From within the storm of hype surrounding Lady Gaga’s sixth studio album, it’s easy to forget that it’s now been over a decade since she released a record that wasn’t patchy at best. Back in the day, she was on a run so strong that she could repackage ‘The Fame’ and throw in eight brand new tracks, including classics like ‘Telephone’ and ‘Bad Romance,’ like it was the simplest thing in the world.
Given 2016’s ‘Joanne’ featured elements of country, not to mention the worldwide success of ‘A Star Is Born’ and its associated soundtrack, it’s been curious to wonder in what direction the Gaga of 2020 is heading. However, one listen to the grandiose strings that elevate opener ‘Chromatica I’ and introduce our queen, and it’s clear that we’re in for a tour through vintage Gaga.
‘Chromatica’ is stuffed full of hi-NRG club bangers that truly hark back to Gaga’s imperial period. It exists in world completely immune to recent trends in pop, where Drake and The Weeknd’s introspective, downcast R&B didn’t conquer all and, as a result, it’s like a beacon to a brighter tomorrow.
Across its sixteen tracks, ‘Chromatica’ is entirely over-the-top, but in the best possible way. Every song is an anthem of defiance and empowerment, turned up to 11 and genetically engineered for maximum danceability. You get the feeling that subtlety really isn’t in her vocabulary and even when the lyrics tell of struggle – witness the nod to her debut album in ‘Fun Tonight’ (“Love the paparazzi, love the fame / Even though you know it causes me pain”) – it’s always a precursor to persisting and overcoming, the obstacle that inevitably gives way to the victory dance.
Previous Gaga records have always been dogged by her insistence on including syrupy ballads which, more often than not, had a strong whiff of 80s hair metal about that. However, ‘Chromatica’ is structured more like a greatest hits: 43 minutes where the pace absolutely does not relent.
Spotting the name of Elton John as a featured artist could easily lead you to believe we’re preparing for something in the vein of the Bradley Cooper duet, ‘Shallow,’ but their collaboration (‘Sine From Above’) is anything but. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that it’s the most raucous song in the collection, given that it descends into a full-on drum n’ bass breakdown in the last 20 seconds.
‘Chromatica’ doesn’t do anything you haven’t heard before, including from Gaga herself, but it’s tough to think of a pop album of recent times that manages to sustain such a high level of quality, not to mention ridiculous energy, throughout. Just listening to it feels like an aerobic workout at times, but it also comes with the rewarding endorphin rush of intense cardio. When she sings, “This is my dancefloor I fought for,” on ‘Free Woman,’ it rings true.
More than ten years after she burst onto the scene with her Madonna-worshipping, take-no-prisoners maximalist dance-pop, Gaga has finally made a worthy follow-up to the album that made us fall in love with her in the first place.
Words: Joe Rivers
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