Album Review: Lady Gaga – Chromatica
Print Music Editor Bridie Adams reviews Lady Gaga’s latest album.
Chromatica is pure, undiluted dance-pop. After experimenting with jazz, country and even trying to incorporate elements of metal and rock into her music, Lady Gaga has come home, found her way back to what she does best – electric, danceable beats and big, almost intimidating, vocals. With Chromatica coming out in the midst of a global pandemic, the nightclub vibe may seem slightly out of place. But it’s comforting and nostalgic. It’s reminiscent of noughties Gaga, The Fame Gaga. It perfectly captures the feeling of dancing with strangers in clubs, the feeling of being high on life. With just a listen, it makes you feel a little less lonely, a little more liberated. Gaga’s choruses are huge and hopeful. Her rhythms are exhilarating and fresh. Chromatica is an ode to disco, conjuring up a dancefloor wherever you are.
After the album’s first sci-fi-style instrumental piece, the first song ‘Alice’ begins: “My name isn’t Alice, but I’ll keep looking for wonderland”. The stuttering backing vocals are comparable to the infamous “roma-ro-ma-ma” sounds in ‘Bad Romance’, feeling very typically Gaga. It’s clearly inspired by Alice in Wonderland – Gaga seems to be searching for her own place, somewhere better than here (“Take me on a trip, DJ, free my mind”). Next come two of the biggest hits from the album, ‘Stupid Love’ and ‘Rain On Me’. They’re both incredibly enjoyable bangers – great to sing along and dance to. Ariana Grande fits in well; her voice is very different from Gaga’s and it adds a soft, dreamy sound that works amazingly. The other of the three best-known tracks ‘Sour Candy’ features K-pop sensation BLACKPINK and it’s safe to say that its release well and truly broke the internet. It seems like an unlikely combination, but it contrasts nicely with the other tracks despite feeling a little out of place on this particular album. The third collaboration is with Elton John in ‘Sine From Above’. This is my least favourite track on the album. If BLACKPINK seemed alien in Gaga’s world, Elton John is definitely out of his element. The album ends on a bang two tracks later with ‘Babylon’.
On the whole, the album is incredibly consistent and cohesive as a piece of work. The orchestral interludes, though the most skippable tracks on the record, split the album up effectively into chapters. Although, ideally, I would recommend listening to the album in full, including these tracks, I don’t think they add a huge amount and the record would definitely hit just as hard if they hadn’t been included.
On the whole, the album is incredibly consistent and cohesive as a piece of work.
Chromatica has a lot of flair. Gaga sounds fabulous, fun and diva-like, with her theatrical vocals making a statement in every track on the album. But what also makes Chromatica unique compared to Gaga’s other albums is its more personal quality. It is perhaps more ambitious than her previous work, being a blend of introspective, deep lyrics and danceable, catchy, often bizarre, sounds. Lady Gaga’s previous albums sometimes felt uncertain. Artpop fell considerably under the radar, Joanne seemed foreign, more like a singer-songwriter’s album than a pop queen’s, and although it earnt her awards and success in the charts (with ‘Shallow’), the A Star is Born soundtrack was more about the film’s protagonist Ally than Lady Gaga herself. However, Chromatica is straightforward and true-to-self in a way that is most comparable to Born This Way, a key theme of which was believing in oneself and creating the person you want to be and were born to be. Chromatica is a kind of reset for Gaga – it’s what her fans needed.
Gaga sounds fabulous, fun and diva-like, with her theatrical vocals making a statement in every track on the album.
Lady Gaga has changed a lot in the twelve years since her debut album was released, but as trends in the music industry have changed, Gaga has always been doing her own thing, swimming against the current. She really does seem to live on her own planet, so the fictional world of Chromatica seems appropriate and fitting for her persona.
The subject matter is heavy and vulnerable, more unusual for Gaga, as she touches on mental health and trauma. The fantastical, futuristic imagery in the album may overshadow these more serious topics slightly, but it also provides an interesting, fictional lens to explore and represent them through. Music is, of course, so helpful for healing from hard times and this sense of recovery and determination fills Chromatica to its brim; it’s celebratory and proud. The album is completely ballad-free, all high and no low, which can feel overwhelming and chaotic, but it’s also a demonstration of Gaga doing what she does best. She embraces the chaos and makes it a whole concept – even if it can be a bit confusing and overblown.
The sense of personal journey and self-growth in Chromatica may seem like a cliché, but it’s actually raw and artistic. Lady Gaga has certainly had her fair share of eras, and this might be one of my favourites. I loved being whisked away to the planet of Chromatica and I think you will too. Just be prepared to come back down.