After a turbulent few years in the public eye (mainly due to the underwhelming reception of previous album ARTPOP), Lady Gaga has left everybody in suspense wondering what she’ll do next to save her somewhat wilting career. After several (successful) attempts to win back the interest of the public (American Horror Story, performing the National Anthem at the 2016 Super Bowl, The Sound Of Music medley at the 2015 Oscar Awards), Gaga ditched the wigs and eccentric costumes, and began to redefine her style by solely focusing on the one thing which elevated her to superstardom in the first place: the music.
After revealing that Mark Ronson (who produced Amy Winehouse’s Black to Black) and RedOne (responsible for Just Dance, Poker Face, Bad Romance and Alejandro – only to name a few) were working with her on tracks for her next record, it was safe to say that #LG5 was going to deliver, and now that the album has FINALLY dropped, we can safely say we were right. Joanne, (a tribute to her late aunt of the same name), is a middle finger to the constraints of pop music and presents a complete departure from the previous sound and aesthetic of ARTPOP (Joanne features many more live instruments). The theme of the album was clear even at first listen, and is summed up in the opening lines of the album’s opening track Diamond Heart: “YOUNG WILD AMERICAN”.
Gaga defiantly chants “I might not be flawless / but you know I got a diamond heart” in the opening track, a rock-anthem which is filled with soaring vocals, insane drum beats and electric guitar riffs. Gaga’s defiance is continued into the second track of the album A-YO, another classic rock anthem filled with addictive hand claps, more electric guitars, infectious synths, where she rebelliously sings “I can’t wait to smoke them all / whole pack like Marlboro / blow it in your face” and shouts “A-YO, A-YO, we smokin’ ‘em all”. The aggressiveness of the first two tracks stops in the third track: the album’s title song (a real tear-jerker), which is a plea to Gaga’s late aunt Joanne, where she sings “Heaven’s not ready for you” and “every part of my aching heart / needs you more than the angels do”, with the emotion of the track being heightened by raw vocals, simple production (acoustic guitar and light percussion with soft strings later added), to create (for me) the highlight of the entire album and proves by now that Joanne is Gaga’s most personal record to date.
John Wayne is the fourth track on the album and reignites the rebelliousness previously heard in the first two tracks, where Gaga sings about hanging off the back of a man’s horse, running red lights and swigging beer cans with distorted vocals and electric guitars, which creates a classic American hop-in-your-pickup-truck-and-speed-down-the-freeway anthem. Dancin’ in Circles follows as the fifth track on Joanne and features sensual Spanish guitars, a SITAR (because why not), the hook of all hooks “in the fire I call your name out / up all night tryna rub the pain out” and the occasional innuendo “funk me downtown” as well as songwriting credits from BECK. The lyrical content of this song mirrors that of So Happy I Could Die from The Fame Monster.
We now come to the album’s lead single Perfect Illusion which features production from Bloodpop (who has previously worked with Justin Bieber and Grimes) and Tame Impala’s frontman Kevin Parker. This song represented the introduction of Gaga’s new look and simplistic sound. With some of her most personal lyrics to date about a broken relationship, and flawless production, it’s safe to say Perfect Illusion marked Gaga’s return to form. We then come to a well-overdue piano ballad, Million Reasons, which features simple production and ultimately allows Gaga’s vocal talent to shine on this confessional track where she sings “I tried to make the worse seem better”. The controversially-titled Sinner’s Prayer follows, a classic country track where Gaga sings “I don’t wanna break the heart of any other man but you”.
The album’s final three tracks (Come to Mama, Hey Girl and Angel Down respectively) round the record off nicely. Come to Mama is a plea for world love and peace “there’s gonna be no future / if we don’t figure this out” which features a classy saxophone solo. Hey Girl, featuring none other than Florence Welch, is a classic 80s-sounding feminist duet where Gaga and Florence sing to each other “we can make it easy if we lift each other” which is a blatant reference to the rivalry between women in pop music today. The album’s closing track Angel Down refers to Gaga’s feelings of abandonment and loneliness during the ARTPOP era “angel down, angel down, but the people just stood around” which leaves the album on a sombre yet hopeful and reflective note.
Overall, it is safe to say that Joanne is a cathartic and personal album, and proves Lady Gaga is vocally and musically stronger than ever. Gaga and her producers have experimented with new sounds which ultimately proves she remains an irreplaceable and ever-evolving force in music. A completely new, more raw and relatable dimension of Lady Gaga has been revealed to the public, with fantastic results and as she previously stated in an interview, the music certainly “speaks for itself”.
Album highlights: Joanne, Dancin’ in Circles, Diamond Heart, A-YO
Weak Links: N/A