Review Summary: A solid return to pop, but one that inevitably fails to overthrow her peers in the game.Chromatica
is like a fancy-looking bottle of non-vintage champagne that’s been forgotten about and left to sit in a stuffy room for a good number of years. Its ornate beauty is alluring, and it makes the discovery of this celebratory bubbly all the more auspicious when you realise you still have it; a sure-fire conversation piece for a party, as its ornamental qualities draw in the eyes of people walking past it. The moment arrives, however, when you go to crack open this glamourous drink only to discover that it has gone off
as you taste it, leaving you and your friends gravely disheartened by the outcome. For Lady Gaga the bottle represents a memento to her older styles of music – voguish, bombastic and stylish. It looks amazing, but for the taster, despite the impeccable presentation of the extravagant bottle, the content found within lacks fizz and tastes a bit out of date.
In short, Chromatica
is a perplexing proposition: on the one hand it will certainly appease fans of her dance-heavy roots; on the other, it’s a bump in the road for Gaga’s previously admirable creative incline. Indeed, in a really critical way, Chromatica
is a massive misstep for Lady Gaga – highlighted that much more when you contrast it with her well-executed and mature folk-pop opus, Joanne
. The songs presented here are certainly serviceable and competently composed bubble gum-pop tracks, and for that they’ll find success with a large portion of her fanbase, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that she’s trodden on this ground before, and to a much higher standard. The overt difference here is that Gaga’s customary style of writing is now coated in a superficial neo-‘80s, cyber-punk aesthetic – a look which, if observed cynically, is clearly attempting to capitalise on the perpetual obsession with ‘80s pop-culture. Thankfully, the prosaic thematic choice isn’t complete fluff, as it occasionally reveals its neo-retro-synth influences from time to time: the abrasive trills that lynch the verse and chug like a machine gun in “Stupid Love”, the pulsating groove in “911” which brings a cold and clinical feeling to the track, and the synthetic drum snaps in “Plastic Doll” – as well as the robotic spoken word passages that are dotted throughout the album – at least attempt to bring the concept being sold to us to life.
Of course, while these elements bring a level of rejuvenation to such familiar territory, there’s no denying she doesn’t go all the way with them, ultimately feeling like rudimentary afterthoughts – only appearing in bite-sized chunks in certain tracks – than being the main event ideas. As such, the flaunting of synth-wave is merely a distraction here. Chromatica
’s bulk-sound mainly resides in ‘80s pop and ‘90s house and electronics, complete with all the juicy crescendos and drops. This combination serves as a mixed bag though. The production and instrumentals are definitely the strongest aspects of this album, bringing a really authentic ‘90s feeling to songs like “Free Woman”, “Fun Tonight” and “Sour Candy”, but where the instrumentals succeed in drawing you in, the enamel-eroding-sugar-hooks and infectious melodies don’t always land the same way. The album’s production is flawless, there’s no denying just how effective and satisfying it is to hear the dense layers in “Enigma”, “Replay”, or “Sine From Above”, but the problems begin to surface when the inconsistent vocals enter the fray. “Sine From Above” is the biggest offender of this: it’s one of the most epic numbers on the tracklist, delivering a cathartic chorus and a really well-done drum and bass breakdown at the end of the song, but Gaga’s nuanced melodies just aren’t up to snuff. Couple that with Elton John’s godawful contributions and you have a track which once displayed real potential being completely stained by fundamental, asinine errors.
Altogether though, Chromatica
’s main flaw lies in its indecisiveness. Lady Gaga has a number of great ideas on this thing, but the problem is that she doesn’t know how to make them work with any pragmatic fluidity. There’s a lot of redeeming qualities to the tracks, but it’s a patchwork job more often than not – a result that will have you taking enjoyment from certain aspects of a song rather than enjoying the piece in its entirely. Adding insult to injury, the symphonic title-tracks fracture the cohesion further, feeling arbitrary and completely unnecessary, despite how great they sound. And that’s the biggest kicker here: everything is executed professionally, it all sounds great, and it’s obviously written by people who know what they’re doing, but the record lacks a consistent vision to make it all work synergistically. Like that fancy ol’ bottle of champagne, Chromatica
looks amazing on the outside but when push comes to shove, the content found within its posh exterior lacks the fizz required to make it completely pop. It’s not a bad record by any means, but going back to this electro-pop sound with such a hackneyed mindset has harboured a regression I didn’t want to see from Ms. Germanotta, especially after making such headway with Joanne
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