Eight years have flown by since Lady Gaga exploded onto the international stage with her RedOne produced, Colby O’Donis featuring and RedOne/Akon co-written debut single Just Dance. Almost instantly she became one of the most talked about and sought after pop icons. As she toured the world and thrilled her Little Monsters with her message of self-belief, anthemic pop songs and thrilling outfits, Lady Gaga’s profile exploded to the point of implosion. With her third studio album, Artpop, taking her identity exploration to an extreme, many fans felt they had lost their sense of connection with their champion. Her response, sensibly, was to take a step back and re-focus her energies on her own goals. After a brief exploration of jazz standards with the legendary Tony Bennett for her fourth studio album, she returns with her long-awaited fifth studio album, Joanne, and a reported foray with country pop.
First things first, Joanne may have country undertones, but this is no country album. This is Lady Gaga at her most personal and insightful. Stripping away the experimental edge that was so harshly over criticized on the actually rather compelling Artpop, Lady Gaga delivers a record that shines a light on the depth of her ‘real’ music abilities and her strength as an insightful, honest and open lyricist.
Joanne, which is named after both her late aunt and her own middle name, is a surprisingly understated collection that doesn’t lean as heavily on her pop sensibilities as a listener might expect. While lead single, the addictive but a little too simplistic Perfect Illusion, played for the Kelly Clarkson shout along terrain, it proves itself a misleading introduction to a collection that is far stronger than the weakest cut that was selected to kickstart the campaign.
Most interesting about the collection is that by stripping away the ‘performer’ element, Lady Gaga becomes a more ardent champion of the causes she has always stood for. While her lyrics have always campaigned for equality, understanding and love of human nature, the meanings have sometimes been lost in favour of the striking production. By removing the ‘notice me’ cries of her earlier work, the message of the beautiful Come To Mama and Million Reasons are far more hard hitting and emotionally charged. Whether singing about the personal or the political, it is almost as if Lady Gaga has realised that sometimes doing less allows the words to say so much more.
Already one of the most talked about duets of the year, Lady Gaga teaming up with Florence Welch does not disappoint. Striking a balance between playful showmanship, skillful vocal battles and addictive pop edge, this is an anthem for women of today to stand together in unity and sing at the top of their voices. An understated Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves for the modern music fan, this is a timeless duet that deserves to be a future single.
With the album’s moving title track Joanne and and the lilting strides of Grigio Girls providing the highlights of Lady Gaga’s bravest record release to date, it is safe to say that Lady Gaga has silenced any doubters. An real talent to her core, Lady Gaga shows that she can strip back any pomp and ceremony and still deliver an album that people will talk about and remember.