Let’s make one thing clear. If you’re looking for another ‘Boys Boys Boys’, a new ‘Donatella’ or the follow-up to ‘Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)’, then the new Lady Gaga album ‘Joanne’ is not going to be for you.
In the lead-up to the album’s release, there’s been a lot of talk about what it won’t be. It won’t be pop, it won’t be for casual Gaga fans, it won’t be the singer as we’ve ever seen her before. But with all this chat about what Joanne isn’t… what are we actually left with? Here’s our track-by-track review.
Opening the album with ‘Diamond Heart’ is a good idea, because it sets the scene nicely. It’s among the songs on ‘Joanne’ most reminiscent of Gaga’s earlier work, but it’s also clear pretty early on that this isn’t going to be joining ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Bad Romance’ on the setlist at your cousin’s wedding.
“I may not be perfect,” she sings on the chorus, “but I’ve got a diamond heart”.
Nice metaphor, that.
One of three ‘Joanne’ tracks that Gaga previewed before the album first came out, it sounds a bit like a cross between album cuts ‘MANiCURE’ and ‘Americano’, but with touches of country. Gaga has repeatedly said that she wanted her new album to have a “dive bar” feel, which she achieves to varying success over the course of the album, but on ‘A-YO’, she pulls it off perfectly.
If you’re not wanting to throw back a beer and throw out some double hand-claps on a sticky dance floor by the end of it, then you need to give it another listen until you do.
The title track is the first moment on the album when the BPM drops. It’s the most stripped-back we’ve ever heard Gaga, she’s accompanied by just an acoustic guitar and sings to her late aunt, for whom the album (and Gaga herself - real name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) was named.
Frankly, saying something negative about a song so clearly personal feels somewhat distasteful, so I’ll leave that one there, and say that if what you were hoping from Gaga was to hear some honesty, this is the one you’ll want to skip to.
‘Joanne’ feels like Gaga’s “serious” album, which is unfortunate, to be honest, as she tends to work best when she’s showing her oft-neglected sense of humour. That’s why ‘John Wayne’ is one of the stand-outs, with the cowboy references feeling decidedly more tongue-in-cheek than when she’s trying to convince us she’s the hottest thing on the country scene elsewhere on the album.
‘John Wayne’ is a bit of fun (opening line: “I just love a cowboy I know it’s bad, but I’m, like, can I just hang off the back of your horse and can you go a LITTLE FASTER?”), making it one of the more important moments of ‘Joanne’, and a welcome relief.
‘Dancin’ In Circles’
Who would have thought it would take Beck to deliver the most Lady Gaga-sounding song on ‘Joanne’?
‘Dancin’ In Circles’ is one of the few songs on the album that could be classed as pop music. It’s also very RUDE, with the lyrics relating to having a jolly good time by yourself.
“In the fire I call your name out”, she sings in the pre-chorus, “Up all night try to rub the pain out.”
Goodness. Still, it’s fair to say this is the best song on ‘Joanne’, with a beat you can really dance to, a spoken-word middle 8 harking back to the ‘Fame’ days and, yes, some lyrics guaranteed to raise a smirk.
‘I STILL FEEL THE BLOW BUT AT LEAST NOW I KNOW’.
Having now heard the album, it makes much more sense. People are totally valid in their annoyance towards it (her pronunciation of “illooooOOOOooosion” can be like nails on a chalkboard and that outro feels very much like she’s run out of lyrics), but I can’t help but love the key change, even if it is cheesier than going to a Steps concert with the Laughing Cow.
And then, when the party’s finally going, in swoops ‘Million Reasons’ to remind us all that love doesn’t last and eventually everything must end.
What a hoot.
Given what we know about Gaga’s personal life over the past year, ‘Million Reasons’ feels like a chance for her to vent, but I can’t help but feel that if they weren’t being sung by an already-established star, there’d be no excusing those amateur lyrics, particularly in the verses, which mostly consist of her singing the words “million reasons” in several variations.
One of the songs that was debuted during her ‘Dive Bar’ tour, it’s obviously got a Gaga’s heart, which is probably because it’s one of the biggest departures from her past pop efforts. Problem is, it’s actually pretty unmemorable, leaving me wondering: if you take away the bells and whistles, is this all we’re left with?
‘Come To Mama’
Gaga loves to siiiiiiing, doesn’t she? If you’re a fan of Gaga’s elongated vowel sounds and rather affected way of performing, then the big chorus of ‘Come To Mama’ will be a treat for you. If not, this 1970s-inspired number is one to skip.
“B-B-B-Bennie And The Jets. BENNIE!” Next.
‘Angel Down’ is not an easy listen, particularly when you discover that it was inspired by the death of teenager Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead by George Zimmerman in 2012.
“Shots were fired on the street, by the church where we used to meet… why do people just stand around?” Gaga sings, which strikes a particular chord at a time when racism continues to be rife in communities around the world, which movements like the Black Lives Matter organisation are working tirelessly to counteract.
Another of the album’s moments of genuine fun, ‘Grigio Girls’ will have you wanting to crack open a bottle of white for a ‘Real Housewives’ binge-fest. But would ‘Joanne’ be any weaker without it? Probably not.
‘Just Another Day’
The punchy synth intro is absolutely brilliant. Sadly, it doesn’t exactly hold up from then on. Whereas ‘Angel Down’ would have served as a perfect closer for the album (after ‘Just Another Day’, there is actually another version of ‘Angel Down’), forcing the listener to end thinking about something important, ‘Just Another Day’ is one of the more forgettable tracks of the album, and falls flat as a closing number.
Sadly, while ‘Joanne’ isn’t a terrible album by any means, there’s little that’s going to keep either prior Gaga fans or fans of the music she’s now trying to make coming back for repeat listens. In fact, the tracks I think music fans will be most impressed by are - sad as she might be to hear it - the ones that are most reminiscent of her earlier work.
‘Joanne’ is a risk, and artists like Lady Gaga should be applauded for taking them, particularly when there’s a lot at stake. But this has repeatedly been slated as Gaga showing us her at her most raw, her most honest - and should showing yourself at your most honest really feel like so much, well, hard work?
‘Joanne’ is out now.
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