Lady Gaga doesn’t need an introduction at this point. She is one of the most successful pop stars of all time, with a slew of hits under her belt. After her last dance pop record “Artpop” received mixed reviews in 2013, she decided to slow down on her album output. This has proven to be a great move. In the past few years she has won a Golden Globe for acting in “American Horror Story,” received an Academy Award nomination for the song “’Til it Happens to You” and she is signed to play the Superbowl halftime show in a few months.
Amidst these slew of successes is “Joanne,” Gaga’s latest record. Named after her aunt who died from lupus at 19, and who she also has as a middle name, the album is meant as a tribute not only to her, but to family in general. As a result, “Joanne” is much more personal and introspective than any of her albums so far. Ballads like “Million Reasons” and “Grigio Girls” and the title track easily three of the best songs on the album, as well as the dance track “A-YO” just drip with feeling, and are the best for showcasing Gaga’s insane vocal prowess, and admirable songwriting ability. Gaga absolutely tears it up vocally on “AY-O” while a couple tracks later on “Million Reasons,” a simple piano and acoustic track, is disarming and lovely. They do a wonderful job showing the diversity in her talent.
“Joanne” is definitely experimental in nature, with the genre constantly bouncing from the electronic pop she’s famous for to country and soft rock, giving the sense that she’s really trying to branch out. It works, but usually only in pieces. Some tracks are fantastic, while others, like the lead single “Perfect Illusion,” “Hey Girl” featuring Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine, and “Just Another Day,” while occasionally pretty, are mostly boring, and feel a little uninspired. Others like “John Wayne” and “Sinner’s Prayer” sort of work. While catchy and fun, the lyrics can range from cheesy to cliché. The spotty use of genres make the album feel disjointed a bit too.
Of course, experiments aren’t meant to always fully succeed. “Joanne” isn’t Gaga’s best album or one of the best albums of the year, but she takes a lot of chances on it, which is very admirable to me. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but when it works, it really works well. There are bouts of real passion in this record, and it does a good job of not only of displaying how talented of a singer Gaga is, but how much she really loves music, and how much she wants to evolve her sound and image.