Sound: Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, has become one of the most well-known artists to emerge in the last decade. Bolstered by mega-hits such as "Just Dance," "Poker Face," and "Born This Way," Lady Gaga has become an indisputable part of our pop culture. While Lady Gaga certainly has some rock roots (check out her cover of "D'yer Ma'ker"), this album doesn’t really show that.
Honestly, I actually (forgive me for being facetious) thought this was going to be a great album when when it started with a mysterious kind of desert feel that had some well-mixed guitars and a very catchy riff of a sort. Of course, this feeling only lasted for literally the first minute until the electronic pop came in and more or less ruined it. Especially on the first song, "Aura," the electronic verse is not catchy and as much as it seems to try, the sections do not mesh seamlessly. Lady Gaga does deserve some points at least for making an opener that’s actually designed to open the album unlike most pop albums that are just a collection of songs aiming to be Top 40 hits.
In any event, the rest of this album is mediocre for the most part. Aside from her lyrics, which appear to contain something meaningful, almost everything else becomes somewhat predictable yet not catchy at the same time, spelling a recipe for disaster. She deserves points again for trying to evolve as a musician, for this is not the same type of electronic pop as her last album. However, in an unappealing way, she tries too hard. She somehow manages to try too hard in her evolution yet still get most of her songs to sound the same. This characteristic makes this album somewhat of a chore to listen to, and honestly this is one of the worst characteristics I can think of for a pop album.
To the instrumentation, it's really non-existent. Except for the very cool guitar parts at the beginning of the first song, this album is almost devoid of true instruments. Almost the entire album is programmed synthesizer and sampled, unnatural, electronic drum tracks. This could all be forgiven if the electronics were used well. But to the contrary, they create a lack of dynamics for the most part and except for the first song, "Aura," they do not play anything interesting in terms of notes. Even on that song, the semi-interesting cacophony of notes does not mesh well with Lady Gaga's voice, so the benefit/uniqueness is more or less negated. Other than this first song, the electronic parts are mostly uninspired, unappealing, and somewhat boring. In addition, the piano parts are incredibly predictable (probably the most predictable facet of this album) and are used on only a couple of songs to begin with.
Who knows? Maybe Lady Gaga's continued growth will lead to something pleasant on her next album. But for right now, she is still a work in progress, as she manages to use a plethora of ideas that are both confusing and like sounding at the same time. There are only two songs that can be considered good on this album and they are "Manicure" and "Applause." "Aura" is interesting to listen to but it comes across as odd more than anything else. // 4
Lyrics: More than anything else, Lady Gaga's vocals afford her the fame she currently has. As in most pop music, the vocals are the most prominent and important part of this album. Lady Gaga turns in an above average performance that is not without its missteps. Like everything else on the album, her vocals definitely point toward a creative evolution, but an evolution that is certainly unfinished.
While her bass-like tone of voice comes across as powerful at some points, it is usually very diluted by overproduction. At some points, especially on the ballads, for example "Dope," this tone of voice is unsuited to the music and/or topic matter at hand. Lady Gaga doesn't adjust vocally to her ballads and they almost feel like Lady Gaga is sneering at them, and not in thought-out, effective way.
Lyrically, Lady Gaga still succeeds at making something heartfelt and meaningful out the old sex-drugs-relationships adage. Others have said that Lady Gaga is out to revolutionize the world and on this album, like all her others, it definitely feels that way. I just wish changing the world didn’t get in the way of good music.
Overall, this is a somewhat below average vocal performance when measured against her previous albums, but an above average vocal performance when measured against the rest of the musical world. // 7
Overall Impression: In total, "ARTPOP" is not a very pleasant listening experience. Aside from the overproduction that essentially bleeds through the inner workings of the album, there are too many ideas to create a cohesive, catchy listening environment. Again, it is very odd how there is such a jumbled overabundance of ideas yet all of the songs still sound the same.
One of the things I will give Lady Gaga credit for is evolving musically. She is just not there yet and this album is definitely more of a stepping stone than a magnum opus. The best two songs on the album, consequently, the two most likely to be hits, are "Manicure" and "Applause" and the song, "Aura" is worth listening to because of the cool desert-like guitar part at the beginning of it. // 4
- Parker Abt (c) 2013