“My name is Lady Gaga, tonight if you could just call me Joanne..”
It’s with this premise that Lady Gaga introduces one of the songs off her new album during her Dive Bar Tour to promote the record. Stripped of the costumes and antics, Gaga, whose middle name is Joanne, has embarked on a new era in her artistic journey.
Her 5th studio album appears a collection of stripped down, acoustic songs that are far from the club ready catchy pop hits Gaga is known for at this point. However, upon further analysis we actually realise that this Gaga has existed all along. The songs were just buried under layers of synths, thumping beats and electronic effects. Now, they come to the listeners in their bare essence, but with still a great amount of production work.
The album opens with the banging “Diamond Heart,” where Gaga declares she’s not flawless and courts a “young, wild American.” The full on Rock song is a great album introduction that instantly warms us up to the sound of the record. There may be none of the typical Dance sounds here, but Gaga made sure she still gave us a nice melody to sing along to and a clean distinctive chorus.
“A-YO” follows with its guitar riffs and the more upbeat Rock ‘n’ Roll vibe reminds us of her quirkier side with the sexual innuendos and metaphors. The same can be said about “John Wayne,” a song dedicated to the dismantlement of the metrosexual man in favor of the typical cowboy who can offer a real adventure. It’s in songs like these that the essence of Lady Gaga the Pop songwriter comes out, no matter how sapiently disguised it is under a new set of production and instruments.
The title track, dedicated to her prematurely deceased aunt, opens the ballad side of the album with a mix of Folk and Pop/rock that recalls the tradition of Fleetwood Mac and their brand of campfire sing along records. “Dancin’ In Circles,” a collaboration with Beck, is an ode to self-pleasure and the power of imagination set to a reggae beat and recalling the tropical breeziness of “Alejandro.”
After this first section, the heart of the album is made up of ironically the most forced and realest songs on the album: the former is the lead single “Perfect Illusion” which, while it works better in the context of the album, still feels a bit out of place on it. The latter is “Million Reasons,” a slow number about the end of a relationship co-written with Country songwriter Hillary Lindsey and arguably the best ballad in Gaga’s discography thus far. It’s not a surprise if it’s currently the #1 song on iTunes: its simplicity and the powerful vocals make it extremely relatable.
The album the continues with “Come to Mama,” where Mark Ronson’s 60s and doo-wop influences shine, complete with a sax solo. The song is about acceptance at a social level, unity and mutual help with lyrics lifted from the Bible. “Hey Girl,” the duet with Florence Welch, recalls the epic slow intro to Diana Ross’ Disco anthem “Love Hangover” and 80s Quiet Storm in general with its synths and smooth R&B-leaning beat. The pair sings about female empowerment and friendship, with a few sapphic/platonic innuendos.
The standard edition of the album closes with “Angel Down,” written, according to Gaga, in light of the Trayvon Martin shooting. Gaga sings “shots were fired on the street, by the church where we used to meet” making clear references to the brutal homicide that’s had a huge impact socially and in the media.
Joanne is definitely Lady Gaga’s most honest album. While it represents a sonic shift, there’s an evident artistic investment in the making of this record and it’s clearly the kind of music Gaga feels closer to. Elements of her distinctive Pop songwriting are still present and create a connection to the rest of her catalog, but let’s not forget that pre-fame (not just her first album, but literally) Stefani Germanotta was a Pop/Rock aficionado, writing acoustic songs. She’s finally earned the right to bring this sound to the surface without hiding her musical influences under the disguise of club anthems, polished productions and shock value. Will it pay off? Probably not immediately, but this is an album that people will go back to and understand in time. You read it here first!
Listen to the deluxe edition of Joanne here: