Album review: Lady Gaga, ARTPOP - It's hard not to feel underwhelmed

No heart behind the art of Gaga's surface spectacle

It's hard not to feel underwhelmed by ARTPOP – but then, that's the danger of hype, especially hype allied to an artefact that's only partially about music. No other pop star has so completely understood and applied the post-modern theory of The Spectacle as La Gaga, but at the heart of her spectacle, the music comes a poor relation to considerations of design, and the manufacturing of ersatz outrage.

So it is that the most interesting aspects of ARTPOP are the extra-musical ones: the way that "Swine" roots between desire and disgust; the teasing reference to "behind the burka" added to the query, "Do you want to see me naked, lover? Do you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura?"; even, lord help us, the kitsch Jeff Koons sleeve design. Musically, it's pretty much the standard modern electro fare familiar from dozens of contemporaries, from Kylie to Britney. The dubstep riffs are more tortured in places, but when David Guetta and will.i.am are involved in a track's production – as with the bullishly shallow "Fashion!" – you're not straying from the mainstream.

The formula works best on "Swine", where the brutal utility of the twitching buzzsaw synth riff matches the visceral revulsion of the lyric: "I know you want me/ I'm just a pig inside a human body/ Squealer, squealer, you're so disgusting." It's the most interesting slant on the masturbatory eroticism trotted out in "Aura", "Sexxx Dreams" and "G.U.Y.", Gaga's robotic spoken section in the latter making sexual attraction seem grimly denatured. It's left to R Kelly, guesting on "Do What U Want", to supply a modicum of authentic romance.

One suspects it's the final two tracks, "Gypsy" and "Applause", that Gaga believes best represent her attitude – driven to wander, and slave to acclaim – but the title-track contains the real message of ARTPOP. "My art pop could mean anything," she sings – the corollary being that it could also mean nothing at all.

Download: Do What U Want; Artpop; Swine

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