She’s always been a chameleon when it comes to music and fashion so Lady Gaga’s new album – which finds her rocking out more than ever before – feels like an artistic switch-up, not a commercial one, despite 2013’s Artpop shifting less than half the worldwide sales of 2011’s Born This Way.
Brilliant in places, flat in others, Artpop felt a bit tired and Gaga was wise to ditch the EDM in favour of some humanising dalliances with crooner Tony Bennett both on record and stage and to dabble in acting on American Horror Story.
The break from the day job and her usual sound has reinvigorated her. Joanne is strong on hooks and while there’s plenty of technical wizardry at play from producers Mark Ronson and BloodPop it has a rawer, rockier sound and they push her to explore the full range of that awesome voice of hers.
But for all the back-to-basics, 'real music' vibes on display, this is not a work of blazing originality. There are shades of Rebel Heart-era Madonna on opener 'Diamond Heart' and a hint of 'Papa Don’t Preach' on the single 'Perfect Illusion', 'A-Yo' channels Gwen Stefani and 'Hey Girl' is female twist on early Elton John.
Then again, there’s nothing totally new under the musical sun, and Gaga is a mistress of the sonic rejig and Ronson a master of the same. They do interesting things with tried and trusted tropes, like the lovely acoustic guitar of the title track and the guitar distortions of 'John Wayne'. If 'Dancin’ In Circles' with its reggae flavour is Gaga circling back to 'Alejandro' and the beat of 'Perfect Illusion' sounds like an Artpop cast-off, the simplicity of ballads like 'Million Reasons' are a welcome stripping back of Gaga's unarguably stunning voice, reflecting the simplicity of the cover photo that shows a sideways Gaga under a pink hat with no meat dress in sight.
'Come To Mama' is tongue-in-cheek and great fun and, coming towards the close of the album, shows Mama Monster is well and truly back in the saddle and riding a new horse. If she decided now to ride off into the sunset tomorrow she’ll have done herself proud, but you can bet a talent as hungry as Lady Gaga has plenty more reinventions to come.
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