Since the release of comeback single Perfect Illusion in September, Gaga has wanted to make it clear about what this album is not going to be. It won’t be a traditional pop album. It won’t be for the mainstream. It won’t be Gaga with the façade and avant-garde. If you are listening to Joanne with intentions of finding your new Bad Romance or Paparazzi, then you may have to look elsewhere.
Reporter: Andrew Whiteford | Sub-Editor: Larissa Gliddon
ARTPOP, Lady Gaga’s last pop record received mixed reviews from critics for a lack of risk-taking and overproduction. This universal criticism must have resonated somewhere along the line, as Joanne is almost entirely live instrumental and an homage to her childhood idols: Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Sting.
The major change in Joanne compared to prior LP’s is the small intimate team that has worked on it for the past two years: predominantly producer Mark Ronson (Uptown Funk, Back to Black), BloodPop (Justin Bieber, Grimes) and Josh Homme (Queen of the Stone Ages). Nevertheless, music heavyweights such as Florence Welch, Beck and Father John Misty all have credits amongst the tracklisting of Joanne.
Track 1: Diamond Heart
The opening track ‘Diamond Heart’ tells the graphic story of a gogo dancer who dances to block out the pain in her life off of the stage. The chorus soars in classic Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run style with its seventies power ballad piano progression and heavyweight guitars with a belting vocal in where Gaga declares she’s a ‘young, wild American’.
Track 2: A-Yo
At first listen, the first verse sounds like a country hip-hop crossover hit that could have have featured in the Hannah Montana movie soundtrack. The chorus unleashes into a bluesy, intense electric guitar, clapping and bass with the earwigging catchy melody “A-Yo, A-Yo, we’re smoking them all,”. It’s possibly best envisioned as Hannah Montana at a rodeo party after too much whiskey.
Track 3: Joanne
The title track, Joanne and album respectively, is about a late aunt who died before she was born but had a symbolic figure throughout her life. This mid-tempo ballad is charming, uplifting and acoustic reflection on losing a loved one. ‘Girl, where do you think you’re going?’ she sings over acoustic guitar. Bluntly, saying something negative about a song so evidently intimate seems obnoxious – but it seems the track is not intended to be anything more than it is – a song about grief.
Track 4: John Wayne
The increased BPM in John Wayne will take listeners by surprise. It’s a stand-out track, discussing her ‘daddy issues’ during her wild days during her late teens in the Lower East Side of New York City. It’s full of everything good about smart pop music: a dark sense of humour, tongue-in-cheek double entendres and just a ton of fun. It’s an anthem for dive bars across North America with yee haw’s aplenty.
Track 5: Dancin’ In Circles
Dancin’ In Circles is one of few tracks that you can safely call pop. It’s a filthy song about … with no polite way of putting it, pleasuring yourself and not needing somebody else to. After you take a moment to crack what the lyrics really mean – ‘up all night, try to rub the pain out’, it’s solidly the best song on the album. A larger-than-life pre-chorus, a spoken middle 8 and smutty lyrics. It’s almost as if Gaga’s 2009 track ‘Alejandro’ visited Texas.
Track 6: Perfect Illusion
The first single from Joanne, Perfect Illusion was released only a month ago. It makes much more sense sitting amongst the other the tracks before it: disco-glam rock at its finest and a key-change to no doubt make everyone want to jump out of their seat and mosh no matter where they are. Side note, it sounds like a Cher song from the early seventies and that is what it makes this song magical.
Track 7: Million Reasons
After three back-to-back songs being fiery, catchy pop bangers – it is almost anti-climactic that you are now thrown into the most balladiest of ballads. By no means is it a bad track, Hillary Lindsey (a US country music legend) lent a hand to co-write and is lyrically standout amongst the album. Unfortunately, it sounds like a track that should lend its merits to close the album – and not interrupt the party.
Track 8: Sinner’s Prayer
If you close your eyes, it could soundtrack a Quentin Tarantino movie: Kill Bill, From Dusk till Dawn or Pulp Fiction – take your pick. Yes, that may sound epic – but in the mix of things it is rather forgetful. It’s obvious what Gaga was going for – a Johnny Cash – Hurt twanged campfire track with smoky energy. But, that’s where this track should have stayed – at the campfire.
Track 9: Come To Mama
This track is going to be a decisive one. If you love ABBA, Elton John and Diana Ross glossy ballads full of feel-good saxophones and elongated vowels and big (like, really big) choruses then this track was made for you. If the thought of a campy power-ballad makes you cringe, then I suggest you move go back to the other tracks as this is the course of the album from now on.
Track 10: Hey Girl (Feat. Florence Welch)
Hey Girl is the girl-power version of Sonny & Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’ and is asking woman to stop infighting and help one another out. ‘Hey girl, hey girl, we can make it easy if we lift each other’ Welch belts in the chorus. Anyone who was worried Gaga would not be able to vocally keep up with Florence Welch stand-corrected. By no means does it explode with the female energy of Eurythmics – Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves, but it works.
Track 11: Angel Down
Produced by long-time collaborator RedOne, it is the most different thing the two have ever released. The track was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically the death of teenage Trayvon Martin. Violins are synthesised to the points of being unrecognisable whilst Gaga takes issue with racism being so rife and relevant in USA. ‘Shots were fired on the street, by the church we used to meet’, she sings. It is not going to be your go-to Joanne track, but – it’s important.
In Verdict: As a whole, Joanne is a massive rebirth to Lady Gaga’s pop career. It’s exciting, totally unexpected and a shift in the public perception of Gaga. Do we think Lady Gaga will be wearing a cowboy hat with a grey cropped jersey and rhinestoned boots this time next year? Absolutely not, as this is why she’s an artist in different caliber – she’s constantly evolving and it’s thrilling for everyone involved. Only a couple tracks Gaga stumbles on Joanne from over risk-taking sonically, but you can only applaud risk when there is so much recycled pop on the airways right now.
Stand out tracks: John Wayne, Dancin’ In Circles and Come To Mama.