In many ways, Lady Gaga has always been a performance artist posing as a pop act these last few years. On her newest studio effort, “Artpop,” out Nov. 11, she concentrates more on the art, than the pop, and the album is worse for it.

The majority of “Artpop” is a meditation on fame, culture, fashion, sex, drugs, music and pop art (hence the Jeff Koons cover). That high-flying intersection may be where Lady Gaga lives now, but it’s feels like the end of lonely street. Largely cold and soulless (at least until the final few songs)—whether from the clinical, loud, electronic production or from Lady Gaga’s often mannered delivery and stilted lyrics —”Artpop” is for her the Little Monsters who loudly embrace their outside status buffeted by the shelter of Momma Monster’s umbrella.  In some ways, Lady Gaga can be applauded for making an album that in no way aims for radio acceptance (though first single, “Applause” found it), but it’s going to be a hard sell to her mainstream fans.

Even when she’s poking fun at herself, as she does on “Mary Jane Holland”: “I know at the moment they think I’m a mess/but its alright because I’m rich as piss,” she sings, there’s a part that rings true. She used to be one of us, but now she is one of them, even if she wants to joke that she’s not. And don’t get me started on the pretension of having an album title in all caps.

Some of Lady Gaga’s biggest hits, like “Bad Romance,” or “Paparazzi” have featured different patches of songs stitched together, bonded by her mannered vocals. Along the beats or weird synths, there was usually a melodic chorus that glued the whole song together. That happens far less often here and the result is an collection of songs that sounds intentionally cacophonous and chaotic. She may be saying exactly what she wants to about the state of pop culture, but that doesn’t mean we’ll want to listen.

Working with a phalanx of producers here, from DJ White Shadow to Zedd, David Guetta, will.i.am, RedOne, Madeon and even Rick Rubin, what Lady Gaga could have really used here was a great editor to craft her ambition a little more tightly.

Track-by-track review of “Artpop”:


Aura: The opening salvo, also heard in “Machete Kills” is a campy, fun invitation to go on this trip with Lady Gaga and see her naked underneath the covers.  The shape-shifting song opens with a sultry voice over by Gaga that recalls Shirley Bassey before switching to a kitschy, synth-laden, stuttering vocal portion. Eventually it moves into a catchy sung portion, where she questions if you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura. Rinse and repeat. Final word: Artpop. Welcome to the album.  GRADE: B

Venus:  Go on an interplanetary journey with the goddess of love in this trippy, EDM number around the planets. Sample lyric: “Uranus, don’t you know my ass is famous?”  There’s a great disco tune in here centered around the “When you touch me I die...This could be love” chorus, but it gets buried in the space mission. Fun fact: “Venus” samples Zombie Zombie’s cover of Sun Ra’s “Rocket Number Nine.”  GRADE: B

G.U.Y.: From Venus, we go to Eros, Greek god of love. “Let me be the girl under you that makes you cry,” she sings in this dancey track that features a refrain redolent, but less catchy, than “Bad Romance. She’s still on her space travels, but this track feels far more weighed down by its clunkiness. GRADE: C

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