In the era of personal music devices and customized playlists, Lady GaGa may just be the last true pop star, a throwback to the FM 80s when larger than life characters ruled airwaves, dance floors and cultural landscapes with anthems so ubiquitously infectious that they came to define the period even for those who didn’t particularly dig the synthesized sounds. GaGa’s rocket-like rise to the stratosphere can be attributed largely to the boldness to go big (big beats, bigger hooks and the biggest costumes) as the industry was getting small. While her early work pulsated with the spirit of an adventurous young artist still finding her way, her third major release moves along with the assuredness of a seasoned super star, now fully grown into her often exposed skin.
Born This Way has more than enough energy, attitude and catchiness to dominate house parties, beach bars and sorority road trips until the weather turns cold, and will almost certainly produce at least a couple of the year’s most memorable videos. “Marry the Night” is sure to pack dance floors with its propulsive beat, explosive hook and carefree bounce. The muscular electro-pop of “Bloody Mary” allows GaGa to channel her inner Madonna, injecting biblical imagery into an unabashed celebration of carnal indulgence. “Edge of Glory” builds from a mellow, trance inspired opening into a full bellied cataclysm of synths and guitars behind a hook ripe for cellphone lit sing-a-longs at concert venues across the country.
Yet, for all of GaGa’s flamboyance, there was a humanity in her most memorable work that inspired a devotion in her legions of fans that went far beyond vigorous dance floor workouts. On Born This Way the quirky vulnerability is often lost behind the massive productions. The frenetic beat and rushed vocals on “Judas” fail to really capture the heartache of the lyrics, and the rebelliousness of “Government Hooker” feels contrived and cumbersome when paired with overly busy production and little in the way of discernible melody. The title track, while club ready, feels like little more than a well-produced rendering of a paint by the numbers empowerment anthem.
The crashed Amazon.com servers on the release date for Born This Way are proof enough that Lady Gaga has given her fans a worthy follow up, and they will no doubt find plenty here to which to sweat away their stresses this summer. But, ultimately, whether these songs carry enough emotion and nuance to resonate as strongly through earbuds as nightclub speakers remains to be seen.