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“Born This Way”: Track-by-Track Live-Blog Review

This is an initial review. I’m going to write about the tracks as I’m listening to them, in order, including the singles we’ve already heard.

Here I go…

1. “Marry the Night”: After hearing the MQ Farmville release of this song, I was more than a bit underwhelmed. It sounds better in HQ, of course, but it still leaves me cold. The basic problem with this song is that it’s basically hookless. What, in this song, is supposed to draw me in? It feels like there’s potential, here: the melody to the verses is pretty good, and would have served as a better melody for the chorus, leaving the existing chorus to serve as a post-chorus, similar to the ‘Oh…’ in ‘Judas.’

Perhaps worst of all, though, the ending drags on for a minute without going anywhere at all. It’s the musical equivalent of blue balls: what on earth did I listen to this song for? I kept waiting for some kind of payoff, and I never got it. A horrid choice for the opening track.

Initial impression: C-

2. “Born This Way”: Why in hell wasn’t this the opening track? It’s The Statement of the album, and is — don’t take this as a compliment for this plagiarized, trite mess — quite frankly, a more interesting song than “Marry the Night.” It even seems like a breath of fresh air after that unfortunate track. But I’ve beaten this song to death dozens of times in dozens of ways. I have nothing more to say.

Impression: Still an F for plagiarism

3. “Government Hooker”: This is the track that was on everyone’s lips — a lot of Little Monsters had their hopes pinned on this track to be the second coming of “Bad Romance.” (Actually, most people thought that “Judas” was the second coming of “Bad Romance,” but we’ll set that fact to one side for now.) The big question mark was how greatly the track would differ from the the Mugler remix.

The answer ended up being: Not at all. After an overlong intro, the track kicks into earnest with some of the dirtier beats we’ve heard so far, but — well, they’re the same ones we’ve already heard. The verse remains completely uninteresting, though; this entire song looks like it’s going to live or die by its hook, just like at Mugler.

At the time of writing, I’m 2:40 into the song and I’m on the verge of shoving knives into my ears. The verses are dissonant, ugly, and jarring.

What a horrid letdown. I had high hopes for this song. It went nowhere. Who let her release this atrocious mess? If it weren’t for the quality of the hook — which is quite real — this song would be among the worst she’d ever released. Total disappointment.

Initial impression: C-

4. “Judas”: I love this song. A lot. I’m in love with “Judas.” It would have fit nicely onto “Fame Monster” — and I still like it. I must have been the only person on Earth to do so, however, given that it completely flopped on the radio.

Oh, well. Everyone flops. Anyway: the song — despite a few clunky lyrics and a misguided breakdown — is quite good, and the final minute is breathtaking: “I cling to!” — That’s a great pop moment. I’ll still be listening to this song sometimes a year from now. It’s the highlight of the album, so far.

Impression: A-

5. “Americano”: I’m at 0:30 as I write this — it sounds messy so far. I never had high hopes for this song, so even a pleasant listen will be something of a nice surprise.

Okay, I’m now at 1:00. It’s not happening. I’m going to struggle to get through this track.

I’m at 2:10. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. I’m just gonna sit back and say nothing in the hopes of not losing my damn mind.

3:40 — Yes! Here’s a nice outro. That was a nice ending. And it’s ending! I’m so happy!

Fuck, that was painful.

Initial impression: D

6. “Hair”: My thoughts about this haven’t changed much since yesterday. But listening to the joyful chorus of this song is euphoric after the four minutes of trash that I just sat through.

I actually love the melody to the chorus in this track. The last ninety seconds are breathtaking. The way that much of the instrumental drops out of the second-to-last chorus is really inspired.

The lyrics remain banal, at best, but RedOne’s sparkling production and the brilliant melody to the chorus rescue the song from what could have been, in the hands of Fernando Garibay and DJ White Shadow — who have done nothing but disappoint, so far, up to Track 6 — something a lot worse. Why was RedOne granted only three tracks on this album? He’s proving more and more to be Gaga’s true ‘secret ingredient.’

Impression: B+ overall, A for the chorus

7. “Scheisse”: The last of the RedOne tracks. I’d actually never bothered to listen to the preview at the Mugler show, so this track came to me fresh. Because it’s RedOne, I walked into it with high hopes.

Gaga’s penchant for inserting random foreign phrases into her words has always been irritating. I suppose this track was meant to “get it out of her system.” I’m at 1:00 as I write this and so far I don’t like this at all, but we all know that Gaga songs are structured around the chorus,with the verses just needing to be tolerable enough to get you there (if they’re good, all the better, but they’re never the point).

I’m at 2:00 as I write this: What is this, some feminist anthem? At any rate, the chorus is good but not as memorable as RedOne’s other contributions. Two out of three ain’t bad, though — and it’s actually a better hit-to-miss ratio than his “Fame Monster” contributions. What messes up this song has nothing to do with RedOne, though: it’s, as usual, Gaga’s obnoxious lyrics. The verses are insufferable.

Initial impression: B-

8. “Bloody Mary”: Alright, back to the Fernando Garibay tracks. The track somewhat resembles “Alejandro” when it starts out. The verses go nowhere, for me, and the lyrics are — are you noticing a pattern, here? — a bit overwrought.

The chorus is very Madonna. I can see myself enjoying this more after a couple of listens, but this track, on the whole, screams ‘filler.’ I have little to say about it. It’s simply not very interesting. It’s pleasant, but it’s forgettable.

Initial impression: B-

9. “Bad Kids”: I anticipated hating this track. I figured that it would be some kind of anthem for Little Monsters about how freakish, outcast, and eccentric they supposedly are.

I’m at 1:30 as I write this: I was right! And, to top it off, it assures the Little Monster listening that they’re still special to Mommy Monster. Gag me.

Initial impression: D+

10. “Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)”: Um, is it just me, or is the chorus to this song almost note-for-note the same as “Poker Face”? Down to the syncopation, it’s the same damn song! What the fuck is this? If I wanted to hear a “Poker Face” remix, I’d go buy the fucking “Poker Face” Remix EP on iTunes.

Initial impression: F for plagiarism. (And this was done with Fernando Garibay, while “Poker Face” was with RedOne, so, yes, I’m calling plagiarism.)

11. “Heavy Metal Lover”: This, with “Electric Chapel,” was one of my two most-anticipated tracks. At this point I’m extremely disappointed in the album, so I’m hoping that the next two tracks can redeem it in some fashion for me.

I’m at 0:47. This production is nice. She’s, for the first time on the album, allowed her producers to use her voice as an instrument to blend into the overall final product. In that sense, this track is really a production showcase for Fernando Garibay, who comes off fairly well, here.

Unfortunately, the track is nearly hookless. A song with a title like this should capture the spirit of heavy metal: balls-out, dramatic, and theatrical, with some slashing guitars or perhaps some blast-beat drums to mix up an album that promised to be innovative but is failing to deliver.

Instead, it sounds — well, nothing like that. This boring track will probably rank as the album’s biggest letdown for me. This sounded nothing like I was hoping. It’s boring.

Initial impression: C-

12. “Electric Chapel”: For the love of God, I hope that this track can redeem this album. I loved the preview and the title is awesome. Here we go…

0:40 — Ooh, I love this beat. It sounds sparkling in HQ.

I’m at 1:00 as I type this. The production to the chorus is lovely. The melody is subtle and is the kind of thing — oh, that piano! — Ooh, this is good. I like this track. — Ooh, there’s some guitars! (Where were they in “Heavy Metal Lover”?) Look how giddy I am to have come across a good track!

This sounds like a song that The Saturdays would kill for. And I love The Saturdays. This is a hot track.

3:00 — A friend just pointed out to me that the melody to the verses was basically identical to the melody to the verses of Kylie Minogue’s “Cupid Boy” — which, alas, is true. And the song only came But it doesn’t diminish what is still a good song.

Initial impression: A-

13. “You and I”: Um, for some reason, my download didn’t have this. Sorry. I’ll have thoughts later.

14. “The Edge of Glory”: This was the perfect closing track to this album. Nothing else could have done the trick. My impression of the song remains the same: it’s got a nice, anthemic chorus, passable lyrics, a nice theme — and then the cheesy sax break nearly kills the momentum (it doesn’t help that you can ‘see the seams’ of where the saxophone was inserted). But it’s still a good enough song that it’s worth listening to more than a few times — and more than good enough to deserve a slot as the final track.

Impression: B+

Overall: Holy shit, what a disappointment. The only track that I liked that I hadn’t already heard was “Electric Chapel,” which was one of my most-anticipated tracks. That song met my expectations. The rest were either filler (‘Bloody Mary,’ ‘Heavy Metal Lover’), corny (‘Bad Kids’), plagiarized (‘Highway Unicorn’) or downright messy (the ghastly ‘Americano’).

The presence of four or five strong tracks makes this album impossible to give a terrible grade to, and even when certain songs are weak as a whole, the production is often quite good.

Best track: “Judas”

Worst track: “Americano”

Best chorus: “Hair”

Worst chorus: “Heavy Metal Lover”

Best production: “Hair,” “Electric Chapel”

Worst production: “Government Hooker”

Biggest surprise: “Hair” (most had high hopes for this; I did not)

Biggest letdown: “Government Hooker”

Best lyrics: “Electric Chapel”

Worst lyrics: “Bad Kids,” “Government Hooker” (tie)

Not as good as: Femme Fatale

Better than: Loud

As good as: Teenage Dream

Music: B

Lyrics: C-

Production: B+

Overall: B-

Was it the album of the decade?: No.


Lady Gaga’s “Hair”: Be Yourself — Wait, No! Try to Impress Your Friends!

Here we go with another Lady Gaga song geared toward her young teenage fans. Written, apparently, from the perspective of her teenage self, upset about her parents’ refusal to allow her to style her hair in the way that she wants or something, “Hair” serves as the one and only promotional single from the seemingly leak-proof “Born This Way” album (“Edge of Glory” is now the third single after “Judas”).

RedOne’s production is sparkling, and the melody to the chorus is truly good and could have served as the keystone to a fantastic song with a liberating feel.

When I first heard the song, Gaga’s mediocre diction made it difficult to understand the theme of the song. What initially stuck out were the typical lowest-common-denominator injunctions to “be yourself,” cherish your identity — whatever that means — and so forth. But by the third listen, I was struck by how much of the song was actually about wanting to impress others. In both the first and second verse, Gaga sings that she specifically wanted to style her hair so that she could look cool in front of her friends; in the bridge, she yearns to be invited to the hottest parties.

I can’t imagine anyone over the age of 16 feeling like they relate to this song. The chorus nearly rescues it, but the lyrics, as with “Born This Way,” render it sterile and frustrating. I suppose that Gaga is telling the truth when she says that she writes (the bulk of) her own lyrics: almost every song from this era has contained its share of mind-numbingly bad lyrics.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this song, however; I was pleasantly surprised at how melodic it ended up being and can at least enjoy it on that level. RedOne seldom disappoints on that count (and if anyone thinks that Gaga is the one responsible for the sweeping melodies, just check out RedOne’s work with other artists to put that deluded notion to rest). It’s a shame that there’s only one RedOne track left to hear from the album. The rest come to us almost entirely from Fernando Garibay and DJ White Shadow, who aren’t quite as good.

We’ll have the whole album in two days, when it’s streamed for the UK’s Metro. It’s been an astounding, mind-boggling coup for Interscope to keep this album under lock and key. The team responsible for that should be commended. It’s less than two days until the authorized release of the audio and there isn’t a trace of a leak. Unbelievable.

Overall grade for Hair: B-

Grade for the chorus to Hair: A-

Grade for Interscope’s professionalism: A

“Edge of Glory”: Thoughts…

Well, here it is! [Download link.] It’s got a chorus that Kelly Clarkson would kill for, mixed in with some vocalizing that is reminiscent of — of all people — Celine Dion — and topped off with some truly good lyrics that are very fitting for the final track of an album.

The big question mark, ever since the Rolling Stone article summarizing a few of the songs, was the sax break. For me, it didn’t quite work. The combination of jazz and throbbing techno beats has not really been attempted before, to my knowledge, and, while I’m usually in favor of quirky mixtures of genres, I have to say that the dearth of jazz/techno mixes are for good reason. It just sounded sloppy. I’m not a jazz fan to begin with, though, so: take that for what you will. There’s something profoundly not epic about a saxophone.

Anyway, the song didn’t immediately catch me, and I doubt that this will rack up the number of plays on my iPod that Judas did. I played Judas 75 times; Born This Way, about 10. (Hold It Against Me, for comparison, has about 425, and Till the World Ends has about 225). I’m still looking forward to the rest of the album, but this song didn’t quite live up to what I was hoping for.

Grade: B

Gaga Performs “Judas” On Ellen

Uh-oh. This didn’t go very well.

She can sing and she can dance — but she, like just about everyone else, cannot do both at the same time. She’s going to find that, like Janet, Ciara, or Britney 2000-2004, she’ll have to sacrifice live singing if she wants to properly execute the choreography, or else stop dancing when she wants to sing. If you try to do both at the same time, it ends up making both look kinda sloppy. And that’s what this performance was: sloppy. It started out alright but everything kinda broke down about halfway through.

The Cover for “Born This Way” Has Arrived…

Brace yourselves for this…

…You know what?

I fucking love it!

It’s hilariously bad in the best sense. It’s self-knowing, which is unusual for her. It’s campy, absurd, and completely over-the-top. I adore this cover.

Of course, the Little Monsters hate it; they wanted something arteestic, which they didn’t get. So, as usual, I’m at odds with the Critters, who have cooked up mad conspiracy theories about how the cover is fake and is all a plot to reenact the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus on Easter. Riiiight…

The cover is real, it’s awesome, and it’s the coolest thing she’s done in a while. Keep it up, Gaga!

PS — I like ‘Judas’ a lot more than I did a couple of days ago. It’s a damn good song; it’s a better version of ‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Poker Face.’ It’s as if RedOne and Gaga decided to remake those two songs but with the aim of getting it right this time. And they did. With the exception of the pretentious, self-indulgent lyrics to the chant, I love the song and have been listening to it a lot.

PPS — Lest you think I’m going soft, I’m not. I’m simply an objective critic and not a blind hater.

Judas Drops…

See below for my initial thoughts on the leaked track (download here), but I have some new points to add:

* The instrumental isn’t as hard-hitting as I was hoping it would be. It’s got a more 80’s vibe than a hard-dance vibe, which is unfortunate, because this song deserves the ‘sledgehammer’ beats that she was promising us. Alas.

* The chorus is very similar, both melodically and sonically, to ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Bad Romance,’ but I actually think that this is its best incarnation. The ‘Woah-oh-oh-oh, I’m in love with Judas’ parts are in particular very good.

* The verses are underwhelming. The instrumental to the verses is menacing, but the lyrics and the speak-sing manner in which she goes about complementing it is simply lacking.

* The bridge is completely incoherent and self-indulgent — typical Gaga garbage. She also made up a new word (‘offensed’ — you mean offended? Did no one notice this?).

* Overall, I’m sure it will be a big hit, mostly because of the sweeping, melodic chorus, which is — just like its genealogy — Poker Face and Bad Romance — a winner. I wonder whether we’ll get Poker Face 4.0 on Gaga’s third full-length album.

Poker Face 3.0 Has Arrived!

Lady Gaga and RedOne are cribbing notes from Dr. Luke! We’ve got a hit song, people — let’s remix it and release it again! ‘Poker Face’ was remixed into ‘Bad Romance,’ and, judging by the snippets of the chorus leaked to us, ‘Judas’ is the latest incarnation of the original hit. This is exactly how I imagined this song sounding when I read the lyrics. Shameless.

It’s damn catchy. Of course it is: it’s ‘Poker Face.’ It will be a big hit, and while critics will point out that she, once again, has copied an old hit, nobody will give a damn.

By the way, what the fuck is that middle-eight chant?:

In the biblical sense, I am beyond repentance. ‘Fame hooker,’
‘prostitute wench,’ ‘vomits her mind.’ But in the cultural
sense, I just speak in the future tense. Judas
kiss me if offenced, Don’t wear ear
condom next time.

Um ‘offensed’ is not a word. And we can add ‘ear condom’ and ‘fame hooker’ to ‘government hooker’ in the ‘trying too hard’ department.

Apparently her label might release it to iTunes today. Let’s see if it can topple the S&M remix’s sales count in just three days in the same way that ‘Born This Way’ stormed the charts. My best guess? It probably will. Guess we’ll see…

I’m Alive!

I’ve been distracted by the release of the best pop album of the decade (well, since 2010 began, anyway), Femme Fatale.

Trouble for Me, I Wanna Go, and Trip to Your Heart will change your lives!

Buy the album when it comes out on March 29th — or, better yet, the Premium Fan Edition!

More updates soon.

PS — Psst…I dragged Slant Magazine’s flop review of Femme Fatale, which asked what Britney’s appeal was:

Well, let’s try to answer your question: what is Britney’s appeal?

Obviously, much of her appeal depends upon the legacy she built during her first five years, which, in case you were in a coma for, were some of the most explosive that pop culture ever had the pleasure of experiencing. She was as ubiquitous and bombastic as Lady Gaga is today — without all of the haughty pretension that the latter is currently infecting the pop scene with. From the Catholic schoolgirl outfit (Britney’s idea) to the iconic VMA performances from ’00 (the glittery faux-nude outfit), ’01 (the snake) and ’03 (the Madonna kiss), to her world-class dancing, Britney always delivered a hypnotic, intoxicating set of imagery to go along with her world-class pop. She and her collaborators have delivered so many gems to us — …Baby One More Time, Oops!…I Did It Again, I’m a Slave 4 U, Toxic, Womanizer, and so on. Many of her hits were indeed co-written by her (including Me Against the Music and Everytime), but I don’t see why that matters. (By the way: who chose Toxic as a single? Who came up with the video idea? Britney. You don’t know that, of course, because Britney doesn’t care about getting all the credit, unlike some arrogant pop stars that I can think of.)

But quite frankly, much of her musical appeal is her distinct, unique voice. People confuse having a powerhouse voice with the ability to sing well. Britney Spears’ voice is, quite honestly, fantastic. It’s wonderful for pop. It’s got a thin, sexy, girlish quality that is also found in the likes of Kylie Minogue, another pop queen who confounds the critics. Those types of voices are perfect for sexy, minor-key-dominant pop. Ask yourself if Christina Aguilera could have ever pulled off a song like Kylie’s “Chocolate” or Britney’s “Breathe On Me.” Or even some of the new songs, like “(Drop Dead) Beautiful,” “Trip to Your Heart,” and “Trouble for Me.” Only a singer with Britney’s voice could have pulled those off. She is the essential ingredient in her music. Her songs wouldn’t work in the hands of Katy Perry or Rihanna. Hers is one of the only voices in the industry that is not interchangeable with someone else. It’s absolutely anything but generic.

And as for songwriting? Rihanna’s “Loud” has no credits to her but her voice. Mariah Carey doesn’t write her own songs. Beyonce steals songwriting credits, for God’s sake. But no one constantly criticizes them for their “lack of involvement” on their records — even though, as I’ve mentioned, Britney indeed has written or helped write a few of her big hits!

Is the reason that you people don’t ‘get’ this that Britney doesn’t care about promoting herself as the second coming, like Lady Gaga does? Thank God for it — the woman is as down-to-earth as it comes. She’d never go out there like Lady Gaga, talking about “giving birth to a new race” because of her cultural appeal. She is delightfully appealing as a person because she tries so hard to maintain some sense of normalcy. And my God, she was nearly destroyed by the media culture that created her — but she, unlike Elvis, unlike Whitney Houston, unlike Michael Jackson — came back and overcame her problems. She could have ended up destroyed like those other icons. She didn’t. She came back to hit #1 again and again and again. She’s had three #1s since her big comeback. It’s absolutely amazing, and not enough credit is given to her for how much she’s had to deal with and what she’s overcome. Maybe she made herself a target for stupid media critics, but she’s remained a real person throughout everything. She’s just the whole freakin’ pop package and I don’t understand why this is so difficult to understand.

Dragged that ho!

“Born This Way” Video: Mission Accomplished

Lady Gaga’s videos are often quite good. “Bad Romance” was undeniably one of the finest pop videos of the last ten years, and “Poker Face” and “Just Dance” are also quality clips. (On the other hand, I wasn’t too impressed by the self-indulgent “Telephone” or “Paparazzi,” and “Alejandro” left me cold.)

I just arrived home from college, and after being greeted by the much more exciting news that Britney Spears’ second single (presumably “Till the World Ends”) is going to drop next week — three weeks in advance of the album — I went to the “Born This Way” video.

I can only hope that Lady Gaga’s ambition was to look like death incarnate in this video, because she looks like a Holocaust victim. It doesn’t quite match her stated goals in crafting the video, which were, as is typical for her, delusional:

“It’s the story about the birth of a new race,” the pop star told DJ Greg James. “A race that bears no prejudice and a race that’s primary sort of ambition in life is to inspire unity and togetherness.”

Um, right. Good luck with that. Anyway — I’m going to disregard the laughably self-indulgent first two minutes and just discuss the section that accompanies the actual song.

Like Britney Spears nowadays, Lady Gaga cannot keep up with her dancers, so like the “Hold It Against Me” video, “Born This Way” is awash in provocative imagery. Lady Gaga is not beautiful, so the gimmickry is doubly important in her videos. Fortunately for her, the gimmickry tends to work: it is arresting and definitely evokes the feelings of uneasiness she’s aiming for — and will surely whip up a new storm of controversy.

Yet, it feels manufactured; like the “Telephone” video, it feels specifically crafted to whip up headlines. Any artistic value found in the video is necessarily subordinated to the shock-value stunts. While this has its utility, Lady Gaga’s career increasingly feels like it’s a successive set of attempts to one-up herself: “What will she do next?” the public asks: She dresses in meat! She encases herself in an egg! Now she starves herself and dresses up like a corpse! (If Lady Gaga really wanted to shock the world, she’d dance in a white t-shirt and blue jeans.) It’s possible to push the envelope and still put together something cohesive (see: Britney Spears’ 2001 VMA performance), but Lady Gaga’s career is degenerating into a series of stunts. This obviously keeps her relevant, but it makes her status as a potential future icon troubling. Behind the stunts, there’s no ‘there’ there: the song is just not very good. The production is dated, the melody is plagiarized, and the lyrics are trite — which was all reflected in the mixed reviews, most of which focused on the “Express Yourself” controversy. (Not a good way to roll out the “anthem for our generation.”)

Honestly, what is there to say? How can I even begin review this video? It accomplished its purpose: people will be talking about Lady Gaga for another week. She remains in the spotlight. The artistic merits of the video are a secondary concern. She pulled another stunt, and it worked. I hope she’s comfortable with the cost of that.

Lady Gaga’s Shockingly Ordinary Grammy Performance

If Britney Spears skipped the Grammys because she was worried that the Gaga hype would overshadow her comeback as a dancer, then she was probably throwing her bowl of popcorn at the TV screen upon witnessing the pod queen’s exceedingly ordinary performance.

Gaga’s mediocre dancing is her weakest point as a performer, so it was a little shocking to see her put all of her, ahem, eggs in that basket. It looked a tad sloppy, and with the only aspect of the performance coming close to being out-of-the-ordinary having been something she’d already done — a piano interlude — what are we left with? Besides the grand entrance, it was just a typical pop diva performance. Nothing remotely resembling anything iconic or showstopping. Yawn. The crowd’s reaction was standard — Gaga did not receive a standing ovation, which probably ruffled her feathers (Cee-Lo’s feathers?) a bit — so, what are we left with? It was a letdown, plain and simple.