Lady Gaga, “ARTPOP” (Streamline/Interscope) (TWO STARS out of FOUR)
The promise of a title like “ARTPOP” implies a new chapter for Lady Gaga, from the dance-heavy, electro-pop of her early albums to a more guerilla sensibility that pushes creative boundaries, explores mind-blowing new sounds, reinvents a new aesthetic, or pushes lyrical themes. It would seem like she was heading down the path paved by Brian Eno, Kate Bush, David Bowie and other early art-pop provocateurs, especially since the style of her album title is “ARTPOP.”
It would seem like that. Like so much in a career relying on artifice, the title of Stefani Germanotta’s fourth album is an exotic mask designed to lure you in, but ultimately revealing a hollow reality. Despite the title, the Jeff Koons cover, and the promises suggested in her interviews, this is by-the-numbers collection of artless and conventional dance songs that are indistinguishable, not only from one another, but also from most anything else you hear walking into a Halsted Street meat market.
The ambition here is low: A few ending songs depart from the hour of inseparable club fare. The problems are hooks: There are very few. Aside from “G.U.Y.” — that’s “girl under you,” people — the breakneck electronics are, at first blush, dazzling, but as the album settles in, they mash together. The hint of a Middle Eastern groove in “Aura” is a tease.
Instead, this album very safely follows conventions. The requisite crash collision of rappers (T.I., Too $hort and Chicago’s Twista elbow Gaga out of her own song on “Jewels ‘N Drugs”), requisite duet with R. Kelly (he sings, hilariously, “you’re the Marilyn, I’m the president”), and many songs promoting Gaga’s carnal hunger, except lyrics like “touch me, touch me, don’t be sweet/love me, love me, please retweet,” that may only be sexy to the guy at the Verizon store.
On “Sexx Dreams,” Gaga sings from the perspective of a robot. Duly noted since, for a singer whose impressive chops are heard on big hits like “The Edge of Glory,” her vocal talent is wasted here. This is a producer’s, not a singer’s album. Maybe she’ll show up in that next album with Tony Bennett.