Released: October 21, 2016
Since the release of Artpop in 2013, Lady Gaga’s career had gone into re-furbish mode. Her achievement in pursuing high concept fashion, EDM twists and multi-genre elements throughout the record wasn’t exactly what the critics wanted to see, and commercial success was fall quicker like weave being snatched from a scalp. Having a legion of fans and loyal following, time was ticking, and Lady Gaga needed to redeem herself to the public once again, as an eccentric, pop-loving artist of stellar decisions, craftsmanship and powerful leadership. However, she threw away her old clothes (literally), and decided to strip it all down. A couple years later, you get Joanne, the singer’s fifth studio album that moulds an unusual mixture of Americana rock and roll, classic and calm country instrumentation and experimental dance numbers.
Arguably her most personal effort yet, the record is named after her aunty, whom passed away tragically, and Gaga’s middle name. It’s a heart wrenching note to the album’s credit, but knowing Gaga’s persistence, bravery and confidence, she let all her emotion through the record nicely. She tells it like it is in the album’s introduction track “Diamond Heart”, which boasts a gritty guitar riff with some strong held vocals. Lady Gaga is never afraid to get dirty and sassy, especially through the grunge-inspired “John Wayne”, the funky “A-Yo”, and the album’s lead single “Perfect Illusion”, but still manages to calm down her pace with the spaghetti-western moment “Sinner’s Prayer” and the acoustic-driven “Million Reasons”.
Of course, the decision to move towards a more stripped-down atmosphere is quite a risk that surely pays off on Gaga’s behalf, but that’s not the issue here. The issue is that, in comparison to her previous records, the hierarchy of quality and execution isn’t exactly as well-polished or, to an extent, even that well-presented. Like I mentioned in my separate review of “Perfect Illusion” (see my review here), Gaga pushes herself way too far in specific areas, like her vocals and production, to the point where she seems a bit lost or uncomfortable. This is particularly evident towards the end and start of Joanne, whether it’s her vocals or sound, only allowing the middle section of the record to take centre stage.
However, despite her over-indulgence towards the tracks, some moments are quite genuine and natural, especially the powerful “Million Reasons”, the settling and catchy moments of the Florence Welsh collaboration, “Hey Girl”, and even “A-Yo” and “Perfect Illusion” fits into the album like a glove. That’s Gaga’s key moment on the record; she accentuates well when she meets a fine of being calm and collective, instead of when she’s over-the-top on sultry ballads, or slightly dull on pounding-EDM-Dance-Rock riddle beats.
So, Gaga’s record Joanne is, without a doubt, a step. A step that could either trigger her passion to go forward and carry on a routine of folk-inspired pop songs that continues theatrical yet sincere moments, or a step that could easily see her slide down a couple to reassure her back to her old roots of her typical dance-styled production. Regardless of this, and the lack of catchy moments, Joanne is a nice change to see Lady Gaga emphasize her passion for music, song writing skills and vulnerability in these tracks, and wholly more consistent and brave than Artpop.
Track list (Bold means best tracks)
- Diamond Heart
- A-Yo ~Liam’s favorite~
- John Wayne
- Dancin’ in Circles
- Perfect Illusions
- Million Reasons
- Sinner’s Prayer
- Come to Mama
- Hey Girl (feat. Florence Welsh)
- Angel Down