Reviewed: Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’

As always, originally published on iafrica.com.

“I promised that if I won this, I would announce the name of my new album. It’s called Born This Way.

At the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards Lady Gaga picked up the Video of the Year Award and with those two lines – and the first public performance of the chorus to the album’s title track – sparked a media frenzy. The industry has been chomping at the bit since September last year for this album, and now that it’s out, does Born This Way deserve the hype? The answer: totally.

Born This Way

The cover for 'Born This Way'

Lady Gaga is the proverbial acid trip of the music world. In fact, she has an entire team – Haus of Gaga – to ensure that she keeps up the blinding kaleidoscope of her identity. So with everybody focusing on the meat dress, the crazy shoes and the Grammys egg, the album could only be one thing to succeed: obscenely over-the-top.

Sensory overload

Born This Way is a total sensory overload. It’s highly ambitious, in your face and completely excessive – and that’s why it works. There’s not a single low-energy moment; from the mood-setting opener of Marry the Night and into the iconic gay anthem Born This Way all the way through to the massive Euro-trance beats of Scheiβe and the incredible 80s/90s pop-rock feel of You and I and Edge of Glory.

Gaga and her team throw simply everything into this album. Not content to have a Bruce Springsteen-inspired sax riff in Edge of Glory, they bring out the Boss’ actually saxophonist, Clarence Clemons, to rock our socks off. And, in possibly the greatest moment of the entire album, Brian May rips into face-melting solo on the phenomenal You and I, which also samples the iconic beat from Queen’s We Will Rock You.

Born This Way is a massive mix of genres – from the Latino-inspired Americano to samples of heavy metal and even, yes, massively Madge-esque nineties pop. Bloody Mary is a slower, seemingly Gregorian-inspired counterpoint to the controversial dance hit Judas, while the darker Government Hooker is balanced by the blindingly bright Edge of Glory. This does mean that the album takes a little getting used to, and there are tracks here that you will love and others that you will loathe – and all of this is likely to change on any given day.

Success in sincerity

Despite its excessiveness, the success of Born This Way lies in how sincere it feels. As one of my colleagues pointed out, underneath the electric guitar, thumping dance beats and all the other “distractions”, the actual songs underneath are incredible. It feels human, warm and identifiable – and considering how much import Lady Gaga places on her relationship with her fans, it’s no surprise. Gaga is one of them, the “Mother Monster” and the “bad kid” made good – the knowledge that no matter how different you are, you can still make a success of yourself. The product she sells is inspiration and self-confidence – and so it’s unsurprising that Born This Way is pure, positive pop.

Is Gaga trying too hard? Definitely. Does this album get everything right? Not at all. There are times where she feels too eager to please and becomes mildly irritating or her lyrics just seem too obscure. For example, in Government Hooker she asks, “Put your hands on me/ John F Kennedy”, in Heavy Metal Lover she tells us that she wants “your whiskey mouth/ all over my blonde south”. It feels a little at odds with the rest of the album, a little more “shock-jock” than necessary. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t like Hair – the soft-rock-ballad was the only insincere moment on the album – and it felt whiny at best.

But look past these (admittedly few) flaws and you’ll find that ultimately, Born This Way is a heady rush of experimentation and must be taken as such. I’d like her to settle her style a little for the next album – more vocals, less over-production, please – but Born This Way remains one thing: a damn good album.

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