First things first: that cover is simply awful, its adolescent heavy-metal imagery – "ride me, wild one!" – effectively destroying in a single stroke Lady Gaga's methodically built reputation as a serious style icon with an intelligent grasp on her own visual presentation.
What was she thinking? And given that she employs an entire backroom team of visual stylists, the Haus of Gaga, to furnish the rapid turnover of her public images, were they all on vacation when the decision was taken?
Or is it just part of some cunning plan to broaden her appeal even further, co-opting yet another subculture that has so far proven resistant to her ever-changing charms? In interviews, she comes across as clearly obsessed with her own ubiquity: she takes genuine pride in being top Twitteree, in having 30 million Facebook friends and a billion YouTube views, in being the highest-grossing this, the most popular that. So even though she's sold 22 million albums and 69 million singles with the techno-pop of The Fame and The Fame Monster, it's entirely plausible that she should hunger insatiably for more, more, more recognition, in whatever style comes along.
She's already recorded a country version of "Born This Way", for instance. And certainly, while large parts of this album follow the tried and trusted pumping mega-crunch strutting techno-disco manner we're used to, there are some clear incursions into more mainstream "rock" areas: Clarence Clemons, for instance, is drafted in to bring that big E Street Band bombast to the climactic "The Edge of Glory", while both "Bad Kids" and "Electric Chapel" feature standard chugging metal guitar riffs and flashy guitar breaks. And her best vocal delivery is reserved for "Yoü and I" [sic], where the power-chords and "We Will Rock You" clap-beat groove add up to her straightest rock performance. Elsewhere, "Americano" has a sort of all-purpose Latin/Gallic offbeat, "Scheiße" is sung partly in German, and "Bloody Mary" features monkish vocoder-chanting that recalls Romanian techno-classicist Enigma. Mark my words, by this time next year she'll be singing in Mandarin and Urdu, with ethnic instrumentation to match.
"Bloody Mary" (about Mary Magdalene) is one of several religious-themed indulgences of her Messianic tendency, along with "Judas", but the album's main theme is, again, the fascination with identity that can be traced back via Michael Jackson, Madonna and Grace Jones to David Bowie. The anthemic "Hair" is her equivalent of David Crosby "letting my freak flag fly", tonsure as a statement of rebellious individuality; and of course, there's the title-track itself, a call-to-arms for adolescent outsiders fixated upon appearance. The irony being, of course, that she is probably the most assiduous, serial self-alterer in pop history – the last thing that Lady Gaga wants, one suspects, is to remain exactly the way she was born. But the more often she changes, and the broader she spreads her net musically, the less distinctive her art becomes.
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