When my brother got Lady Gaga’s Joanne instead of another album I had in mind I was a bit disappointed. His reason was simple, he’d heard people didn’t like this album very much so he wanted to check it out and decide for himself.
I have always liked some Lady Gaga to be honest, but I have always found listening to an entire album of Lady Gaga a bit cumbersome, because the wasn’t much going on in terms of variety. With Joanne, this wasn’t a problem at all. I’m aware, Lady Gaga isn’t someone with the level of sophistication like Janelle Monae, she is an entertainer, a performer blessed with unique artistry and theatrics. And that, I argue, is equally valuable when it is expertly employed. Which is what I was hoping for going into this album.
In Joanne we find that the music here is toned down and stripped, less electronics and more acoustic instrumentation. It is groovy and infectiously rhythmic. Lady Gaga paints some vivid country imagery, the heat, the wild and the rodeo. It is not something very present in the lyrics but it is something the music and her delivery paints well, however subdued and subtle. Songs like Joanne, A-YO and Dancin’ in Circles are clear examples of this. It what is done with the choice of instrumentation and composition that gives this album a completely fantastical Western feel and yet very familiar feel. This is because the images it conjurers are very much part of our popular culture, whether in the form of Westerns, tradition or sport. But that is the nature of art, to make something strange familiar and make something familiar strange. It is really elegant. However, this feature isn’t present or pervasive throughout the entire album, but it is nonetheless there and it is the most consistent.
If one examines the lyrical/affective content of Joanne you will find nothing is new, it oozes with pheromones, sultry fixations and modern fairy tales, with the exception of an occasional ballad. It is all about desire, heartbreak and dreams, done straightforwardly with little depth, insight or artistic maneuver. In simple words, it is like every other pop record, played out romantic fantasies, perspectives and desires. And that is what drags this album down. I have no problem with artist singing about sex, love and heartbreak, but I have a problem when there is nothing refreshing about the way it is done. When there is little depth, insight and some worthwhile exploration of human relationships/psychology.
In the end Joanne is stuck half-way between what it could’ve been and what it is, an exceptional pop album and a regular pop album.
With that said, I’d have this album any day over what she had previously released.