Lady Gaga's New Album Manages To Both Fascinate And Disappoint

Lady Gaga's highly anticipated album, Born This Way, has arrived! And the reviews are…mixed. The critics seem to struggle not with the artists's message, but the delivery — the word "bombastic" was used more than once.

Thomas Conner of the Chicago Sun-Times has plenty of praise for Adele, but says Gaga's album has an "annoying message," writing:

"Born This Way" isn't an album as much as an hourlong playlist of proposed new singles, perhaps no surprise from a performer more deft at crafting $1.29 confections than full-price meals.

As a gay man myself, I can tell you I'm beyond weary of this hanger-on insisting she's my unelected cultural ambassador, particularly when her knowledge of gay culture - even the idea that there's much left to be co-opted — seems so remarkably shallow. Madonna didn't present the idea that gay people were freaks and outsiders requiring anyone's stewardship. She was ahead of her time in that regard, while Gaga's identity politics seem very 20th century.

Lady Gaga's New Album Manages To Both Fascinate And Disappoint

Also unhappy with the album? James Reed of the Boston Globe:

After months of hype, teases, and a handful of singles, Lady Gaga's new album has arrived - and it's a letdown, the most deflated moment in pop music this year.

Gaga mines her usual themes — acceptance, tolerance, religion, sex - but the songwriting feels thin, especially when buried under the layers of bombast.

For an artist as self-aggrandizing as Lady Gaga, "Born This Way'' is disappointing. Depressing, even.

Some critics, while knocking the album, also admit that they see potential in Gaga. As Randall Roberts writes for the LA Times:

…The inclusiveness Gaga believes so strongly in apparently doesn't extend to music fans interested in sonic open space, unfiltered vocals and surprising rhythms, bridges and hooks. She's speaking to everyone, it seems, except fans of artistic innovation. Say what you want about Lady Gaga, but nuance is not one of her strong points, nor is musical adventure. She's unsubtle in her message, unsubtle in her dress, and, most important, unsubtle aesthetically.

If Gaga had only spent as much time on pushing musical boundaries as she has social ones, "Born This Way" would have been a lot more successful.

Adrian Thrills from the Daily Mail also has a hopeful outlook:

In an age where we are accustomed to artists revealing something of themselves in their music, Gaga remains an enigma.

Overall, this feels like a staging post for a singer whose songwriting has yet to catch up with her presentation skills.

But many critics are just plain harsh. Here's Andy Gill for the Independent:

[The] cover is simply awful, its adolescent heavy-metal imagery — "ride me, wild one!" — effectively destroying in a single stroke Lady Gaga's methodically built reputation as a serious style icon with an intelligent grasp on her own visual presentation.

The last thing that Lady Gaga wants, one suspects, is to remain exactly the way she was born. But the more often she changes, and the broader she spreads her net musically, the less distinctive her art becomes.

And San Antonio Express-News music writer Joey Guerra notes:

There's soul and sex and spirit here, but it's sometimes muddled by the weight of her intentions - and the fact that Gaga is by no means a fantastic songwriter. ("Don't be a drag, just be a queen" isn't exactly poetry or even particularly funny.) There's almost a nursery rhyme quality to some of these songs, but there's an odd absence of joy, too.

At its worst, the record is self-righteous and self-important.

…It's unfair to completely dismiss Gaga as just another pop tart. But she might make a more effective statement if she wasn't trying to say so much. Relax, mother monster. It's just music.

But the reviews are not all bad. There's some quality music, says Kitty Empire, of the Guardian:

… Gaga's urge to liberate everyone from all yokes sometimes merely produces songs about doing things to your hair to spite your parents.

Amid all the maximalism and the references to "an American riding a dream", there are three out-and-out fascinating songs.

Dan Martin, of NME, deems the effort a success:

‘Born This Way' doesn't get everything right. It's not the clarion to the dispossessed that it thinks it is. And after pushing so hard in this direction, she should probably strip it back to just her and a piano next time if she really wants to shock. Because rather than an exercise in hype, what ‘Born This Way' really is an exercise in the pushing of everything to its ultimate degree. And for all the black, white and silver, it passes that test with flying colours.

And Kerri Mason, of Billboard, believes Gaga is doing Gaga:

"Born This Way," unlike her more fluffy, see-what-sticks debut "The Fame," bears leftfield marks under its pop costume: Heavy use of religious metaphor and repeated mentions of Jesus by name; a hybrid of throwback Euro dance sounds with sweeping rock goddess melodies, a la Bonnie Tyler and Lita Ford; and queer-friendly self-affirmation anthems that range from celebratory to predatory.

Together, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But to maintain her authenticity as a subversive hero, it really couldn't. "Born This Way" is proof that, for better or worse, Gaga is guided by her own compass. Sometimes it leads her to radio-perfect pop hits ("Hair"). Sometimes it goes weird ("Bloody Mary"). But regardless, this is an artist following her bliss — or in Gaga's case, her mission.

Meanwhile, Gaga fans on Twitter are calling BTW "amazing" and a "masterpiece." And since Gaga is manipulating the way the album has been released — including offering the whole thing for only 99 centsBorn This Way is sure to be the number one album in the country, critics be damned.

Familiar Sounds, Annoying Message Lessen Lady Gaga's Latest Album [Chicago Sun-Times]
Gaga's ‘Born This Way' Is A Long-Awaited Letdown [Boston Globe]
Album Review: Lady Gaga's Born This Way [Los Angeles Times]
Is Gaga Just Hype? [Daily Mail]
Album: Lady Gaga, Born This Way [Independent]
Lady Gaga Goes From Mother Monster To Mediocre [San Antonio Express-News]
Lady Gaga: Born This Way – Review [Guardian]
Album Review: Lady Gaga, 'Born This Way' [NME]
Lady Gaga 'Born This Way': Track-By-Track Review [Billboard]
Twitter Reviews Lady Gaga's Album [SAFM]
Lady Gaga Accused Of Manipulating 'Born This Way' Sales By Giving It Away Free [Examiner]
Amazon, Best Buy Sell Lady Gaga's Album At Deep Discount [Rolling Stone]