatrics and attention-seeking behaviour and go straight to what this should be about – the music.
    I have to say I agree – Born This Way is pretty disappointing as far as a musical milestone is concerned.
    As this review points out, there are definite highlights – Edge of Glory being one of them – but overall this is just more over-produced electronica from the same stable of hitmakers churning it our for every other diva on the charts at the moment.
    I too expected a whole lot more.

  10. This is an absolutely disgusting and revolting, completely horrendous and outrageously unprofessional, biased review. So many adjectives, so little space. Lady Gaga has poured so much effort into this album, and this is what she gets? It’s a good thing barely anyone reads Star Online. (Ha, powered by WordPress) Pathetic.

  11. Personally I liked this album but my real gripe is whether this is the same Mike who writes for the Pop Trash Addicts blog i read on a daily basis or some sloot who has decided to copy and paste the review hoping no one notices since the internet is currently exploding with reviews as everyone with internet connection tries to voice their opinion.

  12. This is obviously biased and unjust. Get a professional to write this article. The album of the decade can’t be described in words, but dance. So you’re going to need another job to support yourself, journalist