A Song-By-Song Reaction To Lady Gaga’s Joanne

Lady Gaga‘s Joanne is here. A lot of people were very excited about it. Other people were not

As a formerly fairly big Gaga fan, I was intrigued but mostly underwhelmed by releases like “Perfect Illusion.” Doesn’t Gaga at this point know that she can do more? And by “more” I mean “make fun dance-pop music that also has brains,” which is her brand? Of course not. As is the nature of the over-intellectualizing pop star, a change has to be seen and heard and smelled and touched: it has to happen in so many different fronts.

Thus, Joanne seems like an underwhelming scam. To explore her sound—and if said sound is even worth your time—I’m going to listen to the album a single time and provide my song-by-song reaction to them. Like I did last year with Madonna’s Rebel Heart, I will bear this cross for you, in case you’ve been tempted by the pink hat to see what the fuss is all about.

1. “Diamond Heart“: This album is going to be all Springsteen and Dylan vocal drag, right? This isn’t bad though! Vocal drag aside, she sounds good. This does set the tone though: roadside bad girl whose dad worries about her. This is thematically “Papa Don’t Preach” meets the sound you would have assumed went with the Born This Way Gaga-cycle.

2. “A-Yo”: Mark Ronson somehow convinced Lady Gaga to cover Jessie J’s “Bang Bang.”

3. “Joanne“: Sweet? But tell me: what is the Joanne relationship? Were Gaga and her aunt really this close? Not to doubt it but this song being the anchor and this being the song…seems a little contrived? That’s just me. I’m not here to question the politics of grief. Anyway, at this point the Dylan/country vocal affect is ruining otherwise good songs. The album is also more fun than it should be? Not that this is a fun song (It’s a Beck ripoff.) but it’s all better than expected.

4. “John Wayne“: Return Of The Gaga Spoken Intro™. Congratulations to John Wayne, too: you are the first bad song on this album as it’s a conceptual mashup of needless prostitution and drug references. Is this supposed to be edgy? If so, to who?

5. “Dancin’ In Circles“: Lady Gaga loves to masturbate.

6. “Perfect Illusion”: First, I stand by my initial Tweeted reaction.

Next, given this song’s position on the track list, are all these songs about masturbating and death? Did Joanne love self-satisfaction until her untimely death?

7. “Million Reasons”: That fucking vocal affect. But, this is the only excellent song, a perfectly crafted, classic Top 40, pop hit.

8. “Sinner’s Prayer“: Somehow, somewhere, Robert Rodriguez is gnashing his teeth that this song didn’t come out in time for Machete Kills.

9. “Come To Mama“: Welcome to this album’s “Born This Way,” featuring pontifications about how we all “came from the jungle” and how we need to unite and love each other. This is a bad, early Adele song sung by a raspy Gaga that aspires for world peace only to leave you with damp saxophone reeds.

10. “Hey Girl”: The most abusive song as it holds Florence Welch hostage to attempt a ripoff of Elton John’s “Bennie And The Jets.” While the uplifting feminism is a nice message for a big pop star to capitalize on, the win of the song is Welch’s velveteen voice that illustrates how Gaga’s own great vocals are sandpapered, rough when it should be unwrinkled.

11. “Angel Down“: Like. I get pop stars being political. Gaga has always been a crass, ham-fisted version of this. But, as the album closes with three overly political songs, inappropriately conjuring the soul of Trayvon Martin feels bad. It’s a buy into topicality without actual weight since, um, the rest of the album was about masturbating and impersonating other pop stars. Yet, it does stick to the theme: wannabe country blues through Top 40 pop that addresses death, only to be consumed by hashtag teens.

And, because I don’t skimp, these are the bonus tracks from the Joanne deluxe edition version of the album.

12. “Grigio Girls”: A twangy new Real Housewives theme, by a Pinot Grigio drinker for sisters of the PG.

13. “Just Another Day”: Are you fucking kidding me? Another Elton John ripoff? Why is this surprising? This album was an illustration that Gaga is good at recycling gay icons. Watch the throne, Sir Elton (or, like, you know, keep enabling this shit).

14. “Angel Down (Work Tape)”: A better, bigger, quicker version of the album cut but still icky in that it feels like political drag in the way that “Born This Way” was equality drag. Vocals are much stronger and passionate here, though.

All in all, I didn’t hate this album as much as I thought I was going to: it’s a lot better and more likable than ARTPOP. But is Gaga back? No. No, she is not. This is a strange interlude that prematurely ages her. This is what Madonna should have released instead of Rebel Heart. But what should Gaga have released? I don’t know? Grimes’ last album? No one knows—especially not Joanne.

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