What’s in a title? For Lady Gaga and her comeback, a fair bit: responses to her third album may well revolve around how her branding of it as a “reverse Warholian expedition” hits you.
The pitch sounds like a fussy regurgitation of old ideas on the surface, which it is, but erase from existence those pop stars who dressed up cannibalised ideas in fancy togs and pop might be a duller place. This is Artpop’s contradiction: though simpler than its presentation seems to promise, it has enough fun splatter-gunning ideas to make sure some of it sticks.
No one will turn to “Aura” for nuanced insights into gender politics (“My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face”), for example, but, as sloganeering (“Dance, sex, art pop, tech”) and Hollywood diva overload go, it proves Gaga can still make a dramatic entrance. Slick and ballistic respectively, prime bangers “Sexxx Dreams” and “MANiCURE” leaven a laboured opening run of songs about sex, performance and revelation. Likewise, the overstated double whammy of the clunking satire “Donatella” and funk-lite “Fashion!” is ameliorated by the latter’s Daft Punk-ish drive.
Throwaways (“Jewels n’ Drugs”) and power-ballad (“DOPE”) digressions weigh heavy on the pacing, but the arch “Mary Jane Holland” and “Swine” occupy livelier turf. So does the title track, which pairs a sleek Eurodisco chorus with a virtual manifesto: “My artpop could mean anything.”
It could also mean nothing, but that’s Lady Gaga for you: contradictory, evasive, often infatuated with her over-egged ambiguities, but not quite predictable enough to dismiss yet.