Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Born This Way (2011)

With two universally successful records already under her belt, the only logical step for Lady Gaga to take was to follow up on that success and put her creative influence to work once again. Not too long after her Monster Ball Tour was in full swing, she announced what she believed would be her magnum opus: Born This Way.

The promotion and marketing for this album was handled rather oddly, to say the least. Throughout the second half of 2010, Lady Gaga began to speak extravagantly about it, saying it was "the anthem of our generation", and "the greatest music I've ever written, I promise", as well as calling it her "chance to create what in 20 years will be seen as my iconic moment". Some of these statements date back to as early as March 2010, even before "Alejandro" released as a single.

She continued to tease the album during the later months, and eventually revealed the rather shocking album cover, which put off even the die-hard fans. Several crosspromotions were made to further hype the album, including this thing where you could unlock free downloads of some of Born This Way's songs early by playing a special variant of Farmville, of all things. So, did it live up to all the overwhelming hype? Let's break it down.

Unlike The Fame Monster, this was a true, full-length album, and as such, had room for a lot more songs and singles. The title track, released over three months before the actual album, is a now-iconic "self-respect anthem" that served to show Gaga's prominence as an icon in the LGBT community. It's catchy, driving, and sends a powerful message. The album also touches on gay marriage laws ("Americano"), revolution ("Bad Kids"), and womens' rights, in the powerful feminist anthem, "Scheisse", a personal favorite of mine.
My largest amount of criticism by far would have to go toward the album's second single, "Judas". I consider it the weakest song on the album, hands down (as well as my least favorite Lady Gaga song in general). The heavy religious reference in the lyrics makes it uncomfortable to listen to, and as a result, it got little to no radio play. It just has a generic sound to it that doesn't feel like the stuff Gaga can usually produce. To top it off, the music video is rather lackluster.

The third single, "The Edge of Glory", makes up for this however, with one of her best music videos to date, as well as a saxophone-heavy instrumental featuring the late Clarence Clemons, and lyrics about the last night of one's life. Clemons is also featured in the free-spirited, inspirational, and surprisingly relatable "Hair", the album's sole promotional single. "Bloody Mary", on the other hand, takes on a darker tone. It contains religious reference (as the title might suggest), but it's a bit more subtle than that of "Judas", and is generally a superior song overall.
The album ends off with four (five if you could "Edge of Glory") love songs, perhaps all lined up on purpose to give the album good pacing. "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love) offers carefree, uplifting tones, "Electric Chapel" sings of a sacred, safe place somewhere, and "Heavy Metal Lover" turns things up a notch with a aggressive beat and a variety of sexual themes. "You and I", the fourth single, is yet another of her trademark rock-piano ballads, this time using a sample from Queen for the basis of part of the song. It's an endearing love ballad that introduces her male alter-ego, Jo Calderone. Lastly, the fifth single, "Marry the Night" is a song about not letting life's troubles get you down, and serves as another high point to the album.

This album was, to say the least, a lot different. Gone were the "fun" themes of her first two records, replaced instead with more serious, mature tones speaking out on various issues. This wasn't a problem in my opinion, but several fans decried this change, claiming they "wanted the old, fun Gaga back". Whatever the case, let's answer our initial question: Was this in fact Lady Gaga's magnum opus? No. Was it a solid, well-crafted album that followed up her first two masterfully? Yes. The problem with this album wasn't the music itself, rather it was the marketing. Amazon.com was selling it for 99 cents each without Gaga's consent to promote the then-new Cloud music platform. The availability of the album was overwhelming; you could find it anywhere from convenience stores to airports at the time.

However, it mostly had to do with all the hype. It was just too much. When you hype up an album to that degree, there's no way anything you can release for the final product will ever live up to it. Born this Way was supposed to be this holy grail that would change the very face of music as we know it, and it wasn't; there's no way it could've been. The album also shows an example of the retroactive nature of Gaga's fanbase, who initially were put off by the album, but will now often cite it as their favorite in her career for the sheer fact that she wanted it to be. I personally consider her first two albums marginally better, but this is still a fantastic record worth looking into, especially with her fourth album, ARTPOP, very close on the horizon.

Favorite track: You and I
Least favorite track: Judas
Overall rating: 8.5/10

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Fame Monster (2009)

By Fall of 2009, The Fame was still fresh in our minds, with "Paparazzi" being released just a few months prior. However, unlike many mainstream artists before her, Lady Gaga knew not to ride out the success of just one record for too long. When her Fame Ball Tour ended in September, she announced a new CD, entitled The Fame Monster. Though it wasn't a full-length album, rather it was originally meant to be a "DLC add-on" to The Fame, hence the similar naming scheme.

Though this is, by definition, an EP (including only eight songs), most people(myself included) consider it Lady Gaga's second album, so I will refer to it as such for all intents and purposes. It was packaged in a two-disc set, with the second disc containing every song from The Fame.

As the title might suggest, this record was meant to delve into the darker side of fame (though her first album did that at several points already). Once again, themes are rather varied here. Each song is based on a "monster" representing one of Gaga's fears. Filled with gratuitous reference to pleasuring oneself, "So Happy I Could Die" touches on the fear of alcohol and addiction. The smash-hit lead single, "Bad Romance" refers to the fear of love, and is her biggest hit song even today. Other themes explored include the fear of the truth ("Teeth"), insecurity ("Dance in the Dark"), and even sex and abuse in the title track, "Monster", which I feel is the album's strongest point.

Arguably, the biggest highlight of this CD was its second single, "Telephone", a song Gaga originally wrote for fellow pop star Britney Spears. It features long-time favorite, Beyonce, as a guest. This was Gaga's first time collaborating with a big-name artist, which was impressive back then, as she was still relatively new. The song itself deals with the fear of suffocation (not literally, mind you, more so that of a significant other who's always "in your face"), and the music video serves as a sequel of sorts to "Paparazzi", and had a ton of production put into it. Beyonce's verse is quite brief, but it adds to the song positively. Bey plays a much larger role in the video. Not one to forget where she came from, Gaga returns to her rock-piano ballad roots with "Speechless", a song overflowing with emotion that touches on the fear of death. It was written for her father. The final single, "Alejandro" covers one of the more interesting fears: that of man himself. It's symbolic, yet catchy, much like its predecessors.

In closing, I think this record offers a little bit of everything, which is what the Lady is usually best at. It served as a worthy successor to her debut album and, despite its small number of songs, proved good enough to stand on its own. If I had to harp on anything about The Fame Monster, it would be the choice of singles. The three that were chosen, while enjoyable, didn't seem as great as "Monster", "So Happy I Could Die", and the other non-singles. The inclusion of the extra The Fame CD was a good way for newer fans to give her older work a listen, as well as a way to show that the records made a fitting pair. As with her first album, if you want dance-worthy earworms that still have meaning behind them, this might be worth looking into.

Favorite track: Monster
Least favorite track: Alejandro
Overall rating: 9/10

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Fame (2008)

After several years of working in a studio independently, Stefani Germanotta, having now adopted the stage name of Lady Gaga (after Queen's song, Radio Ga Ga), was signed to Interscope Records, partially through the help of R&B singer Akon, as well as Cherrytree Records (a company that specializes in getting newer artists more known). With a big-name record label at her side, she was able to produce her first studio album, The Fame, and rocket herself to the top of the charts.

Though this album released officially in mid-2008, several other countries got it before the U.S., who ended up getting a modified release at the end of that year. Still, there was minimal advertisement for the album, so most people, myself included, hadn't even heard of Lady Gaga until the beginning of 2009, when advertisement became more prevalent.

As the title might suggest, many of this album's songs center around just that- Fame. However, this is hardly a concept album. Themes are noticeably varied here. Many of the songs featured here were ones Gaga had written before she was famous, during her short run with her independent record company, Team Love Child. This album features "Just Dance", a powerful lead single that's simplistic, yet enjoyable for the fun party song that it is. Her now iconic hit, "Poker Face", was her first real chance to be herself and show the music world what she was about, as the music video showcases her unique, outlandish outfits that she's now rarely seen without.
The sexually-charged "LoveGame" quickly became notorious for its explicit themes, but was a high point of the album nonetheless. One of the most notable songs from Team Love Child was undoubtedly highlight of the album, "Paparazzi". It carries a sultry beat and tells the story of an obsessed stalker, with plenty of complex, strange lyrics. I consider it her best single to date.

If all that wasn't enough, the album even switches up the genre from time to time, straying from its electro-pop foundation to the bittersweet rock ballads, "Brown Eyes", a relatable song about a lost love(and my personal favorite song of hers) and "Again, Again", as well as the sunny pop-rock song, "Summerboy", and even a surprisingly sentimental and emotional rap song, "Paper Gangsta", revolving around her departure from another well-known record label, Island Def Jam. Hip-hop influence is also seen in "Starstruck", which is about as sexual as "LoveGame", and features rapper Flo-Rida.

The third single, "Eh, Eh(Nothing Else I Can Say)", provided a feel-good, positive tune that served as a nice break between the "bad girl" tones of the other singles. I initially disliked "Boys Boys Boys" and "Money Honey", but they grew on me over time. The title track, on the other hand, was something I enjoyed from the get-go. It's a very tongue-in-cheek song about the lifestyles of the famous. Lastly, two '70s-style dance songs, "Disco Heaven" and "Retro Dance Freak", serve as bonus tracks to end the album off rather well.

My final thoughts are a bit all over the place. It could be because this album released right around the time I had my "musical awakening"(and helped further it). It could be the fact that I quickly developed a crush on the singer after this CD's release. Whatever the case, The Fame still holds the spot as my favorite pop album of all time, and this is coming from a die-hard hip-hop head that rarely listens to pop.

This album served to solidify the career of one of the most refreshing faces in dance music in the past few years, and was a near-instant success. Each of this album's singles were undeniable earworms whether you liked them or not, and I see the album itself as a perfect balance between catchy, club-and-radio-friendly hits and deep, emotional songs that get you thinking. If you're put off by the poppy beats of the five singles, I'd perhaps suggest giving the rest of the album a spin.

Favorite track: Brown Eyes
Least favorite track: Money Honey
Overall rating: 10/10

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Red and Blue (2005)

And no, I'm not talking about the original Pokemon games.

Back in 2005, a then-unknown aspiring 19-year-old musician from New York by the name of Stefani Germanotta, who'd had an enthusiastic interest in music since age four, formed a band with some of her friends, entitled "The Stefani Germanotta Band", or "SGBand" for short. They began playing music, mostly cover songs from bands such as Led Zeppelin, in random bars around NYC, usually to an audience of around 30 or so people. Eventually, Stefani recorded her first, and ultimately only EP with the band, entitled Red and Blue.

Looking back on it now, It's more than a little odd to think about how this is who would eventually become Lady Gaga herself. This CD was her only officially-released material prior to her ascension to superstardom. It was released independently, and therefore current mainstays such as Vincent Herbert and DJ White Shadow were not involved with production. On a side note, only her first name is shown on the CD cover. Was she considering a mononym before she chose her stage name?

The EP itself could be considered quite different from her studio albums. It has a very retro, almost 50s style to it. It contains only 5 songs, but is an interesting collection nonetheless. The power pop-rock sounds of "Something Crazy" and "Red and Blue" add energy and romance to the CD, while the melancholy, bittersweet tunes heard in "Words" and "Wish You Were Here" evoke more seriousness and emotion. "No Floods" shares the positive, can-do attitude of her later hit song "Marry The Night", and helps to show where she came from. Though it has prominent pop elements, most of the songs here are very rock-based unlike the electro-pop and EDM styles featured in her new stuff. Nowadays, this CD is nigh-impossible to find in its physical form, and would likely fetch a high price, though the songs are all over YouTube and other sites if you wish to give them a listen.

In conclusion, while some could say this EP is a stark contrast to her current work, I think it still has that very recognizable Gaga "touch" to it. The main difference here is that these songs aren't as overproduced and give her vocal and piano skill more of a chance to shine through. Fan or not, this is something I'd highly recommend to you, especially if you'd like to see a different side of the Lady.

Favorite track: Something Crazy
Least favorite track: No Floods
Overall rating: 9/10

Random update.

Terribly sorry to anyone who follows this that I haven't updated in ages. Don't worry, I didn't forget about it. The fact of the matter is, this massive creepypasta project is a lot for me to handle, and most of my creative time has gone towards a fanfiction I finished earlier, and an even bigger Halo 4 machinima project I'm still working on. I'll still finish the creepypasta at some point, though. I'll try to update it at least once soon.

In the meantime, in preparation for my video review of Lady Gaga's upcoming album, ARTPOP, I will be reviewing her entire discography, one post at a time on here. I got the idea to do so from a good friend of mine who is reviewing each of Eminem's albums.

You should definitely give his blog a visit. As Lady Gaga is still a relatively new artist, I'll also include her pre-fame EP, Red and Blue, as well as a separate post going over her "one-off" songs that weren't on any particular album or collection. I won't do the majority of her unreleased pre-fame songs just for the sheer fact that there are so many of them, nor will I be covering the remix CDs. Hope you enjoy!