Is it time to slap a gagging order on Lady Gaga? Not quite, because her uneven but crazy second album rarely fails to entertain says Alan Corr
You’ve gotta be free! You’ve gotten believe in yourself, whether you’re gay, a student of the German language, or even a highway unicorn but most of all you’ve got to believe in the eighties!
That’s the message Lady Gaga sledgehammers home on Born This Way (more about the unicorns and bad German accents later) and it’s the eighties, the decade of absurd heavy metal album covers, screeching guitar solos, and big hair that she milks dry to create this Frankenstein’s monster of a second album.
Avant garde pop, glam, Europop and heavy metal collide but it’s only when Gaga reveals that she’s so much more than a calculating disco dolly that Born This Way really takes off and enters into a realm of weirdness that is truly refreshing for a mainstream pop album. Take the excellently-named Government Hooker – it begins with faux operatics, bowel-moving sub bass and a lyric that makes Madonna’s Material Girl sound demure.
And like Madonna before her, Gaga has rumbled the obvious connections between celebrity, pop and religion but rather than align herself with the good guys in the good book, she tells us she’s still got the hots for Judas, although on Black Jesus + Amen Fashion Gaga does imagine JC strutting his stuff on the catwalk.
But unlike the innocent days of the decade she invokes so often on Born This Way, Lady Gaga is a product of an era where it’s virtually impossible for pop stars to shock. However, you may be left reeling with moral outright when you hear Americano, a big production Latino number with flourishes of Spanish guitar that sounds like West Side Story starring the cast of Blade Runner.
Hair, which starts off like a plaid-shirted bombast ballad from 1985, is much better as Gaga re-asserts her right to be herself using her hair as a damn fine metaphor for personal choice and identity. When she sings “I am my hair” it’s one of the funniest and most sensible things she’s ever said. On Scheiße she tries on a German accent worthy of an episode of brutal eighties comedy series Allo Allo. It’s hard not to remember that kitsch Swedish pranksters Army of Lovers were doing this kind of thing 20 years ago and doing it better.
On Bad Kids she labours her outsider bone fides once again. This time Gaga is not a geek, or a fashionista but, duh, a rebel. The song is mostly notable for rhyming “twit” with “degenerate”. Highway Unicorn (Road to Love) returns to those stadium-filling drums as like The Boss, Gaga embraces the freedom of the open road.
The squealing metal guitars on Electric Chapel are essentially Eddie Van Halen but why pretend to have an axe god on your album when you can actually get the real thing? Step forward Brian May, another pop star who’s used his hair to assert his individuality, to take the solo on the album’s stand out moment Yoü & I, a song that proves that Gaga wants to be all things to all people as she unashamedly blasts out a honky tonk bar tune that makes Shania Twain sound like Patsy Cline.
Born This Way may conjure up the heady atmosphere of an uber cool club in some parallel Weimar Berlin universe but it also feels like you’re trapped in a disco bar in the cellar in a hellish Croatian resort hotel. Or worse, the Eurovision Song Contest. However, Gaga survives the nuclear assault of Euro disco and cod metal and that’s a credit to her self belief. And, no doubt the power of her hair.