Lady Gaga- Born This Way

 

 

Lady Gaga as Mother Monster

Well, I for one welcome our new Gaga overlords...

When Lady Gaga released her track Born This Way as a single, a lot of people were underwhelmed. There were cries of it “shamelessly ripping off” Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’, of it being too blatant with its pro-LGBT message (more on that later) or if it being plainly just not as good as her earlier work. Well, if there is one thing we should have learned from her previous efforts, Lady Gaga’s music is nothing without a promo video to accompany it. This fact has never been so true as with the just unveiled video for Born This Way.

Click the image above to watch the video for yourself if you like, but I would recommend you read this first to prepare yourself. Honestly, you don’t want to go in there alone. Ok, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Much like her video for Paparazzi, the Born This Way promo begins with two and half minutes of introduction before the song itself actually begins. Unlike Paparazzi however, which was presented as a Swedish drama, Born This Way takes its time setting up Lady Gaga’s very own mythology. Gaga takes the nickname given to her by fans, ‘Mother Monster’, and runs with it wholeheartedly. Mirrored images set up idea of birth and the womb, images that border on being downright disturbing, but never quite make it due to the layer of glam and glitter over the whole affair. Gaga sits atop a throne with a third eye on her chin (just go with it) in the role of Mother Monster and recounts the “Manifesto of Mother Monster’. She tells the tale of an alien territory owned by the government, known as G.o.a.t, where a new free race of humanity without prejudice or judgement was born. Evil was also born at the same time, seemingly from the anti-Gaga, an idea shown with the imagery of Gaga pulling rifles out from within her (see what I meant about slightly disturbing?) She then sets up that this is what gave humanity the idea of choice. This leads onto the song  beginning properly, being filled mostly with Gaga dancing in a glittery bikini with a team of half naked backing dancers, interspersed with images from the intro.

Now that you know what the video is like, the next question is whether or not it is any good. Personally, I think it is fantastic. For one thing, it is hilarious! This is the most absurd video Gaga has produced to date, and it is thoroughly enjoyable seeing how many ideas are shoved in to such a small space. Its almost like the video is a direct response to the critics who said that the song itself is bland compared to her other work, giving it the much needed WTF quality we have all come to associate with Gaga. A lot of it seems like a response to critics, playing up the Madonna similarity accusations at one point (you will know it when you see it, think ‘teeth’), and flipping between ignoring the LGBT messages at points, and throwing them in your face with glittery unicorns at others.

Overall, Lady Gaga is still a true artist within herself, but more importantly, an artist at trolling the pop industry. She is constantly pushing what she can get away with, and every time it seems she can still go further. With the song itself, Gaga seems to be testing whether people (read: conservative America) can accept an in your face message supporting LGBT rights, rather than her just existing as a gay icon through veiled ideas. With the video, she is seeing whether we will let her get away with setting up a prog-rock style backstory to her new album, and her most shocking video yet.  Seriously, Rihanna’s S&M got banned for less than a lot of the imagery in Born This Way’s promo. I’m happy for her to keep on pushing, because behind all the facades of eccentricity and insanity, she is still providing us with some of the catchiest, most artistic pop in recent years. I’m happy to let her get away with it, the big question is, will everybody else?

Bottom line, Born This Way is an eclectic and hilarious music video that is also going to fuel her hardcore fans for years to come. No matter your opinion on her, Gaga’s work is always worth keeping up with, either for the artistry or the insanity, and it doesn’t get much more insane or artistic than Born This Way.

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Ramona- Mornington Crescent Now Open

"Apple Don't Have Their Own Band, But If They Did..."

“Mornington Crescent Now Open” is the wonderfully named debut EP from the self-proclaimed “band that never meant to be a band” Ramona. These Canadian pop-rockers started off as a way for guitarist/engineer/producer Dave Fritz of Junior Achiever to release some steam on some solo work, and then gradually picked up other members to fill out the line-up.

It’s important to remember the work of Junior Achiever when approaching Ramona, or possibly not, depending on your outlook on things. The strong influence that Mr. Fritz has had on the sound of both of these groups is undeniable, and the similarities are strong. However, this isn’t a reason to disregard Ramona as just being Junior Achiever songs by a different group, or for Junior Achiever fans to think they know everything they need to about this new group. Anyway, even though I hate to say this, the general listening public won’t have heard of the band that came before, so for most of you, this comparison should not worry you too much.

Ramona is bubblegum pop-rock for grown-ups. Tight vocal harmonies with background “oohs” abound, very occasional profanities thrown in reminding you that bubblegum has a tendency to pop back in your face. Fuzzy guitars, solid drums, floaty synth and high-gain bass round out the highly polished sound of Ramona. It’s not often I mention the production values, but it’s certainly worth mentioning here. Independent bands can often lag behind quite significantly in this regard, but Ramona avoid that problem with a sound that is polished to a mirror shine. At times, this is actually a slight downside as it borders on sounding overproduced and manufactured, but generally they just about stop short of it going too far, and even when they do it gels fine with their overall bright and poppy tone.

If you are one of the people who did know Junior Achiever’s music, then the easiest way to describe Ramona is as a more mature take on it. “Mornington Crescent Now Open” is shiny, grown-up pop-rock. It’s what would happen if Keane tried to be Weezer, or if Coldplay stopped being pretentious and found their inner fun-loving punk. Overall, there really is nothing wrong with Ramona’s music, but yet again, nothing truly special, but how often does that roll around anyway? It’s a solid little release, with a lot of promise. I had fun with it, even if I couldn’t stop thinking of the Radio 4 show “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” after reading the title.

7/10

Standout Track:

Hanging On The Words

Lostprophets- The Betrayed

"How Long Can YOU Stare Moodily Into The Middle Distance?"

Looking back at other reviewers takes on Lostprophets earlier albums; one word comes up repeatedly that actually seems a little bit out of place. The thing is, reviewers keep describing them as metal. I don’t know if their singles have been giving me the wrong impression about them, but metal is one word I would never use to describe Lostprophets. Well, not until their fourth release, “The Betrayed.”

Before I get onto the metal content of this album, let me quickly just judge a book by its cover, or rather an album by the same. “The Betrayed” has one of the most pretentious album covers I’ve seen in a long time. The front cover is not too bad, the album title and artist are in the centre, backed by dark bird wings on a black background, it’s maybe trying a little too hard to be edgily epic, but it doesn’t come across as too bigheaded. No, the big problem lies with the back cover of the album. It uses the layout of a movie poster, with the band members in the centre looking moodily into the camera. The album title sits in front of them, and beneath this the track names are disguised as movie credits. It just makes the band seem really bigheaded, which casts a bad light on the album in terms of first impressions. This is a pity, as “The Betrayed” is a legitimately darker album.

Ok, so metal then. I would certainly say that at the very least, this album starts off sounding like metal. It actually gradually softens up over the course of the album, but manages to retain a darker feel than much of the rest of their material. Even if there is a gradual softening, the songs “If It Wasn’t For Hate We’d Be Dead By Now”, “Dstryr and Dstryr”, “Next Stop Atro-City”, and the lead single “It’s Not The End Of The World But I Can See It From Here” all sound either mostly or totally like honest to goodness metal, making almost half the album full of darkness and distortion. Many of the rest of tracks hark back to their softer hits, but without going quite as poppy as songs such as “Last Summer” or “Last Train Home”. There are even a few little Ska influences in a couple of the tracks, and moments that bring to mind other British Indie bands like Futureheads and Fratellis, albeit with that “dark” vibe that Lostprophets have overarching the entire album. Even if musically, a song sounds like it should be jolly fun, the lyrics turn this the happiness into melancholy. If the lyrics aren’t quite doing it, there are some little industrial flourishes in the background of some songs just to add to that sense of unease and darkness.

Despite not having any songs that stick in the head quite as well as their earlier singles, and being stuck inside a very pretentious cover, “The Betrayed” is a thoroughly enjoyable turn from Lostprophets. They were trying to go darker, and they delivered, at least for the first half of the album.

7.5/10

Standout Tracks:

It’s Not Of The World But I Can See It From Here

Next Stop Atro-City

Streets Of Nowhere

Lady Gaga- The Fame Monster

"Does this even need a witty caption?"

Lady Gaga is a confusing artist. I’ll say this right now; her songs are cringe-worthy, and incredibly pretentious at times. However, she creeps up on you, and before you know it you are singing along to every chorus, and trying to join in on the absurd dance moves in her videos. Lady Gaga is the both the worst of pop, and the best of it all at once, and I don’t know if I’ll ever wrap my head around her fully. If her first album wasn’t confusing enough, this special edition bonus tracks-cum-EP-cum-new album that she calls ‘The Fame Monster’ just adds to the Gaga enigma.

Just let me take on the Lady as a whole, first off. She’s incredibly odd, in terms of look, costume, public persona, music, and especially her music videos. By rights, she should have gone the way of Bjork in the public perception, a one hit wonder that drops out of the mainstream but still has hardcore fans who can accept her strange aesthetic and unique musical style. Lady Gaga, on the other hand, endures. I think this is because she isn’t unique. Whether this is pure lack of creativity, or as I like to see her, a big postmodernist comment on the world of pop and celebrity, is still up for debate. What Gaga does well is take on the wide range of what we call pop, smash it all together through massive layers of production and create something decidedly weird, but catchy as hell and so bombastically unoriginal that it comes full circle and feels fresh and new.

I hate to go track by track, but I’m going to party have to for ‘The Fame Monster’ as it is not really a coherent album. Oh sure, it’s being sold as that now, but it was originally planned as a bonus disc for her debut release ‘The Fame’, filled with tracks that were either new or left off that release, depending on which articles you read. The only thing that seems to pull the album together is the repetition of the words “free bitch” in a few of the songs. The reason for highlighting certain tracks will just give you an idea of what to expect, and an idea of how eclectic an album ‘The Fame Monster’ is:

Bad Romance is the closest to what I’ve come to expect of Gaga thus far, with a similar sound to previous songs like Paparazzi, though with a vocal hook that reminds me of Boney M’s Rasputin, and a verse in French for no other reason than it’s a Lady Gaga song. Alejandro opens with a spoken intro in a bad, pan-European accent, and carries on in that vein, sounding like Shakira taken to the Europop extreme. Monster is booming R&B and features the line “he ate my heart and then he ate my brain.” ‘nuff said. Speechless would sound like Abbey Road/Let It Be era Beatles mixed with Christina Aguilera, if it weren’t for the strange accent Lady Gaga puts on to sing it. Try to imagine a country drawl mixed with Dick Van Dyke quality cockney and you’ll be about half way there. Dance In The Dark sounds a little like a darker version of her earlier song ‘Just Dance’, funnily enough. Telephone (feat. Beyonce) opens with a harp, and then breaks out into a thumping club track. If you like random vocal effects and hearing Beyonce for a verse, then you’ll probably enjoy it, there’s not much else to it really. So Happy I Could Die is what Rhianna would sound like if she’d been around in the 90s, pop R&B scene. Finally we have Teeth, which to my ears is the love child of Fanz Ferdinand’s ‘Ulysses’ and everything Scissor Sisters ever released. Though sadly, unlike those bands, Lady Gaga’s tongue is nowhere near her cheek in this one.

So where does that leave us? The Fame Monster is an eclectic mix of songs, which while possibly enjoyable on their own, don’t totally work together. Actually even on their own, just as you start to get into a song something, be it the lyrics, or an odd sound effect Gaga decided to add, will make you cringe. The subject matter is a little more mainstream than her main her first album, with each track seeming more about relationships than celebrity. Here’s the rub. Nothing I or any other reviewer says about this album will matter. This album will sell. It will pump out single after single, and Lady Gaga will make video after absurd video to promote it. I still can’t work out whether Lady Gaga is a genius or just very lucky to hit on some untouched artery of the market, but it doesn’t really matter. She’s cemented in pop culture now, and this album is doing nothing to endanger that.

5/10

Standout Tracks:

Bad Romance

Speechless

Telephone (feat. Beyonce)