Having just finished my first full listen of ARTPOP, the third (or fourth) studio album from an artist who has frequented this blog more than anyone else, I knew I had more to say than I could fit in a few 140 character tweets (@Atkins_Sam). I often feel like this after my inaugural listen of a hotly anticipated album, so I thought I’d start a new format for the relaunch of 8oh8s.
Let’s begin with the most obvious thing I discovered as I reached the closing track, and lead single Applause just seconds ago. This is by far the weakest album of Gaga’s career, however short that career may still be. Many would argue that comparing ARTPOP to prior work is pointless, artists like Gaga should develop and change as time goes on, which will obviously affect a certain listener’s enjoyment of their music. Some could say that it’s only because the previous albums were so brilliant that this feels like a worse album than it is. Both are valid points, but neither will prevent that moment when you feel completely underwhelmed by an artist you’ve been a fan of from the start.
I can think of so many times when I’ve felt like this. In 2013 alone, 4 of my favourite artists have released records where I’ve been utterly disappointed with following that initial listen. My first listen of ARTPOP was no different, yet this somehow feels so much worse. The Fame, The Fame Monster and Born This Way were all fantastic in their own ways, but all three sounded like one artist had created the; the first steps in a progression from wannabe popstar into genre defining icon. On first listen ARTPOP is a scattered and clumsy album that decidedly ignores most of the things that made what came before it so exciting.
I haven’t even mentioned a single song yet, so I should probably mention some of the more baffling moments of ARTPOP. I knew Jewels n’ Drugs would split Gaga’s audience, I was actually one of the people who enjoyed the track when she performed it at iTunes Festival, but on this album it just sounds totally out of place. It’s a T.I. song stuck 5 tracks into a dance record, where Gaga seems to be irrelevant to 3/4 of the actual music. It doesn’t help that the album is structured in such a haphazard way that there were numerous moments where I had to check that my iPod wasn’t set to shuffle accidentally. Songs appear out of nowhere with no ongoing structure or a musical identity that lasts longer than 3 minutes.
In some places I felt like I wasn’t even listening to Gaga anymore, but some cheap version of the artist who released Born This Way just two years ago. That album was so huge in scope, so densely packed with ideas that at times it felt like a mess, but a brilliant mess to decipher. It felt like someone had packed hours and hours into every minute of the beefy tracklist, work that paid off in my eyes. Songs on ARTPOP like Venus, Fashion! and Donatella feel empty and forgettable, on first listen they sound like straight up bad pop songs. Lady Gaga should not be associated with bad pop songs, that was the one thing I thought I could depend on.
Other songs that were performed at iTunes Festival, like Manicure and Sexxx Dreams fail to live up to their early promise. They still sound good, but I was expecting these to be some of the highlights of the album. It takes 7 tracks to reach the first song worthy of comparison to her biggest hits, the second single and standout track Do What U Want. 7 Tracks into The Fame we had already heard Just Dance, Love Game, Paparazzi and Poker Face. From the opening shudders of synth Do What U Want sounds expensive, the sort of song you need to be ‘Lady Gaga’ to release. It sounds like a worldwide #1 hit but a single massive song doesn’t make a good album.
The other songs worthy of a mention include opener Aura which deceives you into thinking ARTPOP is a much more exciting album than it turns out to be, as well as the brilliantly subdued title track. By about track 12 I thought I had made up my mind about the album, but from nowhere 2 proper Gaga songs emerge. Dope and Gypsy are the closest thing to an Edge of Glory or Poker Face on ARTPOP. They stick to the tried and tested formula seen on the best songs of her career, the fact that RedOne gets a writing credit on Gypsy may be the reason why. Gaga could sing these songs at a Piano, or on top of a massive disco ball and they’d sound brilliant either way.
I think that’s what has frustrated me the most with the whole ARTPOP era and my first listen through of the album. It seems that Gaga has lost sight of what made her into the massive star she is today. It wasn’t the fashion, the weirdness or the ego, it was the fact that she can write a damn good pop song. It’s sad to see an album from her where not even the best tracks live up to the talent we know she has.