Lady Gaga is going back to her roots with her latest studio album 'Joanne'. She's no longer dressing up in extravagant and flamboyant outfits, instead stripping back the fame-obsessed persona she laid out for herself when she was ruling the pop music industry and garnering attention for much better reasons; one being her incomparable talent and vocal ability.
Now with her fifth record, Gaga's fascination seems to have moved to much more important topics than celebrity and popular culture, including the life of her aunt Joanne who died when Gaga was aged just 11. She reflects on that time in her titular track, remembering how she didn't feel ready to lose Joanne to Heaven, crooning: "Take my hand, stay Joanne / Heaven's not ready for you / Every part of my aching heart / Needs you more than the angels do".
Opening song 'Diamond Heart' also gets very dark, very quickly. Having opened up in the past about a rapist 20 years her senior taking her virginity, she here references that very sexual abuse, singing: "Some asshole broke me in / Wrecked all my innocence / I'll just keep go-go'n / And this dance is on you".
Perhaps the most poignant track however is 'Angel Down', which comes last in the standard edition of the album. Sang as an ode to slain black teenager Trayvon Martin she explores how "Shots were fired on the street / By the church where we used to meet / Angel down, angel down / But the people just stood around". Speaking to Zane Lowe as part of an interview on Beats 1 before the album release, she further explained: "I was overwhelmed by the fact that people just stood around and didn't do anything about it, and that the justice system continues to, over and over again, not seek justice for these families."
There are of course however the more upbeat and poppier tracks that continue to lean heavily on the mixed genres of country and rock.
'John Wayne' is a surprising gem, kicking off with a quiet monologue that ends with Gaga screeching 'FASTER?!' before detailing the story of two lovers having the time of their lives, despite the pair eventually being forced to break up. It's not the greatest love tale of our times and may even be referencing Gaga's own split with former fiancé Taylor Kinney, but it sure is a lot of fun and one of the tracks many listeners will be revisiting for months to come.
Collaborating with the likes of Beck, Florence Welch and Father John Misty on this album, Gaga had her work cut out for her to keep up with the big players in the music industry. Despite her huge history, it's fair to say that her last record 'ARTPOP' fell a little flat with all of those who weren't her diehard fans. Luckily she does exactly that and more.
This is Gaga's most personal LP to-date and for that, fans should be thankful. It may not have been what everybody was expecting or hoping for, but 'Joanne' is a lyrical masterpiece and a collection of songs that, for me, are Gaga's best work so far.
Lady Gaga's 'Joanne' is out now.
Tagged in Lady GaGa