News Column

CD review: Lady Gaga, 'Artpop'

November 13, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 13--On its face, Lady Gaga's Artpop is laughably absurd.

Trying to consider lyrics like "You're just a pig inside a human body" or "Don't you know my a-- is famous?" inspires fits of giggles -- this is the future of pop music?

But, even as it invites scorn for its assiduously wacky worldview, dismissing these 15 songs as mere shark-jumping sidesteps the creator's stated intentions.

Art, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder -- for every disbelieving scoff at Andy Warhol's soup cans, there is likely someone equally unmoved by, say, Grant Wood's American Gothic.

The problem with Artpop isn't that these songs, produced by Gaga, Zedd, Rick Rubin and several others, are too high-minded but rather that they are simply dumb.

For all of her high-concept red carpet appearances and an app being released in conjunction with this record that helps users "build an aura," Gaga's painfully bad, literal lyrics -- "If only fame had an IV" -- sabotage whatever loftier aims the singer-songwriter had in mind.

Time and again, Artpop fumbles every opportunity to be ahead of the curve, celebrating sex, drugs and fashion as though it's all revelatory source material.

The highlights are woefully limited -- R. Kelly saves Gaga from a total misfire on the muscular Do What U Want; Gypsy has some sweetness buried amid the cliches -- and most surprisingly, the sound of the album feels dated.

Lady Gaga was ahead of the pack when her electronic dance music-spiced debut, The Fame, arrived just five short years ago.

Now, every other pop song is rife with synths, skull-rattling bass and digital manipulation -- Artpop struggles to stand out precisely because it blends in so well.

Some defenders consider Artpop to be Lady Gaga's own Erotica (an argument which, amusingly, simultaneously undercuts the cries of "She's not ripping off Madonna!" and bolsters the idea that Gaga has been, all along, more or less creatively bankrupt), which can be glimpsed in the blunt G.U.Y., Sexxx Dreams and Do What U Want.

But even Lady Gaga's arch lustiness feels passe.

However it's considered -- as a fumbled transitional work; an artistic statement gone awry; or merely an utterly atrocious pop album -- Lady Gaga mostly appears to be unsure of what it is she wants to say. (Literally: "My artpop could mean anything," she sings on the title track.) Having been sidelined with a hip injury and forced to abruptly cancel the remainder of her Born This Way tour this year, there was the hope that the unexpected downtime would help Lady Gaga focus.

Instead, she has parted ways with her manager, Troy Carter, over "creative differences." Perhaps he was pushing back, and Gaga declined to hear it? If Lady Gaga has decided to go it alone, Artpop may not be rock bottom.

Recycling familiar topics doesn't feel boundary-breaking, no matter how it's sold. Artpop feels like a superstar in need of a break, a record label in need of sure-fire sales, and a performer in need of some time to mull which direction is next.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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