Oh boy. These last few months of 2013 have been the era of the pop diva. We’ve seen Britney, Miley, Katy, Cher and Celine all drop new albums within weeks of each other, and it’s been a battle of the weaves ever since. But always lurking in the background has been Lady Gaga, silently plugging away, while fans await the release of her third studio album. The lead single, “Applause,” was all right, but certainly the rest of the album would be better, right?
No. “Applause” is a very good indicator of what Artpop does wrong, and oh, it does a few things wrong. Opening with “Aura,” which has been appropriated as a soundtrack song for the movie Machete Kills, the song has a lot going on: there’s a sitar, there’s some Auto-Tuning (and a weird faraway quality to her voice), and there’s bass-dropping. It feels like a laundry list of noises to have in a song, and Gaga’s checked all the boxes.
“Venus” follows in similar fashion, albeit in a scaled-down fashion, but still commits the same crimes. The songs are heavyhanded on the EDM influences, and the whole thing can be described as just horribly noisy. The one song that, thankfully, escapes the stink is “Do What U Want,” featuring (whoda thunk it) R Kelly, and it is the saving grace of Artpop. With its retro early-1990s R&B thumping, it feels like a song straight out of Top Gun and harkens back to Gaga’s first and best album, The Fame.
By the time the album hits its stride, the cacophony of noise becomes unbearable. “Swine,” “Donatella” and “Fashion!” could probably be good — even great — songs, but it’s almost impossible to hear them. It’s sensory overload.
It’s hard not to like Gaga — “Paparazzi” is and always will be a great song — but Artpop just exacerbates the problem of her schtick. Yes, the woman is talented, but even David Bowie knew when to turn down the theatrics, and when he was theatric, there was something to it. Artpop is theatre for theatre’s sake, the musical equivalent of throwing the kitchen sink at the wall. You’re bound to hit something, but you’re going to have a mess on your hands.