The amount of enjoyment you derive from Lady Gaga’s newest album “Joanne” depends on you forgetting it’s her voice entirely.
Her newest album is so different from her past work it seems almost fake. “Joanne” is a whole new persona from a singer who hardly shows the audience who she really is. Lady Gaga, while immensely talented and incredibly well trained vocally, has always relied on performing for much of her success — and not just on the stage. Every public appearance, interview, music video and performance has been used to create a specific persona. “Joanne,” despite several very enjoyable songs, comes off as another performance.
Growing up in Texas, I learned that those who talk the most about “worn-out leather” (“A Million Reasons”) and cowboys (“John Wayne”) probably know nothing about real Westerns or proper boot care. The initial single of “Joanne” is regrettably “A Perfect Illusion.” “Illusion” takes an average chorus and replays it until you hate Taylor Kinney for ever dating Gaga in the first place. Skip the first single entirely and jam out now to “Grigio Girls,” the perfect girls’ night anthem about independence, uncertainty and, yes, wine. The album’s namesake, Joanne, Gaga’s aunt who died at just 19, shows up as the older and wiser friend of “Grigio Girls'” youthful narrator.
Her aunt makes another appearance in what I believe is the best song on the album, “Joanne.” Gaga’s voice is filled with emotion beseeching her aunt not to go and then accepting the inevitability of her death. “Joanne” will resonate with you as a college student, concentrating on themes of anxiety about the future and fear of losing the past. Its chorus, in true Gaga style, is repeated within an inch of its life, but it is so beautiful I didn’t really mind.
If you can get over a girl born on the Upper East Side and raised on the Upper West wearing a pink cowboy hat and singing about John Wayne, you will love this album. Gaga has written and co-written some great songs. It’s a little unbelievable coming from the Queen of the Little Monsters, but I forget it’s her and put “Joanne” on replay.
The best part of this album is the use of pop synth and beats with melodies commonly associated with country music and the twang Gaga puts in her voice. Rob Sheffield for Rolling Stones compared “Joanne’s” Gaga to Shania Twain, and honestly, after listening to “A-YO,” I think she could do a killer “Man! I Feel Like A Woman.” Gaga excels at joining two opposing music genres.
“Come to Mama” is the perfect example of Gaga’s new style, allowing the listener to actually hear the beauty of which her voice is capable. It was sometimes muffled in past albums. The collaboration between her and the one and only Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine results in the forgettable “Hey Girl.” The song is better suited for Welch’s range and doesn’t really complement Gaga’s voice at all. If you’re pressed for time, feel free to skip their vocal mismatch. There isn’t much there to miss. “Come to Mama” and “Sinner’s Prayer” are both really nice songs if you can get used to the new Gaga and her blatant appeals to the country crowd (Yes, I am that hung up on her leather references). “Diamond Heart” is the closest to her previous albums with its witty lyrics and a heavy bass beat.
Rather than representing Gaga’s growth as an artist, think of “Joanne” as her response to the lackluster sales of her experimental album “Artpop.” Being strange for strangeness’ sake can only bring in the big bucks for so long, and a meat dress rots eventually. What “Joanne” might not bring in earth-shattering revelations, it delivers in good old plain fun. So after a horrible or wonderful day, crank “Joanne” all the way up and dance alone in your bedroom. Hairbrush microphone required.