“ARTPOP”: the follow-up album to Lady Gaga’s magnum opus, “Born this Way”…”ARTPOP”: the album that so courageously seeks to bring art and pop together AT LAST…”ARTPOP”: the album that Gaga’s been squawking about for literally a DECADE…is finally here. Featuring production from Gaga herself, DJ White Shadow, Zedd, Madeon, will.i.am, David Guetta, Rick Rubin, and yes, even RedOne, “ARTPOP” is a loud, predominately electronic album that often gets lost in translation. Sometimes it feels like you need a decoder ring or a wizard just to understand Gaga’s increasingly mystifying songwriting these days. Is it only considered “art” when no one has a clue what you’re talking about?
Even when the messages do come through a little more clearly, Gaga mainly sticks to the familiar themes of fame, love, sex, and fashion, but she doesn’t have much new or interesting to say about any of them. So no, “ARTPOP” is not the groundbreaking, genre-defying album we were promised, but there are enough bright spots to make it worth a listen, even if you just end up cherry-picking your favorites instead of buying the whole thing. Check out my track-by-track breakdown of the album after the jump!
1. “Aura” – Aside from a few new lyrics, this song is unchanged from the demo that leaked back in August. The chorus is quite nice, but the rest is just electronic noise. Not a great way to kick off the album.
2. “Venus” – The pre-chorus and chorus of this track have both grown on me considerably. It’s almost worth trudging through the nonsensical, lethargic verses to hear them. Almost. In what world was this being considered for the second single?
3. “G.U.Y.” – This is one of the bright spots I was talking about. Gaga muses on gender roles and power in the bedroom on this gritty, assertive dance number produced by Zedd. The hook is fantastic and would have definitely sounded at home on “The Fame Monster.” Should be a future single.
4. “Sexxx Dreams” – The Prince and Janet Jackson influences on this song are evident. The sugary sweet chorus is light and fun and the spoken bit during the bridge is pretty adorable, but ultimately the track didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.
5. “Jewels n’ Drugs (feat. TI, Too Short, & Twista)” – I like the beat and I respect that Gaga chose to work with Too Short and Twista over rent-a-rappers like Flo Rida and Pitbull, but there isn’t enough pop appeal to keep me coming back for repeat listens.
6. “MANiCURE” – There’s a wonderful, “We Will Rock You” vibe going on here. With stomp-clap percussion, cheerleader chant verses, and a sing-a-long chorus, this DJ White Shadow produced track should absolutely be considered for a single at some point.
7. “Do What U Want” – Unlike “Venus,” the more time I’ve spent with this track, the less I like it. It’s just flat-out boring.
8. “ARTPOP” – “My ARTPOP could mean anything.” Really? You dedicated an entire song to explaining the album concept and, “My ARTPOP could mean anything,” is the best you could come up with? I guess that’s rather telling, isn’t it? I do quite like the instrumental, however. It’s so spacey and dreamy.
9. “Swine” – One of the few places on the album where the pounding electronic production isn’t distracting, “Swine” is all about DJ White Shadow’s sharp synth stabs, stuttering build-ups, and grimy beat drops. The heavenly chorus will have you singing, “Swiiiiiiiiiine, swiiiiiiiiiine,” in no time. We don’t know who the object of Gaga’s scorn is, but I’m just glad she was able to channel her disgust into a killer dance track.
10. “Donatella” – Now THIS I really don’t get. There isn’t a single trace of irony here – it’s just a song that straight up glorifies Donatella Versace. Where’s the fun in that? Plus, it features such winning lines as, “Just ask your gay friends their advice before you get a spray tan on holiday – in Taipei.” Ick. I’ll pass.
11. “Fashion!” – If you have to do another song about fashion, this is the way to do it. Co-produced by will.i.am and David Guetta, “Fashion!” is one of the more straight-forward pop tracks on the album, but when your album’s full of cluttered production and head-scratching lyrics, that’s a good thing. The song goes off the rails a bit near the end, but the rest is so groovy and good, it doesn’t matter. “Lookin’ good and feelin’ fine,” indeed.
12. “Mary Jane Holland” – Gaga’s stoner alter ego Mary Jane Holland makes her first appearance on this trippy Zedd produced ode to weed. It kind of sounds like it was lifted from a scrapped Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about Amsterdam’s red-light district, “De Kat Prostituee!” I was half expecting Gaga to break out into, “Macavity, Macavity…” during the second verse. The bridge is especially theatrical, “I know that mom and dad think I’m a mess, but it’s alright because I am rich as piss. When I ignite the flame and put you in my mouth, the grass heats up my insides and my brunette starts to sprout…”
13. “Dope” – It’s time for “ARTPOP’s” obligatory piano ballad. The song’s refrain, “I need you more than dope,” wields a strange power. It’s not exactly romantic, but if you consider the torturous, unrelenting hold addiction can have on a person, it’s quite a statement. The Rick Rubin produced song has divided fans, but I think its simplicity makes it one of the album’s stronger moments.
14. “Gypsy” – “ARTPOP’s” true stand-out (and RedOne’s only contribution), “Gypsy” is a near-perfect pop song that combines the epic, arena rock sound of “Born This Way” with the commercial hooks of “The Fame.” This is the kind of music Gaga should be making: uncomplicated, catchy, epic, and you don’t have to be tripping balls to understand it. Sometimes less is more. If this isn’t the next single, I’ll spit.
15. “Applause” – To be honest, I’m not even really sure why this song is on the album. According to Gaga, it almost didn’t make the cut until Jimmy Iovine, the chairman of Interscope, somehow managed to convince her to make it the LEAD SINGLE?? (What kind of flawed logic?) Gaga should’ve gone with her gut and left this one out. Congratulations – your fans love you and you love that they love you. So what?
Must download: “Gypsy,” “G.U.Y.,” “Swine,” “Fashion!,” “MANiCURE,” and maybe, “Dope”
Must miss: “Applause,” “Aura,” “Donatella,” “ARTPOP”