Lady Gaga Tweaks Her Sound and Style on ‘Joanne’
‘Joanne’ marks the most eclectic album of Lady Gaga’s career. Lady Gaga expands the script beyond the dance-pop that dominated her early career.
When Lady Gaga released ARTPOP in 2013, it seemed she’d lost some of her luster. ARTPOP was a solid album but didn’t quite have the electricity of her previous albums. The period after ARTPOP marked notable changes in the musician’s approach. She won a Grammy for her duet album with Tony Bennett (Cheek to Cheek) and was nominated for an Academy Award for “Til It Happens to You.”
Based upon her classier approach, it suggested her new solo album might be different. Indeed, Joanne is a contrast to everything she’s released up until this point. Ultimately, that’s a good thing. Joanne marks the most eclectic album of her career.
“Diamond Heart” kicks off Joanne in spirited fashion. Characterized by a driving groove throughout, Lady Gaga shows more poise and restraint on the verses. By the chorus, the level of passion and dynamics are amplified. Simply put, Gaga sings her face off.
“A-Yo” serves as another highlight from Joanne. In regards to her discography, “A-Yo” possesses a different sound and vibe, blending pop, rock, country, and singer/songwriter. What is most notable about “A-Yo” is how powerful Gaga sounds. While Gaga makes reference to sex, the bigger takeaway is throwing up middle fingers to the haters.
Title track “Joanne” starkly contrasts the raucous nature of the opening duo. The best way to describe the sound is singer/songwriter. From a first listen, it’s clear that “Joanne” is arguably the tamest song that Lady Gaga has ever recorded. Despite being restrained, it’s respectable, even if it is a departure.
“John Wayne” refuels Joanne, upping the ante with pounding drums and a ball of energy. This dance cut is closer to Gaga’s wheelhouse. That said, this transcends some of her more tongue-n-cheek dance records from the past. The vocals are biting, the production banging, incorporating club/dance, pop, and rock elements.
“Dancin’ in Circles” is quirky – not far-fetched from an artist known for her idiosyncrasies. Once the form of the song reveals itself, it grooves. The beat is infectious, while the production borrows elements of Latin and world music. Only Lady Gaga pulls off a song this weird.
Minor-key promo single “Perfect Illusion” is vintage Lady Gaga…with some tweaks. The record initiates exuberantly with slick production work. Pummeling drums hitting you right in the chest. Gaga’s vocals are riper and more powerful than ever, showcasing incredible assertiveness. The chorus is top-rate:
“It wasn’t love, it wasn’t love / it was a perfect illusion (perfect illusion) / mistaken for love, it wasn’t love / it was a perfect illusion (perfect illusion) / you were a perfect illusion.”
Besides being an awesome dance track with an infectious chorus, it is a powerful, relatable break-up anthem. Interestingly, as great as “Perfect Illusion” is, it isn’t the crowning achievement of Joanne.
“Million Reasons,” on the other hands, has an argument for such honors. The standout grows better and better, listen after listen. A complete 360º compared to “Perfect Illusion,” Lady Gaga digs deeper lyrically, with the help of renowned songwriter Hillary Lindsey. Although it digs deeper than the promo single, they both have something in common – a superb chorus:
“I bow down to pray / I try to make the worst seem better / Lord, show me the way / to cut through all his worn out leather / I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away / but baby, I just need one good one to stay.”
“Sinner’s Prayer” features some distinct, vintage cues. Part of this sound is owed to co-writer Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty. There’s a novel element about this number that makes it unique. “Sinner’s Prayer” is a blend of country, folk, and singer/songwriter. The indie sensibility is firmly planted.
“Come to Mama”
A second Tillman co-write, “Come to Mama,” also features retro and vintage touches. This time, however, it takes form as an up-tempo, throwback soul cut. This isn’t a transcendent song, but enjoyable through and through. Among its attributes are Gaga’s gritty vocal performance and magnificent production work.
Florence Welch (Florence + The Machine) joins Gaga on fun, electro pop-soul record “Hey Girl.” Among the selling points is how Gaga and Welch trade off throughout the course of the song. The chorus isn’t a lyrical masterwork by any means, but definitely catchy.
“Angel Down” concludes the standard edition of Joanne. The song is simply stunning – the crème de la crème. Co-written with Nadir Khayat, the songwriting is spot-on, dabbling in racism, social injustice, and gun control. The inspiration for “Angel Down” was the murder of Trayvon Martin.
@joncaramanica how far must ANYONE need to ?4 inspiration & write a song re: the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin as I did w/ "Angel Down".
— xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga) October 20, 2016
Vocally, Gaga marvelously conveys authenticity – she’s clearly passionate here. The Pre-chorus foreshadows a truly radiant, haunting chorus:
“Shots were fired on the street / by the church where we used to meet / angel down, angel down / but the people just stood around.”
Gaga “brings it on home” on the chorus:
“I’m a believer, it’s a trial / foolish and weaker, oh, oh, oh / I’d rather save an angel down / I’m a believer, it’s chaos / where are our leaders? Oh, oh, oh / I’d rather save an angel down.”
The Deluxe Edition
The deluxe edition of Joanne adds three songs. The first of the three is “Grigio Girls,” a country number mixed with pop elements. It’s not country-pop in the standard sense, but an interesting amalgam nonetheless. “Just Another Day” once more looks to the past for inspiration. The best characterization is it’s an old school soul-rock cut. Once more, it allows Gaga to showcase her powerful pipes. Fittingly, a working version of “Angel Down” (“Angel Down (Work Tape)”) concludes. The work tape is slower but equally moving as the final version.
Lady Gaga delivers a stellar effort on Joanne. Instead of continuing with her past script, she expands it, incorporating a number of different styles. Vocally, she sounds better than ever. There is still plenty of slick production work, but it never inhibits her voice. It wasn’t that her voice was ever inhibited, but the sense here is that Gaga wants to showcase the full scope of her magnificent instrument. Joanne isn’t without imperfections, but more often than not, Gaga shines.
Gems: “Diamond Heart,” “A-YO,” “John Wayne,” “Perfect Illusion,” “Million Reasons” & “Angel Down”
Lady Gaga • Joanne • Interscope • Release: 10.21.16
Photo Credit: Interscope