Rating: 7.5 // 10
Genres: Dancepop, Discopop
Released: 29/05/20, Interscope
Lady Gaga returns to familiar disco and dancepop sounds, and whilst one of the main contenders for the crown of pop easily producers some bangers, the album does segue into formulaic moments.
Lady Gaga has traversed multiple genres throughout the years, pushing boundaries with Art-Pop sounds, gone swinging with Tony Bennett, and even leaned towards indie, folk and rock on both Joanna and the A Star Is Born soundtrack.
On Chromatica, Gaga returns to a sound she has consistently used since Born This Way, with proper disco and club bangers.
However, at times the songs give-away to some heavy house and EDM vibes – repeatedly.
But luckily the start of the album is relatively untouched by that tendency.
The three orchestral interludes (labelled Chromatica I, II, and III respectively) highlight how serious Gaga takes this project, adding her usual dramatic flair to a relatively light-hearted set of tracks – sonically.
I do really appreciate how each interlude fades into the next track, and the first proper track, Alice, rearranges aspects of the piece with synths at the start.
This album chucks us straight into it, both lyrically and instrumentally. Straight away we have the mission statement from Gaga, of finding wonderland.
I really enjoy the subtle and not so subtle usages of voice manipulation over what is a very 90’s disco beat.
Again, the inventive usage of voice manipulation and sampling on Stupid Love makes it a favourite of mine. Whilst I wouldn’t call it derivative of Gaga’s earlier body of work, it extremely reminds me of the single Born This Way, thanks to the synth patch throughout.
However, the song clearly diverges thanks to that aforementioned sampling, and other quirky sound effects sprinkled throughout.
Rain On Me is exactly what you would associate with a Gaga single – flawless pop, with hallmarks including Gaga’s semi-spoken word delivery. The drop on this does not veer towards a house vibe, thank god, and Ariana Grande works very well on this song.
Free Woman continues the trend of much more serious lyrics and themes over contrasting, upbeat tracks. In fact, the track comes from the trauma Gaga suffered after being sexually assaulted by a producer.
Unfortunately, this is the first introduction of a house-style drop, but as it is the first case on the album, and it definitely fits into the feel of the track, I slightly overlook it.
Fun Tonight is the first track to move away from that cohesive club pop, with an airier, more spaced out beginning. The closest to a proper ballad on the tracklist, even the beat that slowly builds up to a drop is curtailed by a subtle change. Definitely more measured, everything feels deliberately placed.
Despite being broken up by another interlude, I feel that Fun Tonight and 911 are heavily related. Fun Tonight focuses on the impact of depression, and the irony of Gaga, who can’t experience the happiness her music generates, writing upbeat tracks. 911 is the cure – the antipsychotics that Gaga currently takes.
911 is the most conceptual track, with heavy use of voice manipulation and autotune to give that impersonal, robotic quality to Gaga’s voice which is somehow still really catchy.
“My biggest enemy is me, pop a 911
My biggest enemy is me, pop a 911
My biggest enemy is me ever since day one
These lyrics are quite simply dark, especially in comparison to the track, which has a very 90’s disco vibe to it.
Another conceptual track is the next one, Plastic Doll. It describes that despite her attempts at non-conformity, Gaga does tick some boxes of the archetypal popstar. Personally, I find the opening a bit generic, and the track as a whole sort of drags on.
Sour Candy, in contrast, is a far stronger song. Whilst I find the house-inspired drops on some tracks boring and generic, by totally leaning into that EDM sound, with the help of South Korean act BLACKPINK.
Whilst BLACKPINK bring the more EDM feel, and Gaga’s delivery over more electropop sounding parts, as a whole it is very fluent and is a nice change from the pure disco we have mainly heard so far.
Steering more towards modern pop trends comes Enigma, which really marks the start of the EDM/House influenced beat drops. Again the song has redeeming aspects – the bongos and saxophones add something new to the album as a whole, and I think Gaga’s vocals are brilliant.
It’s just that over reliance on a house-formula that quickly becomes stale.
One of my favourite tracks of the project, unfortunately Reply falls into the same trap. I enjoy the restricted delivery at the start, and whilst you can tell the drop is coming, the build up to it, and the actual drop, is a nice payoff and is really satisfying.
After another interlude, pop legend Elton John helps gaga with the slow-burner Sine From Above. I find this track to be the most atmospheric on the album, but there are some questionable moments.
For example, we’re subject to another predictable bass drop, and at times Elton John’s vocals are layered with some manipulation which is subtle, yet jarring when you properly hear it. One of those when after you’ve noticed it, you don’t stop.
1000 Doves yet again gives us another forgettable drop, and the rest of the track is also fairly mediocre.
The closer, Babylon is a large departure from the rest of this portion, and I enjoy the glitchy start to the track. The saxophones return, and it features some classic Gaga delivery. It feels very Born This Way era, thanks to its lyrics and sound. Overall, it is a strong end to the album.
This project is good. It has its moments, but some times it overindulges on the same tired tropes of modern music. It takes the fun aspects of nostalgic eras of disco – such as the 90’s and 00’s – and interjects them with the commercial features of modern pop, sometimes to the detriment of tracks.
Overall, a must-listen for popheads.
- Chromatica I (B)
- Alice (B+)
- Stupid Love (A)
- Rain On Me (A-)
- Free Woman (B+)
- Fun Tonight (B+)
- Chromatica II (B-)
- 911 (A-)
- Plastic Doll (C+)
- Sour Candy (B+)
- Enigma (B-)
- Replay (B+)
- Chromatica III (B-)
- Sine From Above (B-)
- 1000 Doves (C+)
- Babylon (B+)