Published Oct 21, 2016Sometimes you have the pop zeitgeist in your grasp, and sometimes you don't. Lady Gaga's 2013 album ARTPOP certainly didn't: as pop music was making a turn towards performed autobiography (Beyoncé, Taylor Swift), Gaga's art-school electro-clash sex party played cold and distant to many.
Joanne, Gaga's first solo record in three years, arrives with a stripped-down image, more acoustic instrumentation and a title named after the artist's late aunt. (It's also Gaga's middle name.) Ostensibly a more personal record, it's still as genre-restless as most of Gaga's work, with lyrics that continue to invite dual readings as commentary on her relationship with her audience.
Where Gaga and her collaborators (including producers Mark Ronson and BloodPop) falter is in the songs themselves. Lead single "Perfect Illusion" is emblematic: a thrilling setup and outro with a flailing flop of a chorus in between. Good sounds abound, but great hooks are harder to come by, and even as Gaga's shortest LP (Fame Monster excepted) Joanne's still burdened with forgettable filler like "Sinner's Prayer" and "Dancin' in Circles."
The album's peaks offer compelling paths forward for Gaga — the country balladry of "Million Reasons," the slinky pop of Florence Welch duet "Hey Girl" — but a dearth of memorable melodies makes Joanne's restlessness often feel aimless. (Interscope)