Every Tuesday, Dan Weiss runs down the week’s new full-length music releases, from charting hits to more obscure depths, the underrated and the overrated, from a critical pop fan’s perspective. This week, it’s special. We’ve only got one for you:
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Lady Gaga – ARTPOP (Streamline/Interscope)
While fans of art and pop alike bristle that Lady Gaga‘s excellent new album has not enough of either, those of us who prize Michael Jackson’s 1991 album Dangerous the most of all his increasingly steely and complex albums know that’s the point. Sillier lyrics, fractal productions teeming with intricacies you can plot on a grid, failed jetpack dresses, the always-hungry ARTPOP screams Difficult Third Album with the delicious irreverence of a jack-of-all-trades who strove to please EDM and country fans alike on her last monolith, the undervalued Born This Way. The stadium-regaling choruses of “You & I,” “The Edge of Glory” and even “Schiebe” haunt ARTPOP in intangible spirit while Gaga Protools her newest creations for a maximum earbud maelstrom.
Few pop stars announce themselves as album artists the way Gaga does, because they know deep down they don’t care about half their filler, while the capital-E event status Gaga craves for her premieres can only truly support a full-length. Luckily she’s a song-by-song person, throwing her busiest productions at the wall with no unifying theme other than consistently, wondrously busy production. Oh, and as PopMatters observed, this is her horniest album. “Manicure” wants hands all over her body while “Do What U Want” gives R. Kelly agency, a scary thought made even funnier when he ignores the willing woman to talk about his haters. The inside-out bass soloing and Molly-enhanced synth rain beneath the chorus of “Sexxx Dreams” approximates a decent enough orgasm. All over she refuses to settle for drug-slowed 808s and Auto-Tune because they disrupt her kinetic energy, spiritual playfulness, and acid tongue.
But ARTPOP is silliness and money, “curated” in the best way with nine straight sticks of dynamite before the terrible triptych of “Donatella” (Versace, who doesn’t give a damn), “Fashion!” (which does but not for long) and “Mary Jane Holland” (which makes weed seem dull save for the hilarious outburst about her being “rich as piss”).
The much-derided opener “Aura” is a red herring, falling between ideas, none of which are as remarkable as Infected Mushroom’s popping instrumental, a timely recreation of Middle Eastern scales for synthetic guitar for we who loved Omar Souleyman’s Haflat Gharbia. The hilarious “Venus” leads into the gender-bending spaceship “G.U.Y.” with the synth riff of the year (and a fantastic bridge; heard one of those in pop lately?). “Jewels ‘n’ Drugs” lines up three rappers with nothing in common except they sound fantastic on the fake Lex Luger beat she copped, particularly Twista, chosen because he adds dexterity rather than (are you listening Miley?) status. “Artpop” has an impressively subterranean beat, a rare subtlety in Gaga’s catalogue, before the outrageous “Swine” (“You’re just a pig inside a human body”) with its punchlines in its overextended drops. And then on the one song with true commercial appeal, a Rick Rubin-helmed piano ballad, she saves the vocal performance of her life for the line “I need you more than dope.” The stuttering “Applause” makes better sense as an encore than a single.
From the intentionally reductive album title to the puzzlingly off-kilter Koons sculpture on the cover, ARTPOP may not actually be designed to put anyone off, but she’s sure better than Arcade Fire at convincing the world she’s no normal person. Though with her garbled politics, shallow attacks on shallower people, and non-metaphors about sexxx and G.U.Y.s, not to mention finite number of classic choruses, don’t be so sure. Either way, weirder and hookier over the course of an hour than Justin Timberlake has been in his life.