When Lady Gaga released her debut album The Fame, I disliked how it sonically sounded so much that I spent hours researching who was involved in the project and how it was put together. While there were sparks of genius (example: the delayed vocal on her breakthrough hit “Just Dance” and the layered harmonies on the chorus of “Paparazzi”), the songs were extremely over compressed and as a result, all of the songs didn’t sound loud, but they sounded dynamically flat.
Things changed for the better with her follow up EP The Fame Monster in that the eight tracks featured more depth in layers and introduced a dark and almost industrial sound to Gaga’s catalog of music. As a result, while the mixing and mastering (done by the same people who worked on her debut) once again ran hot, it gave the album more excitement, more dirt, more grit, and overall, great attention grabbing, purposefully distorted product.
Born This Way‘s technicalities are a mix between her debut and her followup. The biggest problem with it is that it’s loud the entire way through it’s 70+ minute run and by the end of it, the songs sound like they’ve run together at times and can tire an ear out. However, the loudness can sometimes enhance a song like the moody “Government Hooker” in that it introduces the triplet-double kick effect that “Dance in the Dark” is noted for, but on songs that introduce actual organic instruments like “Americano,” it creates chaos. The fact that the kick is so compressed and at the forefront of the mix that it’s literally kicking the living shit out of all of the other instruments in the mix, throws a song that would allow Lady Gaga to genre jump across the Hispanic highway, into a noisy clash of sounds that make the layered and distorted vocals sound like nails on a chalk board.
OKAY, SO BASICALLY IF I PUT ON “AMERICANO” IN A CLUB I WOULD HAVE TO TALK IN MY CAPS LOCK VOICE BECAUSE I BELIEVE THAT EVERYTHING IS SO LOUD THAT YOU WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO HEAR ME. CAN YOU HEAR ME? AM I YELLING LOUD ENOUGH? WHAT ABOUT NOW? NOW IT’S GOOD? GOOD!!!!!! “AMERICANO” SUCKS.
Beyond the problematic compression, Born This Way is filled with smart EQ to ensure everything has it’s own niche in the mix but doesn’t interfere with the clarity in the vocal. It’s a standard technique in the realm of mainstream pop music as a means to put the leader of the project at the forefront and ensure we all know the reason we bought the disc. On the Gaga disc, it’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, sometimes the instrumentation does mask the vocals, especially on “Government Hooker” where the dark synthesizers and heavy kick drum match Gaga’s vocals in terms of what gets your attention. (If you haven’t noticed yet, “Government Hooker” is one bad ass mother fucker). “The Queen” also has some shining moments where the uplifting synthesizer takes over, but at times, it sounds as if the higher frequencies of the vox are fighting for power with the lead synth.
Nothing fights more than the Whitney Houston sounding vocals of “Marry the Night”. They fight holds a negative affect by having several instances throughout the songs where the vocal is so prominent in the mix that it distorts within the song (this is evident on the first line of the chorus, where the double vocals scream “I’m gonna marry..the night!”) Perhaps the distortion was put there on purpose, but on certain sounding speakers, especially the $9 Skullcandy headphones a lot of Little Monsters listen to her music on, the distortion sounds negative in a way that it’s going to blow the speaker apart. Though, looking passed the mixing flaws, “Marry The Night” is one of the strongest songs of the deluxe-22 song set and masks the negative fighting with the positive fighting of a strong melody and strong vocal performance.
Strong melody is something that drives Born This Way. In fact, after listening to the album several times, the thing that impresses me upon each listen is how well thought out the lyrical melodies have been written. Where the title track, “Born This Way,” has been tore apart since day one for it’s campy, almost novice lyrics and it’s bland, predictable instrument arrangement, it’s the Madonna inspired melody (and message about loving ones self, which is the epitome of what Lady Gaga stands for) is what truly carries the song.
Along with strong melody, vocal delivery also provides a creative impact in that several songs have Gaga sounding like she’s channeling a heartbroken country star during the 60’s. “Bloody Mary” is an evident example, where she laments of sitting on mountain tips and apathetically delivers the lines “I’ll dance, dance, dance with my hands, hands, hands above my head, head, head, like Jesus said,” in such a unique manner that gives her an almost Jim Morrison of The Doors like style. The verses to “Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)” carry hints of an early Johnny Cash.
“Heavy Metal Lover” also provides a vocal delivery similar to the apathetic vibes of a dark vocalist of yesteryear and seals the fate that this album is an interesting hybrid of old and new. Maybe it’s because the songs were written while on the road, in front of a piano, or perhaps it’s just Gaga fusing her inspirations into her songs, but they work.
Beyond the outlandish claims I just made that probably have both those men rolling in their graves (though I hope not, those three songs are some of the album’s best moments), Gaga also gives us a taste of a Kylie Minogue style vocal on “Electric Chapel” before settling down with the Mutt Lange produced “You and I” (which features the nice chorused harmonies that Mutt’s known for).
All in all, it’s an interesting record. One that genre hops while staying in it’s place and one that has it’s problems but makes up for it in other aspects of the record. Has it lived up to the hype of “album of our generation” or “the best record ever”? Time will tell, but while I love this record, I still have my bets on her first two albums as forever having one of the biggest staples on pop music history.
And what do you think? Shout it out in a comment below!
PS – Check out “Scheiße” and “Bad Kids”. I didn’t mention them in this review but they are two bitchin’ tracks.
Album rating: 3.5/5
Purchase Born This Way Deluxe Edition [Amazon]
Purchase Born This Way Standard Edition [Amazon]
Purchase Born The Way Standard Edition [Amazon] – $0.99, Limited offer!*
Purchase Born This Way Deluxe Edition [iTunes]
* – This album could have an entire book dedicated to the marketing strategy of it. For more, see the review over at our friend Brad’s blog @ Muumuse.com. Him and I have been desperate for days to play the Gaga Word of the Day on Words With Friends. Update: He just played the word today. He’s entered into the contest. We hate him. Feud starting now. Just kidding. 😉