Despite Its Solid Pop Dance Songs, ‘Chromatica’ Can’t Reach Its Full Potential in the Coronavirus Era
Like every other gay man on the planet, I’ve been wishing for the new Lady Gaga record to get back to her synthetic, club happy roots. After the Tony Bennett duets, the Americana foray, the acting and the award nominations and the fucking Oscar, it’s finally arrived, the sixth magnum opus from one Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Chromatica.
Gaga, in keeping with her brand of inclusiveness, describes Chromatica as a world “that celebrates all things,” she has said. “No one thing is greater than the other.” Well, actually, one thing is greater than all in this utopian ideal of a world: dance music.
There are strains of beats and rhythms and bass lines and production techniques from sub-genres and sub-sub-genres of EDM culture, disco, house, funk, indie pop and more. Gaga’s pop instincts are impeccable, so no matter what type of sound or vibe she’s going for in this record, she achieves it effortlessly. And as if we need reminding, song by song she cements her status of the best pop singer on the planet.
“Stupid Love” is unabashed dance pop, replete with soul shout processed to sound like a sax that’s sure to become a post-pandemic gay bar rallying cry. The slinky funk of closer “Babylon” morphs into the best house hook this side of “Vogue.” Even “Free Woman,” written as a response to sexual assault, bounces along on a punctuated piano hook meant to punch up its aspirational lyrics.
“I was sexually assaulted by a music producer,” Gaga has said. “It’s compounded by all of my feelings about life, feelings about the world, feelings about the industry, what I had to compromise and go through to get to where I am. And I had to put it there. And when I was finally able to celebrate it, I said, ‘You know what? I’m not nothing without a steady hand. I’m not nothing unless I know I can. I’m still something if I don’t got a man. I’m a free woman.’”
Chromatica is a celebratory embarrassment of riches, an album that Gaga would have had no way of knowing we would desperately need in our world right now, so why can’t I make the jump from acknowledging its bounty to actively loving it?
Song by song, there’s something to recommend it. (I’m not counting the instrumentals that split the playing time into three sections.) It’s a more solid collection than Artpop or Joanne, and it’s as aggressively catchy as the debut, all three of which I prefer. And I have no doubt that her fans, and the gay community especially, will embrace it in the spirit that it’s given to us.
And yet I find myself admitting that I’ve heard iterations of nearly all of this before — in Gaga’s own repertoire and in the music of others (and, no, internet trolls, I’m not talking about the use of the same sample Katy Perry used for “Swish Swish” on Gaga’s expert “Sour Candy (featuring Blackpink)” — nobody gives a shit, so shut it down). The electro ballad drums ‘n’ bass rave up “Sine from Above (featuring Elton John)” is a failed experiment. And the instrumental interludes are rejects from Star Wars soundtracks.
The midsection of Chromatica, though, is spectacular — the run of songs from “911” to “Replay” but especially the robot funk of “911,” the electropop synths of “Plastic Doll” and the aforementioned “Sour Candy.” These are fun and sassy and fresh, and I would include the melancholy honesty of the musical upper that is “Fun Tonight”.
There, I’ve said it.
I know how protective we collectively are around our people, our icons. I love Gaga, make no mistake about that. I will gladly listen to Chromatica when it streams from a car passing by or when a track happens on the radio. These are good, solid pop dance songs. The similarities are wearing, true, and it’s a shame that it will be a long time into the future until we can hear every single one of these tunes in the venue they were lovingly made for: the club. In fact, here’s where I amend everything I’ve said above and reserve the right to completely change my mind once we can hear these tracks or their inevitable remixes in a bottom-heavy, deafening and seriously sweaty gay bar.
This new Lady Gaga album Chromatica requires human interaction to reach its full potential. Until then, it’s a raging party that has to wade through an age of isolation to find its true crowd. But it’s there in the distance, like a rainbow or a glittering utopia.