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Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ is an occasionally brilliant mess

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We challenge record store clerks to put Born This Way into a genre. Spooky atmospherics, Latin flavors, cheesy saxophone solos and foreign lyrics all are thrown into the pop stew.
Photo: Frank Micelotta / PictureGroup

For nearly a year, Lady Gaga has been including a lovely, stripped-down version of “Yoü and I,” a song from her new album Born This Way, in her concerts. That showcase of her musical talent and songwriting craftsmanship is pretty much obliterated by the studio version of the song, which swaps simple instrumentation and heartfelt singing for nauseating overproduction, courtesy of arena-rock wizard Mutt Lange. Lange suffocates the song with tinny, over-processed guitars, saccharine harmony vocals and booming drums. It sounds like the unholy union of the worst elements of Shania Twain and Def Leppard, two of Lange’s biggest success stories.

The Details

Lady Gaga
Born This Way
two and a half stars

Nothing else on Born This Way is nearly as dreadful as “Yoü and I,” but it offers a handy microcosm for the album as a whole: Saddled with the reputation that her image is far more exciting than her music, Gaga seems to have decided to pummel her detractors into submission. In some cases, that results in ecstatic, all-consuming dancefloor anthems with stellar pop hooks; the title track may be an “Express Yourself” rip-off, but it’s the best damn “Express Yourself” rip-off anyone’s ever recorded. “Marry the Night,” “Hair,” “Bad Kids” and “The Edge of Glory” are similarly terrific, making great use of the overwhelming production and Gaga’s ability to turn self-help clichés into cries of individual empowerment.

But too many of the other songs lurch from piece to piece without any real connective tissue, throwing in spooky atmospherics, Latin flavors and cheesy saxophone solos—sometimes in the same song. Gaga uses her own name in the lyrics of at least three songs, sings in Italian, German and French and references having sex with JFK, yet all of the effort still results in too much dance-pop blandness. There’s nothing as refreshing as the disco-cabaret swagger of “Teeth,” from 2009’s The Fame Monster, or any of the creatively outrageous outfits that Gaga sports on a regular basis. Born This Way piles on everything, but far too often it’s piling that everything on top of nothing.

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