Music Reviews

Lady Gaga Chromatica

(Interscope) Rating - 6/10

And so to Lady Gaga. This reviewers' policy of reviewing the unknown is stretched a little here; Gaga is just about the most ubiquitous female artist there is. I operate on the basest level of knowledge of her actual music I probably could, only really being aware of Bad Romance and Poker Face, both of which I've discovered are from another decade now. Another reason for my picking up this review though is curiosity—I became aware she's an artist of considerable talent through her grandstanding reinterpretation of Sting's If I Ever Lose My Faith In You at the Kennedy Honours, and a bravura performance with Metallica at the 2017 Grammy Awards, adding a powerful vocal to Moth Into Flame

I'm reliably informed she has explored various genres and variations thereupon since her debut, but Chromatica, her sixth album, comes close to the sounds of her early work. It opens in curious fashion, with the first of three bookend orchestral excerpts, Chromatica I, quickly sweeping into electro-pop with Alice—all thumping backbeats and repeated vocal phrases. The album's track-listing is strikingly set up in a symmetrical structure, namely: orchestral bookend, three to four tracks including one collaboration, and repeat. Of this first block of tracks, Rain On Me has the most purpose and poise about it, with a rock-solid catchy chorus and tasteful use of its guest star Ariana Grande. These tracks sound surprisingly retro in places, with block piano chords and dance beats straight out of the 1990s making a great deal of the material.

Following the second orchestral break, Chromatica II, the album hits its stride with darker electro tracks and the sort of robotic, dispassionate vocal lines that Lady Gaga has used to such great success over her career. 911, Plastic Doll, and Sour Candy all have something about them, the deeper synth bass lines and altogether more angst-ridden lyrics achieving more depth and variety than the earlier upbeat offerings; her staccato verse delivery on the former and the chorus line of the latter are powerful earworms. This is the material Gaga seems to stretch out with, but once we are comfortable in this pocket we are whisked back into the 1990s with Enigma, a track that sounds in places like M People. This is not a bad thing in itself, but as an overall listening experience, it feels uneven.  

The final third includes a couple of the more curious tracks on the album, one of them being a collaboration with Elton John (Sine From Above)—his voice is placed in surroundings you'd never have previously imagined them, surrounded by thumping dance beats that are chopped up and processed to fit the staccato rhythms. The verses where his and Gaga’s vocal combine are very strong melodically, with a double-time outro breakdown rounding out a unusual, yet powerful and rewarding, collaboration. On Babybylon, Gaga splices the ancient world with more thumping electro as she confidently brandishes the play on words 'babble on' and 'Babylon' over a distinct and unusual blend of sounds, getting gets away with it by virtue of its position as the album closer.

By and large, though, there are two modes here: the dark neon center of the album surrounded by lighter electro-pop with a retro feel; and they almost all contain classic electro-dance builds closing with the hang from the last chord or vocal note. Likewise, the production is dead-on, polished to perfection. These are tracks that are built for individual consumption across a myriad of online platforms, so the composition of the album perhaps lessens in importance. Nevertheless, a couple more from the darker end like Free Woman' and Replay would achieve a bit more of the blend I suspect she was going for. Chromatica has its moments, but it isn't an album to play on repeat.