Lady Gaga has been one of the most polarizing musical figures in recent memory. From outlandish appearances in meat suits, to catchy pop songs on the radio, to acting in American Horror Story, she made a name for herself by any means necessary. On “Joanne,” she took a much more authentic and raw approach to the creative process. It’s an attribute that this album boasts throughout and certainly aides the overall product. It’s not a perfect album by any means, but “Joanne” certainly gives listeners a new side of Gaga that hasn’t been seen much before.
Let’s get the flaws out of the way first. The album seems to have the goal of being a laid back, emotional experience, but is setback by a few bad eggs. “A-YO” is completely out of place on this tracklist. The dreadfully repetitive chorus is a pain to sit through, as Gaga chants “A-Yo, A-Yo, we’ll smoke ‘em all.” It’s a shame too, as the groovy beat present in the verses is lively and fun. The product as a whole is a conflicted mess. The same can be said for “John Wayne.” This track feels like a track you’d hear on a previous Gaga record, with its experimental tonality and gritty vocals. It’s not an awful song. The vocals here are impressive, but the lack of true instrumental depth holds it back.
No track dents the album as badly as “Dancin’ in Circles.” The ugly beat this song procures is unpleasant in every sense of the word. Gaga’s soft vocals in the chorus are accompanied by the laughable play on words “Funk me downtown.” This, paired with the marching step rhythm in the verses makes for an overall poor attempt.
Aside from the flaws on the record, there is a mix of okay and great tracks throughout. “Perfect Illusion” is a song that is catchy and fun, like many songs here, but suffers from an unfortunate sense of repetition. Also, the octave raise in the final third of the song is a true head scratcher. “Come to Mama” is one of the more playful tracks on the record and truly benefits it. It doesn’t rely on gimmicks, showcasing a simple drum pattern and vocal line. While it certainly doesn’t stand out, it plays its part.
Through it all, the standout songs on this record are the times when Gaga sits still and performs a truly emotional piece. Title track “Joanne” is a beautiful guitar ballad that displays Gaga’s voice in true depth. The somber verses pair extremely well with the pushed chorus ranges. The same can be said for “Million Reasons,” which finds Gaga behind the keys of a piano with nothing more than her voice. The harmonies on this track are sharp, adding to the simplicity of the ballad. It too suffers from a bit of repetition, but ends up soaring despite this.
Closing track “Angel Down” finished the album on a somewhat dreary tone, while also wrapping the album in a nice bow. The slow pace sets the mood and feels right. It’s a straightforward attempt at an emotionally impacting outro and works well with its graceful, light instrumentation and ranging melodies.
The highest point on the album is “Sinner’s Prayer.” This track embodies everything this album does successfully. The sliding drum patterns coupled with the piano and light guitar make for a sweet melody. However, the most pleasing part of this track Gaga’s vocal work, which never oversteps its necessary range. She keeps it clean and raw, making the track not only inviting, but easy to come back to for multiple listens.
Overall, this album is a few steps away from being truly successful in reimagining Lady Gaga’s sound. Whether this was the truly intended purpose is arguable, but the clear tonal shift of the record suggests it. The moments when Gaga sits back and dwells in the emotion are when the album is at its peak. When it tries to do too much, it fails. It’s a good listen with a few surprises along the way, but I can’t imagine it will break any boundaries.