Review: Lady Gaga ‘Born This Way: Special Edition’
It took two years, five advance tracks and an oh-no-she-didn’t Madonna-related backlash, but Lady Gaga’s Born This Way has finally(officially at least) been unleashed on the world. Whereas her debut smash The Fame and the follow up EP The Fame Monster dealt with the upside and dark underbelly of celebrity, Born This Way deals in identity, religious metaphors, individuality and letting your freak flag (or in this case little monster) fly.
Born This Way was recorded on the road, and it definitely shows in the album’s frantic pace. Opener “Marry The Night” starts both the four-on-floor party and the grandiose declarations, with Gaga singing “I won’t give up on my life/I’m a warrior queen/Live passionately tonight.” “Hair” manages to wring new life out of the age old follicles-as-freedom metaphor, while “Bad Kids” self-deprecating pronouncements of “I’m a brat/I’m a jerk” sound a like a brighter version of Marilyn Manson’s “Disposable Teens.”
Club-ready bangers “Born This Way” and “Judas” may not have been earth-shattering singles, but they sound a lot better when played in the context of the album. The latter takes a lyrical detour from self-empowerment to metaphors for bad love and betrayal. Religious figures and imagery pop up through much of the album. While The Material Girl may have once kissed a black Jesus (well a saint actually, but work with me people!) Gaga tells him to work the runway in the name of compassion on “Black Jesus/Amen Fashion” while in “Bloody Mary” she plays the martyr, ready to die for love just like JC.
Fashion, faith, love and sex all bleed together on tracks like dance-rocker “Electric Chapel” the aforementioned “Marry The Night” and the giddy, mechanical pop of “Fashion Of His Love.” Musically the album continually looks back to the 80′s. There’s the obvious “Express Yourself”-rip of the title track, while the bombastic drums on “Hair” recall Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” Meanwhile E. Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons gives Gaga her Springsteen fix on closing track “Edge Of Glory.” "Scheibe” works itself into an early 90′s house frenzy, providing a burst of mindless fun.
The relentless, sledgehammer style can get excessive, to the point where mid-tempo cuts like “Bloody Mary,” with its Gregorian “Ga Ga” chants, feel like taking a gasp of air before plunging back into the abyss of pummeling drums, floor-rattling bass and razor sharp synths. The bigger-is-better approach doesn’t always work: “Americano” comes off as Latin music-by-numbers despite tackling the topic of immigration, and all the stuttering synths and raunchy come-ons in the world can’t help “Government Hooker” and “Heavy Metal Lover” (“Put your hands on me/John F. Kennedy” in the former, “I want your whiskey mouth/All over my blond south" in the latter) rise above catchy but average dance pop. “Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)” probably sounded good on paper, but gets crushed under the weight of its own ambition.
Ironically, Born This Way is at its most emotionally resonant when Gaga slows the tempo and tones down the zaniness, as she does (albeit slightly) on the last three tracks. “The Queen” starts off as a rock-tinged rafter raiser before switching to a 50′s style pop romp. Gaga gets full-on lovestruck on piano-power ballad “You And I,” leading to the pure pop adrenaline rush of “Edge of Glory,” an ode to the singer’s late grandfather.
Perhaps now that she’s conquered clubland, Gaga will strip things down and pull back the curtain to explore new territory.