Lady Gaga — Joanne

Streamline · Interscope |
Strung between pop and country, Joanne is bold and catchy, but underdeveloped.
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Outrageous stunts like strutting down the red carpet in a gown of raw meat would be laughed off as shameless whoring for attention, were they not reinforced by Gaga's walking the walk — her discography is packed with trenchant observations on celebrity set to jackhammering beats and era-defining hooks. Her career consists of a single, extended Warhol-lite project devoted to blurring the boundary between high art and pop music.

This project met its ironic demise in the summer of 2013. Gaga's last album, the unsubtle Artpop, was undercut by her own meteoric ascension to the very superstardom she critiques. And now she pivots towards pastures new, but not necessarily greener. On her fifth studio album Gaga has pulled a reverse Taylor Swift: she has abandoned shimmering, electrifying pop and replaced it with rusty, rustic country. Unfortunately for Joanne, glossy superstardom is a more flattering shade on both.

Make no mistake: Joanne is incredibly catchy, bursting at the seams with nimble hooks and daring imagery. There's a reason why Gaga remains one of the world's foremost pop stars. But Joanne is let down by its half-baked aesthetic. It is too slick for Tennessee, but too rugged for New York.

The mind wanders too easily to what could have been. This track would hit harder if decorated with the traditional strobing synths, that one could be subtler if pared back to just an acoustic guitar. Perhaps Gaga could take a leaf from Carrie Underwood's book, and slather boba fide pop skeletons with a shiny coat of banjos and fiddles.

Both literally and figuratively Gaga has a huge voice, one made for bellowing out singalong choruses and roaring encouragement at packed stadiums. Though always cut with an edge of wry sharpness, it can be counted on to tear up the dancefloor (this time only figuratively.) Gaga's magnetic charisma is best accompanied by massive, towering, electrifying production, or by none at all.

If only those brand new cowboy were a little scuffed. If only those spurs were a little worn in. Still, as always, Gaga is to be commended on her boldness. Dropping an aesthetic in search of artistic legitimacy is a move few would dare to make.