Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gaga Ate My Heart (And My Brain)

Sigh. What is there to say that hasn't already been said ever so eloquently regarding Ms. Germanotta's new EP, The Fame Monster? Before I begin, may I first direct your attention to some excellent reviews of said subject by some of my favorite bloggers: Ken, Will-W, J.Mensah, Brad and Adem. They all say how I feel in various and descriptive ways: the album is a very, very good piece of pop, and it's (very) arguable it is among the best of the albums released in 2009.

It doesn't matter to me your opinion of Gaga as an artist. I definitely stand in the camp that what she's doing isn't exactly unique, however, she is the sole musician who is doing what she's doing in a commercial and mainstream way, and for that, she should be openly praised. She takes what is so awe-infusing about the likes of Kylie Minogue, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Madonna, and just about every strong female artist from the 80's, and mashes it up into something very Top 40 pop -- yet still manages to bust down barriers with her fashion sense, performance style and material. In short -- she is the type of artist we as music fans should encourage, rather than demean.

With that said, I don't really agree that every song could stand on its own legs as a single, but I do feel that four of them very well could, and that seems to be Lady Gaga's plan. Four out of eight ain't shabby, and the sheer fact that the Lady herself has championed Interscope Records to even release an 8-track EP as bonafide sophomore release is proof positive just how big a year she has had. Consider last year this time. While several people are quick to shout that she kind of rose to 'fame' overnight, "Just Dance" was released to radio back in April of 2008, digitally on my birthday in 2008, and the album itself that August. Despite charting high on various dance-related Billboard charts that summer, it did not rise to the summit of the Hot 100 till January 2009. It was only then that her pop relevance was truly cemented, and the majority of media platforms that were not Internet related got on board, realizing she was a force to be reckoned with.

While "Bad Romance" is still in the early stages of taking over radio and the charts, it's the type of song that as soon as you hear it once, it gets its hooks stuck in you. I suppose every listener is prone to a different element that grabs you, but for me, it's that "rah rah ah-ah-ahh, rah-ma rah-ma-ma, Gaga-ooh-la-la, wants your bad romance", especially when its repeated with that bass-like growl, who is I'm assuming Mr. RedOne (while that pinnacle moment of "Want your bad ro-mance!" is also pretty epic). I tend to listen to the song over and over just to hear that part. It's the type of pop song that you can listen to over and over and it's hard to get sick of. Mostly because, as much of The Fame Monster proves, it's pop as it used to be back in the late 90's. It's glittery, it's unapologetic, it pushes radio limits, it's genre fusion, and it's guilt-less. And as good as it is, of the four potential singles on this disc, it stays at the bottom of the heap in terms of my ears -- showing you just how strong The Fame Monster is.

I have briefly mentioned my love for "Alejandro" just after it leaked a few weeks back, and that love has not changed. The melody backdrop is very reminiscent of one of the best harbingers of good pop in the early 90's -- Ace of Base. In fact, it was after listening to this song for the first time that I launched into a mini AoB revival. It definitely serves as an appropriate homage to 90's dance pop, fused with the takeover of electropop that is very 2009, and soon to be 2010.

"Telephone" features a rather limited appearance by Beyonce, in somewhat interesting marketing ploy, as Gaga herself is also featured in a phone-inspired song of Beyonce's upcoming single "Video Phone". It's still undetermined whether or not "Telephone" will follow "Romance" as the second single to perform hand in hand with "Video Phone" -- whose video has already been shot and is making the rounds as Beyonce's next release off of I Am...Sasha Fierce. In my opinion, that wouldn't be the best of plans, as it is very clear "Telephone" is the sonic winner in terms of the two tracks, and the release of two 'telephone' songs to radio seems a bit gimmicky to me. It was the one song on the record that I really didn't want to like from go, for it's inherant marketing abilities, but it has ended up being one of my favorites.

It begins with a tinkling musicbox kind of quality before exploding into gritty synth and vocoder. It's a lone Darkchild production on the record, and helps restore my faith in him as a pop producer. It's hook is drawing comparisons to Timbaland/Keri Hilson's "The Way I Are", and the infusion of 'telephonic' dialing sounds blend seamlessly into the song's makeup. Like so many of Gaga's songs, it flies by, so when Beyonce's feature shows up just past the 1:30 mark, you're almost surprised the song is already half through. It was originally written with intent for Britney, which I can very much imagine, and I'm a bit surprised she didn't want this one. The lyrics however are much more reflective of Gaga and her kooky club-culture affiliation rather than Britney's rather wayward experience with nightclubbing. In a way, it works as a bit of a part-two of "Just Dance."

I've got to give it to Beyonce for that one, however. She knows it's Gaga's show, and doesn't try to show her up with her usual vocal hysteronics, and actually supplies my favorite line in the whole song: "Sometimes I feel like I live in Grand Central Station/Tonight I'm not taking no calls, 'cuz I'll be dancing". It's a new genre territory for B, one she's only started to stumble upon thanks to "Sweet Dreams." And it needs to be said -- when women become successful and powerful in their career, too often they are pitted against each other for a grudgematch of egos, and it makes me happy that, while this is just for publicity or not, they two understand each other creatively. Not unlike with the multi-lady collabo "Lady Marmlade" cover a few years back, this type of performance should definitely continue in the future.

Which brings me to the fourth most obvious pick for a single of the record, "Monster." This is, without a doubt, my absolute favorite off the entire record. While some bemoan "Bad Romance" to be a recurrent of "Poker Face", I feel that "Monster" is true successor to the magic that Lady Gaga and RedOne can create together -- their collaboration is made in pop heaven and simply cannot be duplicated with any other artist, no matter how hard they try. The growly RedOne vocals are back ("Muh Muh Muh Monster" and "Wanna talk to her, she's hot as hell"), and also sees a joint collabo with Space Cowboy, who helped bring us "Starstruck" off The Fame (my other fave). To me, this is Gaga at her best and purest -- with unrelenting beats (complete with that reverse drum breakdown that I loved so much in "I Hate This Part"), hooky choruses, imaginative ("He ate my heart and then he ate my brain", anyone?) and that familiar but still new pop sound. The pre-chorus is downright 80's pop and reminds me of a type of melody that Bananarama would tackle and tackle well.

While I do think the rest of the album is not exactly single-worthy, they are hardly filler by any means. Really, Gaga has done what so many label executives are afraid to do these days: created a strong album in which you can literally listen to it all the way through without pressing 'next.' So often, albums are crafted around 'the big single', and the rest is relative shlock to fill out the $17.99 package. No wonder no one is buying records anymore.

"Speechless" is the big ballad of the record and has arguably the deepest lyrics Gaga has ever written, and allows her voice to truly shine through the electric synth that occupies so much of her catalogue. It's a collab with one of the executives in the American music community that you just have to have respect for: Ron Fair, who is responsible for the careers of Christina Aguilera, Black Eyed Peas/Fergie, Pussycat Dolls, Keyshia Cole, etc. Whether you enjoy these artists or not is irrelevant, the man knows how to create a quality image to match the music.

"So Happy I Could Die" drives you along with that fast gait of an unrelenting walking backbeat, and while the repetition of "I touch myself" gets old rather quickly, I do love the reference of "I love that lavender blonde". It sums up so much of what is assumed about Gaga by naysayers, and I enjoy her humor in throwing it back at them. "Dance In the Dark" takes dark to the next level, and is the sole track that can most obviously be traced back in lineage to Madonna. Her (although short) litany of references to (troubled) celebrities Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Sylvia Plath in particular in a spoken fashion draws an immediate comparison to "Vogue".

The set ends on a upbeat note with the risque and tribal-sounding "Teeth", produced by Teddy Riley, whose chorus includes the killer lyric "Take a bite of my bad-girl meat." Does it get more Gaga than that? The answer is no.

Overall -- I do kind of feel that The Fame Monster is a bit of an extension of what made The Fame so suprising and welcomed in my iTunes library. Gaga brings it back to what made me love pop music in the first place. She is here to wave the flag that she isn't changing her singalong pop colors just yet, in an age when so many people are so deathly afraid of being associated with such a genre. Kudos to Ms. Gaga -- and please don't stop anytime soon.


A1 said...

Omg! A comparison to "Vogue" on the Monster EP!!
What I wrote on my blog, then retracted, well let's say may come true....
Great write up btw :)

rcLoy said...

Love love love your review~ By far the best Pop album in a very long time. I do agree with the part where there are no filler in this album. Everything work so well here. I am still loving Alejandro and Monster is definitely an Ace track for me!

jamesyoungmusic said...

Amazing review. My fave has to be "Bad Romance" for excactly the same reasons as you... it's catchy, and never gets old. My opinions on my blog :D

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