In the three weeks since its release, already ‘Joanne’ has caused division between critics and fans alike. Far from the outlandish outfits and the bold nature of her previous albums, Gaga ditches the electronic, upbeat pop music that catapulted her to fame for a more sombre country record.
Named after a paternal aunt who died of lupus before she was born, Lady Gaga explores the theme of loss in many of her tracks. ‘Diamond Heart’ details the ruin of her innocence in her formative go-go dancing days, ‘Angel Down’ is commemorative of the tragic death of black teenager Trayvon Martin, and ‘Perfect Illusion’ mourns the loss of an intense romantic relationship. Although ‘Diamond Heart’ and ‘Perfect Illusion’ are more buoyant than they are bereaved, it is the artist’s vocals which consistently soar and succeed at pulling at your heart strings. Despite criticism that her over singing contributes to a contrived sense of rawness, it is evident that the Grammy award winning singer uses her voice to uncover the depths of her passion, desperation and emotion in what is her most personal album to date.
The heart-breaking title track ‘Joanne’ and the single ‘Million Reasons’ are perhaps the greatest testament to Lady Gaga’s artistic ability. With no repetitive dance beats, rock band and elaborate performance to hide behind, these songs are stripped down to almost nothing but the lyrics. When she sings ‘Every part of my aching heart / Needs you more than the angels do’, it is difficult not to feel the pain of her family’s grief and the effect this has had on Gaga’s upbringing. Although her former albums have been successful in their own right, ‘Joanne’ is a breath of fresh air: Gaga seems to stop adopting the theatrical persona her fans are well versed to, and opts to bare her soul instead of her body.
Nevertheless, Lady Gaga does not leave anyone disappointed in her new record, as several songs are reminiscent of her ‘The Fame Monster’ and ‘Born This Way’ glory days. The third single ‘A-Yo’, ‘Just Another Day’ and ‘John Wayne’ are toe-tapping pop numbers that will appeal to listeners who prefer dance to depth, and ‘Come to Mama’ is an uplifting track that aims to spread the kind of positive messages akin to her ‘Born This Way’ album.
Yet still there are elements of the album which do not warrant commendation. Gaga has done herself a massive disservice in releasing what is arguably Joanne’s weakest song as the leading single. The meaning of ‘Perfect Illusion’ is lost in the shouting, bland melody and tedious repetition, and ultimately it is a painful and desperate example of trying too hard. Similarly, her much anticipated collaboration with Florence and the Machine’s Florence Welch is nothing short of a complete and utter disappointment: ‘Hey Girl’ is a dull and forgettable record that not even the soaring vocals of two of the music industry’s greatest voices can save.
Despite its flaws, ‘Joanne’ remains an eye-opening and enjoyable album that offers much to appreciate. Whether you prefer the acoustics of the album’s country inspired songs (‘Grigio Girls’, ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ and ‘Million Reasons’) or the tempo of Mark Ronson produced tracks (‘Diamond Heart’, ‘A-Yo’ and ‘John Wayne’), there is something for everyone in this diverse and multifaceted album from one of the most successful female artists of the decade.