Chromatica

Lady Gaga

Interscope, 2020

http://www.ladygaga.com

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/09/2020

In my most recent re-listen to Steven Hyden’s brilliant podcast series of episodes on Bruce Springsteen from 2018, I found myself really taken by his conversation about Born In The USA with Patterson Hood, of Drive-By Truckers. While I recommend you listen to the entire series,  allow me to provide the summary of one point that was discussed: is there an inherent conflict with the lyrical and narrative structure of some of the songs with their actual production style?

Specifically, the song that immediately jumps to mind is the title track from that record. Famously co-opted by Ronald Reagan (and subsequently nixed by Springsteen), “Born In The USA” was written during Springsteen’s Nebraska sessions. Lyrically, if you actually sit down and read the words, it’s a pessimistic, cynical look at America. Decidedly NOT a sunshine and lollipops type song, right? But then you listen to the record itself, and I can’t blame those who don’t pay attention too closely into thinking that it’s some anthemic, patriotic/jingoistic ballad to life in the States. It is big, brash, and bright; completely belying the story Springsteen was trying to tell.

So that little detour brings us to Lady Gaga’s newest record, Chromatica. Originally scheduled to be released in April 2020, it was instead delayed to late May, most likely to accommodate the fact that the world underwent a huge trauma with COVID-19. A pop record was going to be overshadowed, no matter who released it (Hell, The Beatles could have reunited from beyond the grave and it still would have paled in comparison to the strife going on at the time).

And, as I spun the record a few times, my mind kept going back to the conversation about Springsteen. On the surface, Chromatica is a big, brash, and bright record that is uptempo as it gets. But dig deeper, and pay attention to what Gaga is saying, and you find a great deal of internal strife, emotional issues, self-therapy, the works. The content is definitely not what you’d expect from the hooks and tempos that you hear.

Now, that’s not to say Chromatica is a good album because of this dichotomy...it just makes it very interesting. To be perfectly frank , in this instance I’d say that what she is trying to get across to the listener is indeed undercut buy a record that serves as a throwback to Madonna circa 1988. Take “Replay,” a track from towards the end of the album. It’s clear that whatever event Gaga is referring to was life-altering and horrifying in whatever context you want to apply the song to. But I don’t really my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 feel it; the song ironically comes across, production wise, as a little soul-less.

The one shining exception is “Fun Tonight,” which first off should have been the lead single from Chromatica, and secondly does come across as vintage pop sensation Gaga, with an impassioned vocal that solidifies that artist/listener connection.

Now, I will not sit here and take issue with Gaga expressing her memories and emotions in the way that she feels appropriate; based on what I’ve read, one could most likely make the argument this album is more for her than it is for the listener. But that doesn’t mean it’s solely for her. A widespread huge tentpole album release implies once that record goes out into the wild, it becomes something we all own, in some fashion or another.

And truth be told, Gaga has been more interesting to me artistically ever since she made the transition away from the dance/pop albums that propelled her to success. Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE some of those singles. Check out my top 100 list and you’ll see Gaga actually makes it on there twice in some form. But the “Shallow,” “Always Remember Us This Way,”  and 2016 album Joanna showcased a new side of Gaga, one I thought held more potential (and still do).

It’s a little odd to actually hear Lady Gaga sound like she used to; for the most part, she has pushed her style forward in interesting ways over the years (nobody does a duet album with Tony Bennett just because). So Chromatica’s decidedly backwards looking approach is...disappointing. Most of the songs just come off as Artpop Vol 2., and that was an album running on fumes. To her credit, there might have been a temptation to make this a true comeback album, and go super long, in terms of running time. While there are 16 tracks on Chromatica, the whole thing clocks in at 43 minutes, give or take a second. So even though the  record doesn’t keep your attention necessarily, it does fly by!

When Gaga brings in some support players, the album gains a little liveliness. Of the three duets, the best is “Sine From Above” featuring Elton John...and not just because I’m in the tank for Sir Elton. There’s a palpable sense of having overcome tragedy, and that triumphant spirit infuses the song. Ariana Grande provides a nice complement on “Rain On Me,” although someone with a little more grit, a little more R&B flavor, would have improved things. That’s why “Sour Candy” works, BLACKPINK provides a different texture for the song, even if things don’t really progress beyond the emotional benefits to the characteristics of a jawbreaker.

It’s going to be fascinating to see what Lady Gaga decides to do next because she clearly has demonstrated the ability to be flexible and adaptable in terms of what her sound represents. The comparisons to Madonna have always seemed apt, and while Chromatica is a mediocre record, it doesn’t disqualify the potential that future albums are going to recapture that creative spark that Lady Gaga has shown for over a decade now.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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