REVIEW: Lady Gaga calls her album ‘ARTPOP,’ but she is good at neither

REVIEW: Lady Gaga calls her album ‘ARTPOP,’ but she is good at neither

Alexander McCall

There was a time when Lady Gaga didn’t take herself so seriously.

Mostly on “The Fame,” but also on choice tracks from “The Fame Monster,” the eccentric star sounded like she was enjoying herself even while her songs were obvious pop trifles.

Say what you will about her lyrics about disco sticks and “bluffin muffins,” but Lady Gaga circa 2008 could lay down a good hook and ignite a dance floor.

Unfortunately, her obsession with shock value and need for worship from her cult-like fan base took its toll. By the time of 2011’s preposterous “Born This Way,” Gaga had become a massively self-indulgent poseur who believed her own ridiculousness.

Ripping shamelessly off Madonna and the worst kind of arena rock, Gaga made a tragically hour-long opus that undercut her message of self-acceptance with a completely contrived presentation.

Gaga has receded from the spotlight since “Born This Way.” By titling her first album in two years “ARTPOP,” she clearly wants to reclaim her old notoriety.

Although the brash, almost offensive pose of “Born This Way” is less present here, “ARTPOP” still suffers from self-seriousness. An attempt to craft a definitive marriage of dance-pop fodder and heady conceptualism is bound to fail at least partially, especially when the content of the songs themselves fail to live up to any ideal of both “art” or “pop.”

Aesthetically, “ARTPOP” does work. The production is crystal clear, maximalist, arpeggiated and hyper-compressed. Gaga’s vocal performances resemble the sleazy crooner on collaborations like “Telephone” and Kendrick Lamar’s “B*tch Don’t Kill My Vibe” than the false prophet of “Born This Way” or “Edge of Glory.”

Some of the songs on the back half of the album hit on a colorful, effervescent vibe – notably the title track, “Mary Jane Holland,” and closer and lead single “Applause.” On its best tracks, the album is overstuffed in a playful way, with dozens of small elements colliding energetically.

That said, the first half of the album is a depressing slog. Songs like “Venus,” “G.U.Y.,” and “Sexxx Dreams” are all hollow gimmicks that sound even more contrived than the radio-bating singles on “Born This Way.”

There’s also a noticeable lack of memorable hooks, as in the meandering opener “Aura” and the rap-by-the-numbers “Jewels ‘N Drugs.”

More often than not, these songs sound forced and formulaic. The music’s sense of importance – the distinction of being capital-A “Art,” if you will – feels artificial instead of organic.

There are brief glimpses of the Lady Gaga that once used her classical music background to write strange, silly pop tunes on a piano very quickly. Perhaps one day this spontaneity will come back to pop music’s old queen of provocation.

For now, though, “ARTPOP” is an indistinct, badly paced trek through the mind of an artist who no longer knows what to do with her own ego.

Rating: one out of five stars

REVIEW: COLIN MOORE, Senior A&E Reporter