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Friday, November 08, 2013

Track-by-Track: Lady Gaga - Artpop

It's been a long time since I've featured a track by track review, and I wish I could have been more consistent. It's a matter of time management more than interest, and I'm hoping to feature more reviews soon. But what better album to come back with than the excellent new Lady Gaga release? I can't say I was knocked over on the first listen, but when Artpop clicked with me, it clicked big time. And now, it might just be my favorite album she's released. As time goes by, we'll see how that holds up. For now, read on...

1. Aura - The album kicks off with what almost sounds like an extended intro. The vocal delivery isn't so much singing as it is spitting the lyrics with the type of full-on theatricality and bizzaro-ness we expect from Gaga. It leaves you want just a bit more, which is always a good thing. 9/10

2. Venus - This is the album at its most self-referential campiness. I realized from the beginning that this is not going to resonate with all fans, in particular those who want their music a little more "serious." But really who the hell cares when a track is as fun and interesting as this. A perfect pop song, though I'd advise against making it a single. 10/10

3. G.U.Y. - Of the three tracks so far, this sounds the most like a classic Gaga dance track. It definitely shares pieces of past classics like Bad Romance and Poker Face, but the sledgehammer beat, gorgeously anthemic middle eight, and aggressive outro make this an instant standout. The gender politics on display in the lyrics are also refreshingly blunt. It'd make a great single. 10/10

4. Sexxx Dreams - Another winner, this piece of plastic funk sounds like it would have been right at home in the 80's. It's one of the breezier pop tracks she's come up with in awhile -- devoid of the artier self-indulgent tendencies that get her in trouble with some listeners. Simply a great chorus, wonderfully delivered verses, and hook upon hook. 10/10

5. Jewels n' Drugs - The real oddball of the album, and something that I consider more of a palette cleanser than a real song. Part of the problem is that Gaga herself really isn't on the track as much as her rapper collaborators are. It feels more like a feature, and as such, it's an album lowpoint. What it does do well, though, is split the first suite of four tracks from the three that come next. 7/10

6. Manicure - And we're back! Manicure is some kind of weird rock/cheerleader chant hybrid that totally works. I'd say it's the most instantly catchy thing on the album, though I'm not sure it holds up quite as well as the best tracks on here. Still, a total triumph. 9/10

7. Do What U Want - The second single, and an excellent choice. What first seems like a kind of dull midtempo r&b track, it took me a few days until this clicked with me. Now, it's one of my favorites. Gaga and R. Kelly's voices blend so well together and the whole thing is so funky and sleek. Brilliant. 10/10

8. Artpop - A spacey, dreamy sort of track. It's got a real futuristic, electronic sound to it, I find that, among the bigger moments in the album, it kind of gets lost in the shuffle, but it's definitely a pleasant listen and a nice change of pace. 8/10

9. Swine - One of the more experimental tracks on the album, this EDM-influenced hissy-fit of a song took me awhile to get used to (mostly because of those long industrial instrumental breaks), but then I started looking at it as another palette cleanser before the next of the album's song suites and I really appreciated its place in the running order. And Iloved those rocky verses and hiccupy production from the first listen. 9/10

10. Donatella - This is where the "fashion" portion of the album kicks in, and of the two tracks referencing this side of Gaga (not my favorite side, btw), this is the weirder and sillier. I'm not in love with the lyrics, which are a sort of obvious satire, but the production's nice enough. 8/10

11. Fashion! - This reminds me of 80's era Bowie, and it's all the better for it. I wouldn't have suspected Will-i-Am and David Guetta as producers, as this sounds little like their music. It's laidback, summery and simple. 9/10

12. Mary Jane Holland - This is where the album enters its darker, more personal portion, with the first of two tracks concerning drug use. This is a dramatic rock/pop hybrid that reminds me heavily of the late 90's in its alt-pop sound. It's like a mini rock opera, with an amazing breakdown at the middle eight that may just be the album's highest (pun intended) moment. 10/10

13. Dope - The album's only real ballad, this Rick Rubin-produced dirge is a haunting, dramatic diary piece theatrical enough to be operatic. Instead of going for precision, though, the production ensures that this is every bit as rough and gritty as the subject matter. 10/10

14. Gypsy - My favorite track on the album. I'm a huge fan of Edge Of Glory-style Gaga, mostly because I live for anthemic, driving rock/electronic tracks with a sense of euphoria and bombast. This ticks all those boxes, and adds on top of that some fantastic personal lyrics chronicling the nomadic life of today's popstar. I don't see how anyone could dislike this. 10/10

15. Applause - The first single, and oddly enough, not one of the stronger tracks on here. Its sound just kind of feels out of place. Despite its success, I'm not sure it ever really worked as a fully-formed single in its own right, and sounds jarring coming out of the much-bigger Gypsy. Still a great pop song. Just not my favorite. 9/10

Album Grade: 9.2/10

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