Monday, May 23, 2011

The Edge of Glory

Song: Edge of Glory
Artist: Lady Gaga
Album: Born This Way

So admittedly, I went a little overboard for Gaga's big first single "Born This Way" upon first hearing it from the album of the same name, her second full-length.  It has become her biggest single to date... broke a couple of records, and... didn't appease a lot of people.  Some said she ripped off Madonna's "Express Yourself," the gays say she co-opted their sexuality as a marketing gimmick... and then her second single form the album, "Judas," didn't set the charts on fire.  Despite liking both songs personally... I had to admit they didn't give me the high "Bad Romance" did upon first listen... which, like Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone," was a cross-over smash.  These new tunes just weren't connecting the same.

Despite the success of the first single, it's been clear that she's suddenly been second guessed after an astonishing two and a half years of meteoric rise, is this where she falls apart?

Well today sees the official release of "Born This Way," which I have been digesting for several days.  The verdict?  Well apologies aside... I'm going to continue to gush, it's one of the best pop records to come along in a LONG time.  They sort of don't make them like "Born This Way" anymore.  It's a trip down memory lane not for its 80's and 90's musical references alone, but it's an "event" record, and one that aims to be a big hit-packed tour-de-force.  To these ears... she's done it.

I got to finally see her live via The Monster Ball in Atlantic City back in February, the first date where she performed "Born This Way."  It was quite an experience.  I fed off the fan excitement, loved how many were dressed up outlandishly, but ultimately what I took away was... this woman is superstar.  Hands down.

This album reminds me a lot of "Like a Prayer" the album, and honestly not for the "Born This Way"/"Express Yourself " thing... but for its scope, anticipation, and career-defining momentousness.  She gets a lot of flack for copying Madonna, but I don't use the "Like a Prayer" parallel lightly... I love that record, and think it is not only one of Madonna's best albums, but one of the best pop records from that era.  I've been describing "Born This Way" the album as "Prayer" meets "Boys for Pele" learning the history of 80's rock at an underground Berlin sex party.  It's huge, sprawling, a touch obnoxious, and immediately addictive.  Honestly, this record has made me recall a time when I waited patiently for a record to come out, and the joy of something reaching, and then exceeding, expectations.  It's made me remember what it was like to be a rabid music fan.  Call a doctor y'all... I've gone Gaga.

The album is bookended by two of the best songs Lady Gaga has ever written, the slow-building opener "Marry the Night," a 90's Ace of Base-ish monster that slowly creeps up on you.  It took me a while to get into it, but once it clicked... I was in love.  The album is concluded with current promo-to-official single "The Edge of Glory," a song written about her Grandfather whom recently passed, that somehow makes its dark subject matter, a sax solo by The E Street Band's Clarence Clemmens, and a semi-cheesy outdated beat work to soaring new heights.  It's an absolute stunner that concludes one hell of a crazy ride of an album, best represented, ironically, from the abhorred cover art, which depicts Gaga as some sort of motorcycle Minotaur.  I mean... this shit is bananas.

From the slut-funk of "Government Hooker," the faux-flamenco lesbian border drama "Americano," to the semi-German pop-Industrial banger "Scheisse" and Def Leppard-does-Queen power ballad "You & I," "Born This Way" is all over the map, all over the road, and a lot over the top.  I do love it, but that's where the "Boys for Pele" comparison falls into place... it's a little self-indulgent, apparently made for her "little monsters," and therefore could be a little too much for some listeners.  But if you're up for this kind of thing, and fascinated by her past work, it's a rewarding listen.

The album is pretty varied in sound, though the songs do have a few things in common.  The record is filled with what Gaga described as "sledgehammer-like beats, sometimes just a persistent bang bang bang that simply lifts the song up, steroid-injecting it.  Also, if it wasn't clear before from "Bad Romance," "Paparazzi," "Poker Face," "Just Dance," or Hell, ANY of her songs, it is completely clear that the one thing that Lady Gaga can do practically in her sleep... it's write a killer chorus.  And every single track on "Born This Way" has one, two, or sometimes three off the chain vocal hooks that will have you humming to yourself without release.  The choruses of "Bad Kids," "Judas," and "The Edge of Glory" are so immediately catchy it's kind of remarkable.  But beyond their buoyancy, they soar lyrically, musically, and emotionally.

"Heavy Metal Lover," an immediate favorite, a dark pulsating club banger that's dirty, infectious, lyrically naughty, and completely hypnotic.  "Hair" is a Springsteen-goes-to-the-club follicle self-empowerment anthem that just keeps getting better to me with each listen.  And "Bloody Mary" her most haunting song, fuses storm a-brewing sound effects, Gregorian chanting, Mary Magdelene, and yup, a killer chorus, for one of her most dramatic statements.

"Born This Way" is an album made by a hungry woman who is wanting her moment.  She's turned some people off, but hell if she didn't deliver what was promised.  It's remarkably strange at times, even when it's crazy catchy and bubble-gum.  If it has a debt, compared to her previous material, it's that it is more proudly weird, and therefore less relatable than say the love termoil of "Bad Romance" or the just-no-reception-in-the-club, got-no-time-for-you drama of "Telephone."  The off-the-wall "Scheisse" is just as catchy and punchy as "Telephone," but I have no idea what "Scheisse" is... and despite having a crazy lyrical hook with the "I wish that I could dance on a single prayer" part, I wonder how a song with a foreign word hook could work as a single.  Not to mention trying to squeeze an Industrial rave track between Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night" and The Black Eyed Peas latest dumb-fun aural assault.  But then again, as gonzo as "Americano" is... if it hadn't gotten you at the official chorus, it jumps into another ABBA-worthy post-chorus ("Don't you try to catch me...") that is honestly one of my favorite moments on the record.

But for every magical unicorn track ("Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)") there is a "You & I," a pop-rock masterpiece that sounds classic, immediately attention-grabbing, and lyrically strong.  What's happening here are well-written songs that she's already proven work well stripped down to piano and vocal.  While Lady Gaga is best known for writing silly dance-pop songs, the reason they work and have been so successful is because they are so well written and executed.  Again, there is an over-the-top-ness to many of these songs, but what she's aimed for is an 80's idea of classic, the semi-cheesy, anthemic, fist-pumping moments that while goofy, still pack a satisfying punch if you let yourself go with them.  I keep flashing to the very end of "The Breakfast Club" when Judd Nelson pumps his fist into the air, the image freezes, the credits roll, and "Don't You Forget About Me" comes in... that's the attitude of the whole thing, through a harmless-heathen lens.  It really is fantastic.

I'm eager to hear how the rest of the world responds to "Born This Way."  And would love to hear your reaction in the comments below.  (Or just tell me how much I've lost my mind.)  Time will tell if it's the "Thriller"-esque monster I think it is... or a self-indulgent misstep that sets her back a bit.  I find it hard to resist "The Edge of Glory" though, which I think has wide-range appeal... and could possibly be her biggest single yet, something that even your Dad wants to fist pump in the minivan to.  I do think it's a pop music masterpiece, and am loving its use in the new Gaga/Google Chrome ad.

While "Judas" wasn't well-liked by some, and "Born This Way" the single didn't have that everyone-in likability of "Bad Romance," they do work very well in the context of the album.  While it's hard to think of them as anything but first and second single, I do think they have given people an incorrect impression of what the album is.  And yet given the strength of the rest of the material, they just add to the hugeness of the album.

The album comes as a standard 14-track version, but also a 17-track "Special Edition" that also includes three additional songs and a bonus disc of remixes.  The extra three songs are mixed into the track listing with questionable success, I initially though they were good extras, disposable left-overs, but really have grown to like them and help pump the album into an even larger behemoth.  But I'd skip them if you're only half as Gaga as I am. (wink wink)

After some stellar releases from many of pop's heavy hitters (Britney, Rihanna, Katy, and Ke$ha all recently turned in some great product) I do think Gaga takes the crown.  As great as some of the aforementioned singles have been... none are the artistic statement that "Born This Way" is.  Nobody has really come close to doing what Madonna was able to do culturally, artistically, and commercially back in the day.

That was before Lady Gaga.


The Edge of Glory



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