Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Review: Born This Way by Lady GaGa [music album]


Advantages: Totally different to her previous work, meaningful lyrics, rockier edge to the music,
Disadvantages: None for me; I really did love every second of the album.
"The vision is of me in an endless journey. I am a vehicle. I am a vehicle for all of the ideas. And I'm not riding away or towards anything, I'm just in endless state of creativity" -- Lady Gaga

Nick Knight is the photographer behind the artwork for the album and singles. The fashion director for Haus of Gaga and creative director for Mugler Nicola Formichetti styled Lady GaGa and artists who work with her regularly - Sam McKnight and Val Garland - did Lady GaGa's hair and make-up.
When the photo for the regular album edition cover was released it was a case of WTF? Is she meant to be a transformer? She's half human, half motorcycle - like a Hell's Angel centaur [the deluxe edition cover is just a closeout of her face mid growl]. After a while the covers grew on me; she's not bothered about simply looking all pretty and sweet - every last little detail of the album has a message.

Lady GaGa has fully wrote You And I and has co-wrote every other regular and bonus track. Her co-writers are RedOne, Jeppe Laursen, Fernando Garibay and Paul Blair [aka DJ White Shadow]. Lady GaGa has referred to her co-writers/friends and herself as the "Banditos".

Vincent Herbert is Born This Way's executive producer, Robert "Mutt" Lange has produced You And I and Lady GaGa and her co-writers are the co-producers of the other tracks.

* Marry The Night *

[was going to be the third single, now may be the fourth]

Lady GaGa says this track is about her not assimilating to Hollywood and moving back to New York and returning to her friends and family in her old apartment, and I'll have to take her word for it because the lyrics meaning isn't clear to me, until we get close to the end of the song.

The heavy, rocky synths to the music do set the tone nicely for what this album is all about though, so it's a OK album opener.

I don't skip this track, but I don't think that it's anything special, and admit that I hope that it doesn't end up getting a single release.

* Born This Way *
[lead single, went to #1 in all 23 countries with Itunes within hours of being released]

I admit that the first time I heard BORN THIS WAY I was disappointed. Her singles from The Fame and The Fame Monster seemed to get gradually darker and grittier, so I had built myself up for more of the same, so when her new light and poppy single dropped, I was far from impressed and dismissed it as selling out for radio airplay.

But when I really listened to the lyrics I was simply blown away; All of today's music seems to be centered around partying, chasing girls/boys and 'bling', but Lady GaGa aims to spread love and self respect amongst her fans by telling us that we are are beautiful and shouldn't be ashamed of who we are, no matter our religion, race, sexuality or disability. I've been playing this on repeat over and over and love it more each time I hear it.

I genuinely don't get the comparisons to Madonna's 'Express Yourself'; the music's lighter and poppier than GaGa's previous releases sure, but the content is still pure GaGa.

* Government Hooker *

I'll let Lady GaGa explain this one; "The humour is that a machine tells me what to do and I happily do it as long as I get f****d. It a relates to how our government f***s us over, but it makes fun of the plastic popstar - I'll do anything as long as you f*** me and pay me."

The music for the track begun life as a hip hop beat, but they decided to speed it up and add in a 'pervy robotic' voice for a club feel [The voice on the track is Lady GaGa's security guard (he's not a perverted robot, he just has a heavy dutch accent)].

I wasn't expecting to like this political track, but it's one of my favourites on the album - no, scratch that; it IS my favourite track on the album. I'd love for it to be a single - God knows what the video would entail.

* Judas *
[second single, reached #8 despite the backlash and resulting lack of airplay]

She's saying that Judas is the bees knees! Totally blasphemous!! Pass Katy Perry the smelling salts...

When everyone calmed down and actually listened to the lyrics it instantly became obvious that the song is actually about being in love with the wrong/evil person and/or lifestyle and trying to move away from negative influences and aspiring to be a good person. She's saying that Jesus is her virtue, but she clings to Judas because she's in love with the bad guy, even though she knows that it's wrong.

The heavy beats and synths are gritty and have a dark, rocky vibe to them. Even though I love the lyrics to Born This Way, the music to this means that I prefer this song out of the two singles.

I'm sure that she sings "or wear a ear condom next time" in the breakdown. I guess she means to protect yourself against negative comments, but it makes me think of Tom Tucker in Family Guy; "Once you go black, you go deaf"...

* Americano *

At first listen this sounds like a light love song between GaGa and a girl, but when you really listen it becomes clear that she is singing about gay rights and immigration laws [she thinks that they're unfair].

I love the contrast between the serious issues in the lyrics and the mariachi inspired pop music. It sounds like a mismatch typed out, but it works beautifully.

* Hair *

[Buzz single on Itunes where it reached #9 on the singles chart, is one of Lady GaGa's favourite tracks]

When Lady GaGa was a girl her parents would always tell her to go back to her room to change her clothes and hair, which made her feel like they were stifling her identity. So this song is her telling the world that she is now as free as her hair = love her as she is and don't try to change her. What's the St Elmos Fire theme song? Hair reminds me of that for some reason.

This is another lighter, pop number. There is a saxophone [Clarence Clemons from the E Street Band] and piano playing alongside the club-lite synths.

Like with Born This Way I was underwhelmed by this at first, but the inspiring lyrics are fantastic - I've caught myself singing the words to this at random times on several occasions.

* Scheiße *

[AKA Scheisse, Scheibe, or Shiza]

So what is this song about? Erm, I've got no idea. Being a strong person is my best guess. Lady GaGa tells us at the beginning that ""I don't speak German, but I can if you like", and then she launches into a mix of English and German. My understanding of German is very basic: I think scheiße means sh*t and she refers to herself as mother monster, but that's the extent of my knowledge. Every website that I've looked at has different lyrics listed, so there's no point in trying to translate them; I've just assumed that she is repeating the English lines.
Update; apparently Lady Gaga revealed on twitter that the song was written a day after going to a 'dirty party' in Berlin, and that it was about wanting to be bad without permission.

We have techno euro club beats to go with the lyrics, it is a good fit and gives everything a playful, carefree tone - a nice break from the heavier, serious tracks.

I can't decide if I love or hate this track; on one hand I keep listening to it because it is different, but on the other hand it's all over the place and I'm not clear about the meaning of it.

* Bloody Mary *

Lady GaGa does call her car Bloody Mary, but this track is actually inspired by Mary Magdalene [don't tell Katy Perry that]. The lyrics refer to a woman who is both divinely strong [a superstar] and a real person at the same time.

NME magazine has called the music "dark, pulsing and atmospheric, almost funeral electroballad" and I'm going to go with that, as I'm not sure how else to describe it. The song is quite ballady, but the music does have a hauntingly, clubby beat to it. Very 'Blasphemous Rumours' era Depeche Mode.

* Black Jesus+Amen Fashion *

[deluxe edition only track]

By this point I've decided that Lady GaGa is messing with Katy Perry... But seriously I think she is saying that in her earlier life she had been taught to view religion and Jesus in a certain way [as being white in other words], but as she's got older she now has adopted a new way to look at it [he wouldn't have been white]. For the Amen Fashion part I cheated and read Gagapedia (yep, it's a real thing) and read that she's saying that "the Amen Fashion part of the song is about having a new way of seeing the world around you is as easy as changing your fashion.

This track would fit on The Fame musically; It's lighter and much more dancier the almost everything else on offer here. I do like this track, but the music and the lyrics don't seem to fit together for me.

* Bad Kids *

Bad Kids is about accepting and celebrating your perceived flaws. So it's lyrically similar to Born This Way in it's overall message, but it is different in delivery; it's a mix of street-tough and sadness in tone and Lady GaGa is rather self-defecating whenever she refers to herself. Apparently she was inspired by fans tales of their rough starts in life when she wrote this.

The music also differs to the Born This Way single; adding weight to the differing lyrical delivery. Thumbing drums and sharp synths give this song a sense of anger of a hurt kid who is playing at being tough.

* Fashion Of His Love *

[deluxe edition only track]

Lady GaGa has said that this track is a tribute to her friend the late Alexander McQueen. This is another simple song which could almost be a ballad; She's telling Alexander that she loves him and won't forget him.

As it's a tribute to someones life, the music is upbeat and almost poppy to diffuse the sadness in the lyrics somewhat. This is another track that would fit on The Fame musically.

[Apparently a verse of the song is taken from a unreleased song she wrote titled Earthquake (aka Then You'd Love Me)].

* Highway Unicorn (Road To Love) *

Another firm favourite of mine. Another respite from the heavier tracks, this song is about Lady GaGa chasing her lifelong dream and travelling all over to achieve it.

Lady GaGa wanted the saxophone in the music to recall some of her favourite artists when she was younger - such as Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel - to reinforce the representation of her youthful innocence. The music is quite 80's power ballad; even though the lyrics are simple pop, the combination is awesome.

This is also something that I'd love to see get a single release.

* Heavy Metal Lover *

Compared to the rest of the album this is a simple track - lyrically at least. She's telling someone that she wants to be their groupie. This is one of those songs that gets stuck in my head, so I need to be careful not to shriek "I want your whiskey mouth all over my blonde south" in Sainsburys...

The heavy guitar and dark, gritty synths in the music reminds me vaguely of Dave Gahan 'Deeper And Deeper', so this is automatically elevated to the position of being another standout track for me.

* Electric Chapel *

Lady GaGa says that this was one of the tracks that she wrote on her tour bus. I can believe that she did write as this details her search for security and love and leaves me with a impression of loneliness and isolation.

With the title being 'Electric Chapel' you expect electric guitars and thumbing bass and we're not disappointed. The guitar riff reminds me off another song - it's at the tip of my tongue and it's winding me up that I can't recall it.

* The Queen *

[deluxe edition only track]

This is another uplifting about coming out of your shell and showing the world what you can do, not really much explaining to be done here. Don't get me wrong - it is a nice track, but I think it's more B sideish.

It's a musical hodgepodge; it opens with bells, builds up in the verses with a steady drum beats, before bursting into retro synths and having an electrical guitar breakdown. I really don't know what to call it.

* You And I *

[was on the set list for later Monster Ball concerts]

This is different from every other album track in both lyrics and sound. The song is about when Lady GaGa briefly reunited with an ex, trying to rekindle the lost love between them.

As it's the track produced by Mutt Lange, it's no real surprise that the track mixes pop with country/rock-lite style guitar twangs [Queen guitarist Brian May plays the guitar for this track], resulting in a sound not to dissimilar to a Shania Twain 'Come On Over' era release [am I the only one that hears 'Honey I'm Home' when I listen to it?].

* The Edge Of Glory *
[was a 'buzz' single on Itunes, but will now receive an official single release after high sales - it reached #6 in the UK]

Rolling Stone magazine call this a "massive power ballad", and it is hauntingly beautiful lyrically. Lady GaGa says that she wrote it after the death of her grandad; she said he'd been on the edge of life and knew what had to happen next [I do kinda think of it as a sex song though].

I'm not sure how to describe this track musically; it's not quite pop, not quite dance and it has a saxophone solo. I think it's most reminiscent of trance/pop type artists/groups which were popular in the mid nineties, such as Grace, Strike and N-Trance.

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Mixing it up
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As well as having three extra main album tracks, the deluxe edition of the album also comes with a six track remix disc:

Born This Way (The Country Road version)
[released as a download only single]
Judas [DJ White Shadow Remix]
Marry The Night [Zedd Remix]
Scheiße [DJ White Shadow Mugler]
Fashion Of His Love [Fernando Garibay Remix]
Born This Way [Jost & Naaf Remix]
[Europeon bonus track]

My laptop has eaten my second disc and won't spit it back out. I'll update the review at a later date.

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To buy or not to buy
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All of the albums I've bought over the past few years have left me disappointed to varying degrees, so BORN THIS WAY had a lot to make up for. Plus my yard stick for judging this is The Fame Monster, so in all honesty I had been preparing myself for disappointment.

Lets begin by talking vocals; who knew she had that kind of vocal ability? I've seen her live supporting The Pussycat Dolls [in my defence I did only go to see Lady GaGa] and in her Monster Ball tour and whilst I thought she had a good pair of lungs on her, I didn't think that there was anything special about her.

But seriously, the change of musical styles has shown that whilst she can't reach the higher octaves like Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera, but she has otherwise as powerful lungs as them. She can hold and/or draw out her notes just as ably as either of them.

Several album tracks do have a strong religious overtone, but I don't find them remotely preachy or blasphemous. She's voicing her personal opinions and musings, how can her personal thoughts be so easily judged right or wrong? Sorry to stand on a soapbox, but it annoys me when a few people go all judge and jury on others - are they really so perfect themselves?

A quick roundup; we've got a progression in both lyrics and vocals, plus she's wrote every song and co-produced everything. Can't argue with credentials like that, plus I love the heavy slightly retro synths and general rockier sound.

But whilst I am loving BORN THIS WAY and think that is far superior to The Fame, I'm also aware that [in my view] every single track on The Fame Monster was single worthy, something that this hasn't quite achieved. There's nothing here that I'd dub as a filler, but if I heard that one track [Marry The Night] was receiving a single release I'd be "meh".

But when that's the only criticism available, I know that I'm onto a winner.

Oh - just wanted to add that I'm not sure how much you'll enjoy BORN THIS WAY if you love The Fame [the original one disc version] as this album is so different in sound and message. Personally I thought The Fame was good, but not anything particularly special and aside from it's singles, I rarely listen to it anymore.

Summary: A fantastic album for those [like me] who pick songs to pieces.

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