First Thoughts on Born This Way

(originally published June 2, 2011)

Why is it that every time artists who don’t specialize in rock but like to appear diverse by having obligatory rock moments always get the cliché image of what non-rockers think rockers are supposed to look like, sound, and act for their guitarist? They get the person with the biggest hair, most obnoxious-looking guitar with the cheesiest sound coming out of it, and they are almost sure to pick the person with the most sterotypically foul stage presence.  WOOOW DUDE…YOU LOOK JUST LIKE A ROCK STAAARRRRRRR!!   Madonna comes to mind. Michael Jackson comes to mind. Gaga comes to mind. I can’t remember what Janet Jackson’s guitarist looked like for her big “Black Cat” moment, but it must have been pretty wild. Her brother seemed to like big blonde-haired people with vaginas. Although I’m not so sure about that chick on the Bad tour. And why is it that every time artists who don’t specialize in rock flirts with rock, they always give you some generic-sounding 80s metal riff and some guitar solo that sounds like it came out of that Crate amp you 40-something metal heads bought in the mid 80s. You know the one I’m talking about. The one you played your Kramer out of. You remember the Kramer? Didn’t think so.

And why is it that I can pick out just about every influence Lady Gaga has ever named, and find them somewhere in her music or physical appearance or stageshow? Every single one of them except Bruce Springsteen. Yet, he’s the one that she probably mentions the most. I could never figure that out.

Which leads me to the three extra tracks on Born This Way. Ignore the other two. “The Queen” is worth your time though, because something happens halfway through that rarely happens on a Gaga album. All of the blips and bleeps and farts and compressed drums get sucked back into some reversed musical Big Bang, leaving only Gaga and a guitar, sounding like Ronnie Spector singing some Phil Spector-influenced Bruce Springsteen melody. This is the most interesting moment on Born This Way, and unfortunately, it doesn’t count because it’s a bonus track and you have to buy the special edition to hear it. Unless you steal it from your friend. Or your friend politely lets you borrow it. But forget that. She’s finally showed the Bruce Springsteen influence and she’s done it by following in Bruce’s occasional footsteps of leaving the best song off the album.

I once wondered why Gaga always has to say “Gaga” in her songs. She reminds me (I’ve said this before) of General Zod who has to go around shouting his own name all day long. In the face of my wisecrack, we get the intro to “Government Hooker” in which she gives us the most blatant and obnoxious “Gaga” yet. The song flaunts the freak we know she is, and there’s something in the way she sings “as long as I’m your hooo-ka-ah-ahh” and then “hoooooooooooo-ka-ah-aaaah” that sounds like a girl who can do whatever she wants and knows it. And her voice has changed. The first two albums sounds like a girl who knew exactly what she was doing and out to prove it. This one sounds like she knows the world is waiting to see what she does and says next, and loves the fact that she’s in total control of that. At least until she’s no longer in control. I also like that her voice is raspy and hoarse at times (probably from touring and recording at the same time), it actually makes her sound human.   But match the swagger of “Government Hooker” with the soaring chorus of “Americano” and (maybe it’s just me) you get the sense that she’s lost her mind..not by insanity, but by that knowledge that she’s Lady Gaga and can afford to start throwing these unattractive but nervously funny moments at the people who really want another album of Poker Faces.   Still she never really strays too far. At least not yet.

As for the rest, the songs we heard first are my least favorite, yet at least one of them plays repeatedly in my head all day, every day. I’m not going to rehash the M word for the title track, or the fact that “Judas” is a formulaic replica of “Bad Romance,” or that “Edge of Glory” sounds like Cher was having bad stomach cramps one night in the late 80s and pooped it out, mummified it, and left it for Stefanie to find when she grew up. Only, I shudder to think of Cher singing it. I love Gaga’s piano version though. The pipes on this girl, for those in doubt…the pipes! (yes, I stole that from Courtney talking about Alannis).

I feel like there should be one of those Zeitgeist movies dedicated to Lady Gaga, where they uncover a conspiracy cooked up by has-beens in the business who invent Lady Gaga and subliminally plant their own melodies and chord structures in her music. There’s a song on Gaga’s new album (don’t remember which one) where I swear I can hear Whitney Houston singing “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” There’s “Marry the Night” which catchy as it is, always makes me think of Bryan Adams “Heaven”…or even that “Holding Out For a Hero” song.   Even my favorite song “The Queen” has something Billy Joel did in the Glass Houses era, although I haven’t quite put my finger on it yet.

My biggest problem with this album, like most other albums I have a problem with, is the length, but not just the length, but the sequencing. I also don’t like the existence of a “special edition.” “The Queen” should have been left on…the other two songs forgotten about, and the whole running order rethought. Speaking of the M word, “Bloody Mary” is one of the stronger tracks and hopefully a future classic, and “Heavy Metal Lover” sounds like a Music/American Life-era M word, but I suppose those of us who can’t seem to stop saying the M word will always notice these similarities. I think she played it safe as most do, when it came to releasing those first songs….stuff that resembles the early stuff (and even THIS stuff is early stuff), but get them loving “Hair” and “Edge of Glory” and “Born This Way” and “You and I,” and then hit them with “Americano,” “Schiebe,” “Government Hooker” and that beautiful moment in “The Queen.” I think artists always need to progress and go forward. I feel Gaga has done this, even if it’s slow and subtle. “He not busy being born is busy dying” are words to live by, and speaking of Bob Dylan, I understand there are teens and 20-somethings who take Gaga’s words seriously (hopefully not all), and feel as if she is speaking to them. It’s taken me a long time, but I finally realize that not every kid is going to have Bob Dylan in their lives, nor are they hip enough to. So I’m happy for them.

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