Review: Pop goes rogue with odes to shagging, Donatella shout-outs and bad rapping – we unpick the best moments
On November 11, Lady Gaga will release her fourth album ARTPOP. Trailed by the divisive "Applause" and new single "Do What U Want", it's a vibrant, often exciting, occasionally cringey but never boring listen, teaming the warehouse-sized industrial clank of Born This Way (2011) with the pop thrills of The Fame Monster (2009). Read our first impressions below.
"Applause" was a red herring
Unlike lead single "Applause", ARTPOP is not an album about what it's like to be Lady Gaga. There are flashes of that in the second single ("do what u want with my body, world") and buzz track "Aura", but overall you forget that this is supposed to be the polemical "reverse Warholian expedition" that Gaga initially promised. With the right single choices, ARTPOP could make Lady Gaga today's biggest popstar again, as well as the strangest – which she has been all along.
Gaga's last album Born This Way was grandly ambitious in scope and message, but aside from "Judas", "The Edge of Glory" and deep cut "Scheiße", it was relatively bangers-free. At 15 songs ARTPOP is similarly sprawling, but with a higher quota of inventive radio-hits-in-waiting. "Sexxx Dreams", "MANiCURE" and "Gypsy" sound like bonafide platinum-plated top 40 threats, and the robot sex jam "G.U.Y" is perhaps the best new discovery, with its gloriously loopy "Bad Romance" part 2 lyrics ("I wanna be the grave and earth you!", "please retweet!") and a ridiculously catchy Kylie-ish chorus.
"Venus" was planned as the second ARTPOP single until "Do What U Want" – originally a buzz track – shot to number one in 64 countries. The two were swiftly flip-flopped, "Do What U Want" acquired 'single status' – and thank goodness. "Venus" is a constellation of strong hooks that don't quite mesh, feels like an attempt to do the eight-choruses trademark of UK production team Xenomania in their work for Girls Aloud (and, as Arcadey blog noted, a trend in this year's weirder K-Pop). And you could quite happily do away with "Donatella", "Mary Jane Holland" and "Fashion!" – EDM bangers that mash up current pop trends rather than tearing them a new one. "Swine", which felt so good at the iTunes festival with bungeeing pigs in radiation suits, doesn't quite find its feet here either, lost in a 4/4 thud.
"I can't speak German but I try"
"Gypsy" is an arms-aloft, Madeon-produced stonker in the vein of every euphoric Heaven floorfiller from "Your Disco Needs You" to "Song for the Lonely" to "The Edge of Glory". The best lyric on the entire album comes 3 minutes and 52 seconds in – "I don't speak German but I try" – referencing the mental, screeching fake-German opening to Born This Way track "Scheiße". On the Born This Way Ball, she changed that song's opening in every city ("I can't speak Lithuanian but I can if you like!"), and "Gypsy" crackles with pan-global synth lifts and autotuned ad-libs like J-Pop heroines Perfume.
"There's good pussy in the passenger seat"
Thanks to Too $hort for this tender image of Gaga's private parts in "Jewels n' Drugs", a hip hop experiment which also features T.I. and Twista. "Don't want your money, want your love", Gaga spits over trap stutters in the vein of last year's oddity "Cake Like Lady Gaga". It could be fun, but it all feels a little calculated and cold.
"I'm a little bit of a bitch"
It's true! In "Donatella", Gaga channels the spirit of Courtney Stodden, Paris Hilton and Kim K in a campy satire of the fashion industry. With all the nuance of "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich", she speak-raps "Walk down the runway but don't puke... you just had a salad today". As someone that has spoken out about her own struggles with eating disorders, it seems a slightly disingenuous turn for Gaga, especially as self-empowerment was a central tenet of her multi-million-dollar-grossing Born This Way Ball.
All sex, no "art"
When ARTPOP launched, Gaga proclaimed it a "reverse Warholian expedition", so it's a surprise – and perhaps a relief – that tracks 2-7 are straight-up about shagging. Where are all the wedged-in references to Candy Darling, Chelsea Girls and peelable banana artwork? We were at least expecting a line like "I wanna stare at your Empire State for hours".
Lady Gaga likes to recieve a disco stick "face up", apparently. "G.U.Y" (short for 'Girl Under You') is packed with amazing single-entendres like "I don't need to be on top" and "I wanna be the G.U.Y!" as it donks along with an industrial-pop/piano house sashay. Admittedly "I wanna be the girl under you that makes you cry" sounds like you might wake up the next day with a rash, but this pop wonder should have been the lead single.
In Gaga we trust
If this album were 10 songs long and Twista hadn't been allowed within a 100-metre radius, we'd probably be calling this the pop album of the year. As it is, it's an album with five excellent tracks, four solid deep cuts, and a few misfires. Inevitably, ARTPOP will be compared to Katy Perry's cautious Prism and Miley Cyrus' uneven Bangerz, and in the main it triumphs with its monster hooks, sheer conviction, and genuine out-of-the-box oddness. She's still the most interesting pop star we have.
Preorder ARTPOP here