Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Or I will punch you in the mouth--a review of 'Born This Way'



I've already devoted an entire post to my love affair with Lady Gaga. Suffice it to say that no fiber of my being will tolerate a bad word said in her direction. I have hovered over Facebook comments, cleared house party dance floors, and attempted to break a man's toes with my ass (long but true story) to defend this woman. Happily, she needs little defense. The toes of the nonbelievers are safe for now.

Today is May 23rd, 2011. I got up at 5am, cooked breakfast for fifteen people at a bed & breakfast, put on my favorite jacket, walked directly to Everyday Music in Seattle to purchase 'Born This Way' (the deluxe 2-disc set), walked home, listened to it in full, went back to work for two more hours, came home and lay on the floor to listen to it again, and then slept for four hours.

Here is my review.
(Disclaimers:
1: I have little else to post about this week.
2: It was FUCKING FABULOUS.)

To be honest, I was scared. 'The Fame', Gaga's first album, was nothing but fun. It was the only pop music I'd noticed since 10th grade, after which my tastes matured to other genres. Its 8-track follow-up, 'The Fame Monster', instantly reduced me to a happy puddle of awe, and still does (each and every song of it). Musically, I'm no student. I couldn't tell a firing squad what a 'hook' or a 'key change' is. I just know what my ears, heart, and brain tell me. My ears tell me that Gaga's music is fantastic. My heart tells me that she is positive, compassionate, and in love with her fellow man. My brain tells me that she is involved in every possible facet of her sound and brand/image: Look what I wrote! Hear what I say! I want to wear that! I'll co-direct that! I'll design the cover, bitch! My brain understands a woman in control like that, because my brain is a woman in control.

After months of watching Gaga gush proudly about what was to come, my in-control woman brain was skittish. Could 'Born This Way' stand up to something as holy to me as 'The Fame Monster'? I say with joy that it can and did.

'Born This Way' is eclectically electric. It's mod. It's flashy. It's powerful. It's personal. It's uplifting. It has HUGE hair. A few of Judas's body parts hearken back to 'Bad Romance' (one of my personal favorites), but other than that, this album is entirely new. It's entirely Gaga--there's no mistaking her voice or her commitment to all beats dancetastic--but I never saw it coming. There are a few tracks I'm indifferent about, and one I admittedly don't care for. But overall, after listening to the album in full, I felt like the Lady herself just kissed my mouth and slapped me sideways. Or, as I put it on Facebook, like I'd had "anonymous sex with a rainbow in a euro dance club". Told you it was personal.

And now, the track list:

1. Marry The Night
"I'm a soldier to my own emptiness / I'm a winner." Very hard early 90s vibe. Operatic rock! Go, go, go!

2. Born This Way
No need for a description: you've heard this one. I woke myself up at 3am February 13th to listen this track the moment it debuted. I was shocked by and initially turned off by how happy it was. Now I can't hear it without envisioning myself surrounded by drag queens and flashing lights. Sounds like Madonna's 'Express Yourself'? Yeah, well, Madonna sounded like someone else, I'm sure. The wheel goes around one more time; I'm still grinning and coated in glitter.

3. Government Hooker
A good, chic cat-walk song. Uncouth moments, good n' dirty throughout.

4. Judas
Power chords and cat wails. I'm satisfied.

5. Americano
HOLY OBAMA, not only is this Spanish/Mexican/Mariachi stomp-fest crazy wonderful, it's got the best message on the entire album.
"She sang in eights and barrio chords / We fell in love but not in court.
I don't speak your Language / I don't speak your Jesus Christo / I don't speak your Americano.
I will cry for / I have fought for / how I love you / I have cried for / I will die for /  How I care."
Fascism is never in fashionable. Gays/Hispanics/Liberals are Americans and Christians, too. Proud ones. I assumed 'Americano' would be too literal and in-your-face political, but it meaning is true and powerful. Grandioso!

6. Hair
Made me feel like I was thirteen again--in a good way. And not just because it's about fighting your parents over your wardrobe. It just has this kick-ass late 90s beat. Just sit back and pretend you're riding an eagle with Bruce Springstien. Better yet, you ARE an eagle. A glorious, thirteen-year-old eagle. Also: SAXAPHONE BREAKDOWN.

7. ScheiBe
Sexy sexy sexy sexy sexy sexy monotone German fashion house number--with a high-octane feminist theme!
"When I'm on a mission / I rebuke my condition / If you're a strong female / You don't need permission"

8. Bloody Mary
Dark and beautiful and deeply dance-able. Still trying to figure out the meaning, but in the meantime: YES YES YES IT'S INCREDIBLE.

9. Black Jesus
No real opinion on this one, but I do fancy the chorus:
"On the runway / Dressed in his best / On the runway / Work it, Black Jesus"
I mean, why not?

10. Bad Kids
This is the one I'm not crazy about. It's Gaga's shout-out to all the rifraff fans she's met along the road. Which is nice and all, but the song itself is a let down--and a weird fit. The chorus is some kind of Ace of Base/Paula Abdul sunshine routine--not what comes to mind when I'm coming out to my parents or trying to find my place as an overweight/drug-addicted/insecure/unloveable high school kid.

11. Fashion of His Love
For Alexander McQueen, Gaga's recently suicided favorite designer. High-energy and sweet, but not my favorite.

12. Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)
Oh MAN! It's like the Killers meets Thunder Road! Anthemic and unabashed. Get your eagle saddle back out.

13. Heavy Metal Lover
Once again, Gaga gives us BDSM identifiers a song to hurt to (others have included Poker Face, Teeth, and I Like It Rough). Lyrics mention whipping, slapping, group sex and include such gems as:
"Dirty pony / I can't wait to hose you down / You have to earn your leather / In this part of town"
 . . . and . . .
"I want your whiskey mouth all over my blonde south"
Sophisticated, synthy euro smut. I love it.

14. Electric Chapel
ROCK! I was expecting more from this one, but I do like the electric guitar and the 'doot-doo-doo's.

15. The Queen
Bit of a let-down. The lyrics promise a lot, but the song sounds like a first draft of Edge of Glory (track 17).

16. YOU And I
The album's decided power ballad. Bit of a jukebox, slow-slap country beat to it.

17. Edge of Glory
An honest to god bathroom-mirror-lip-sync-with-your-face-screwed up kind of song. Really gives Gaga's vocal talents the pedestal they deserve, and the saxophone makes another appearance. If you haven't hopped on that eagle yet, now's your chance. That sunset is blazing and ready for your iconic fist-pumping silhouette. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Conclusion
Love it or hate it, you have to be a sad sack of cold butt-nuggets not to feel the genuine love and excitement Gaga poured into every part of this thing. This thing which is entirely hers, and entirely ours. 'Born This Way' is intimate, direct, brave, and superbly executed. It's fun when it means to be, and contemplative when it needs to be. It is in no way the self-absorbed artgasm I secretly feared it would be. Way to go, Lady. I am so proud of you.



In celebration, here are two of my favorite Gaga YouTube clips:
Don't Touch Gaga's Hair (the cutest moment ever)
Gaga Visits Farmville (she's not in it, but her effect on the farming community is hilarious)

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