It's been awhile, Lady Gaga. She stopped back from the limelight for a few years, taking some time off for herself and other projects. It's been three years since ARTPOP and two since her Tony Bennett collaboration album Cheek To Cheek. She's back with a different sound on Joanne.
Those who didn't appreciate the lack of perfection from ARTPOP may face the same issue on this record. The sad part is that this album tries to be perfect, but falls short in many aspects. The album also has a strong country influence on it, with an old-fashioned twang to them. It definitely takes inspiration from her collaboration album, but it also draws from her own personality.
The album's title is derived from her late aunt. When she passed away, Gaga's entire family was shaken by it. Gaga felt that she had to continue the work of her aunt, who was a painter and a poet, through her music. The title track 'Joanne' is, in Gaga's eyes, the core of the album. The track is built of acoustic guitar, vocals, and a sweet orchestra. It's one of the more stripped down tracks on the record, but a stronger one. It's about her aunt and how she inspired Gaga, her influence and presence in Gaga's heart mentioned in the bridge: "And I'll still love you even if I can't / See you anymore / Can't wait to see you soar."
The album doesn't have any songs that have a dark, badass pop feel like 'Bad Romance', but there are some fun ones. One such example is 'John Wayne', which has guitars supplied by Queens Of The Stone Age's Josh Homme, with some rocky, sensual vibes as Gaga sings about cowboys and dangerous desires. 'Dancin' In Circles' is another fun one, this one featuring Beck. While he seems to be about female masturbation, it has an eastern, mysterious vibe to it that will keep the innocent minds listening content. 'Diamond Heart' opens the record on a pop rock feel, and while the vocals are good, the instrumental feels like it lacks a certain punch. The lead single 'Perfect Illusion' - which we reviewed here - still sounds a bit lacking, but does have an improved mix that makes it somewhat more enjoyable.
Other songs have an old-fashioned vibe to them. The brass section is what really stands out in a few tracks, particularly 'Come To Mama'. The song's brass section is a real highlight, coming full circle with a great saxophone solo that's unfortunately a victim of this album's dodgy mixing. Single 'A-YO' has a country beat paired with some brassy punches, giving some dimension to the song that sounds like it's trying way to hard in the verses to have a certain vibe.
A good portion of this record has a strong country influence to it. 'Sinner's Prayer' has a very country-influenced sound, punchy guitar and piano coloring up the bassline. The country influence doesn't really add anything to the album, per se. It almost feels like it takes away from it, as if it's a gimmick to play towards the theme of her aunt. It's not horrible (despite my distaste with country), but it really feels like there's not much resulting out of the tracks with that influence.
The album ends on a somewhat subtle note. 'Hey Girl' is one of the album's odder songs, Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine and Gaga perfoming a duet above a pretty but edgy instrumental that bounces between pretty harps and choirs and bouncing synths. Both women deliver a powerful performance above the volatile instrumental, giving the song two distinct layers that doesn't necessarily work in its favor. Closing track 'Angel Down' is a beautiful track, Gaga's vocals resonating throughout the song's atmosphere as if she's singing at a funeral. It's a very sweet ending with a beautiful instrumental, the lyrics gently flowing with words about the modern world's problems - specifically the murder of Trayvon Martin - and Gaga's confusion. It's a very raw song, done more masterfully than the country tracks and really highlights Gaga's voice.
Joanne is neither an improvement or a downgrade of ARTPOP. Fans will likely feels just as alienated, or perhaps as disappointed as the former if they didn't appreciate it, but others may rejoice. Lady Gaga takes a rawer approach to this record. It's plagued with faulty mixing and a potential gimmick, but it's what Gaga wanted to make. Can't fault her there.
Favorite Tracks: Angel Down, Dancin' In Circles, John Wayne
Least Favorite Tracks: Sinner's Prayer, Million Reasons
Rating: 72 / 100