Artpop” from Lady Gaga is an ambitious, sprawling mess of an album. This follow-up to 2011’s “Born this Way” is huge –– from bombastic club tracks to overpowering vocals –– and it harkens back to the days of the concept album. The concept here being Lady Gaga herself. Her fame, her sexuality, and her ego.
On top of that, “Artpop” also tackles power, money, depression, gender, fashion, the media, and space travel. Basically, any and all ideas Gaga may have had. You can easily imagine the accompanying concert –– and that’s what “Artpop” is: the throbbing, percolating soundtrack to her inevitable tour.
The album opens with strumming guitars and a Middle Eastern influence in the track “Aura.” Gaga asks the question, “Do you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura? Behind the burka?” A song about gender politics, through it Gaga attempts to take back control and power with lyrics such as “My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face.”
Next up is “Venus,” the first song that Gaga has produced herself. A club dance mix of astrology, sex, and extraterrestrial adventure, the track and its seriously passionate tone miss the mark in almost hysterical fashion. Then again, it’s certainly not dull.
After these two cuts, the album relaxes a bit and allows pop to bubble up to the surface. “Manicure” is one of the strongest tracks on the album –– sure to be a single. This grinding, rock-influenced ode to a life of perks explodes at the start and never stops. And it’s got a pretty strong hook, too –– what a concept. “Manicure” is one of the few pop nuggets on the record without any labored manifesto. Just pure ear candy.
This is followed by “Do What U Want.” a duet with R. Kelly. A bit of an R&B throwback, this song works well as a jam by two singers proving their chemistry.
“Swine,” a snarling, grungy cut that features the line “You’re just a pig inside a human body,” is rumored to have been written about Gaga’s falling-out with former friend Perez Hilton. This is one resentment that should’ve been locked away as an outburst in the lady’s diary.
Two campy cuts on “Artpop” awkwardly tackle the world of style. “Donatella” and “Fashion!” are both bitchy workout struts that attempt to do what David Bowie and RuPaul have done before –– and much better.
“Gypsy” a cut produced with RedOne –– one of her most successful collaborators –– brings the record back to triumphant pop. Gaga sings “I don’t wanna be alone forever but I love gypsy life” over a soaring dance track. “Gypsy” flows well into the last cut of the album, the recent hit single “Applause”.
Gaga has said the album was her dream for art and pop to come together. One can certainly appreciate the expansiveness and massive work that went into “Artpop.” Each track is propelled by expensively produced club beats from the best producers in the world. What’s lacking is editing and pure and simple song craft. There is no “Paparazzi” or “Bad Romance” –– singles that were impeccable three-minute blasts of pure pop. From the first time you heard them, your mind could never escape them. “Artpop” offers none equal to them –– merely reminders.