The cover to Lady Gaga’s new album “Joanne” shows the singer’s profile in a very simple manner, wearing a pink hat with her long blond hair draped around her shoulder. It’s not hard to read this one-sided picture as a statement about the singer: we know one side of Gaga, but the other is waiting to be revealed.
“Joanne” is the album I had hoped “Artpop” would be. There’s still a lot of pop on this record, but the singer draws in many different influences from jazz to rock to country to create an album that expands her musical palette, in much the same way that her collaboration with Tony Bennett did. From the Donna Summer vibe of the first single “Perfect Illusion” to the country bounce of “Sinner’s Prayer”, Lady Gaga, with the help of producer Mick Ronson, expands her sound and shows she’s not a uni-dimensional pop star. With a star studded guest list that includes Beck, Josh Homme and Florence Welsh, “Joanne” is her most diverse and mature album to date.
But all that doesn’t mean fans won’t find anything familiar to hook them in. “A-YO”, “John Wayne”, “Dancin’ in Circles” and “Perfect Illusion” are all classic Gaga, harkening back to her earlier material. Her voice takes center stage on most songs, and shines on the ballad “Million Reasons”. “Come to Mama” is another highlight despite its chorus that recalls a little too much Shania Twain. Gaga and Florence Welsh (of Florence and the Machine), trade soulful vocals on “Hey Girl”, a stripped down song with a mellow and groovy 70’s vibe that presents the singers with no artifice.
One can hope this record indicates she’s ready to drop the outrageous stunts and concentrate on music, because her antics have too often overshadowed her immense talent. This is her most consistent album from start to finish, and I’d be willing to bet that in 10 years we’ll talk about pre and post “Joanne” Gaga. It’s also her most personal album lyrically, and you can feel it in the way she sings. The pop critic for the Washington Post panned the album saying she’s no longer a freak and as such is a fake following trends. I think he got it backwards; I think this is the core of Lady Gaga we’re getting this time. And it’s good. Very good.