The Fame Monster
Streamline/Kon Live/Cherrytree/Interscope, 2009
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/16/2010
It's not easy to be the alpha dog in the music business; the ability to stay at the peak of the mountain depends on numerous qualities and characteristics, not the least of which is pure, simple luck. One hit wonders don't make it to the sophomore success because they are lacking in staying power, talent, uniqueness – and the list goes on. Of course, there is also the simple fact that the average person buying records just isn't as interested anymore.
Lady Gaga is now moving into the third year of her reign on top of the pop music landscape, and she is showing no particular signs of slowing down. She may have broken onto the scene as a relative unknown who had made her way up the ranks like everybody else, but her increasingly bizarre behavior and fashion sense has kept the name Gaga in the headlines all over the world. What’s more, she seems to have reached that saturation point where no kind of demographic is beyond her reach as an artist. Call it the Brett Favre (pre-retirement) effect: you may not love the Packers but you're going to enjoy watching #4 gunsling it all over the field.
All of this is immaterial because it ignores the simplest premise surrounding Ms. Gaga: she's damn good at what she does. Even Madonna (to whom Lady Gaga is most often compared) didn't demonstrate the full breadth of her potential for years after her "Material Girl" phase. Madge may have set the blueprint, but at this point in time Lady Gaga has really built upon it.
The Fame was a child of the ‘80s; its driving force was a certain sterility delivered by an enigmatic creative force. Today, that force has become a known quantity unafraid of trying different things. Lady Gaga has not reached the point where everything she touches turns to gold. From a creative standpoint, she is more than capable of throwing out a stinker or two, even on an abridged EP album like The Fame Monster.
It's been hard to miss the omnipresent "Bad Romance," the best single Gaga has released up to this point. There may be moments during the course of this record that aren't familiar Gaga-fare, but rest assured that she has not forgotten what exactly got to her this point. "Bad Romance" is a driving, pulsating piece of dance/pop that grabs you in with an incredible epic intro, and by that point, it's game over.
The ‘80s seem to be the primary influence for Lady Gaga, but The Fame Monster demonstrates that she is more than just a child of the Reagan years. "Speechless" hearkens back to the over-the-top piano balladry of Freddie Mercury and Queen. "Teeth" manages to capture an entirely different vibe – how often does one get to describe a Lady Gaga song as jangly? Truth be told, a track like “Teeth” would serve notice Gaga is moving towards the occasional jaunt into Amy Winehouse territory, considering Ms. Winehouse has been absent for about four years at this point.
I’m afraid of using the phrase “meteoric rise” with regards to Lady Gaga because I am positive that it has been done to death, but her popularity explosion has truly been incredible. It would be hard to find another artist out there right now with as much grip on the minds of the public and music community, and as long as she keeps moving forward, she should be able to maintain that for some time to come. The Fame Monster is a small step in different directions, but it remains to be seen if it is merely a diversion or a real sign that things are going to change for Ms. Gaga.