Lady Gaga’s ‘Joanne’ features raw emotion, southern influences

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Lady Gaga, "Joanne"

Album cover courtesy Interscope Records

In the midst of her three-stop Dive Bar Tour promoting “Joanne,” her fifth studio album, Lady Gaga’s back in the spotlight and set to perform at the Super Bowl early next year.

“Joanne,” named in memory of Gaga’s late aunt, is a side of Gaga fans have never seen. She’s servin’ up Southern charm and cowboy grit paired with bitter love songs and crooning vocals.

The album mixes her love of pop music with country, R&B and classic-rock influences. The deluxe version features 14 tracks, the final of which is the work tape of a previous song on the album, “Angel Down.”

“Diamond Heart”: “Joanne” starts off strong with “Diamond Heart,” a bluesy tune that calls back to Gaga’s younger days as a go-go dancer in New York City. That is, back when she was just Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (say that five times fast). The track is thick with melancholy and angst, an interesting choice, as she usually grabs the listener in with in-your-face party tunes for openers. It’s also noteworthy that her engagement ring, from her recently ended engagement to Taylor Kinney, was literally a heart-shaped diamond.

“Good thing I know what I’m worth / Want a good thing, put the money down first”

“A-YO”: Here’s that fast-paced, heart-pounding anthem track Gaga usually opens with. Despite the party vibe of the song, the lyrics call on Southern charm, giving the song an endearing quality.

“’Cause I got it covered, city gravy southern / Got you drippin’ like no other”

“Joanne”: A quick turn in pace from “A-YO,” “Joanne” is a touching homage to Gaga’s late aunt, who died before she was born. Gaga describes her grief, but celebrates her life with a joyful tone. Despite the track’s loving message, “Joanne” falls a bit flat. The song feels a verse and chorus repetition too short, and the emotional pull is grabbed at hastily rather than gradually built up.

“Every part / Of my aching heart / Needs you more / Than the angels do”

“John Wayne”: Delving deeper into her newfound Southern aesthetic, Gaga laments her unfortunate love for the classic “bad boy.” Coming off a broken engagement, it’s no wonder Gaga’s feeling bitter in the love department right now.

“Blue collar and a red-state treasure / Love junkie on a three-day bender”

“Dancin’ in Circles”: Calling upon the bouncing island rhythm of “Alejandro,” “Dancin’ in Circles” is unabashedly a self-love anthem – yes, in the dirty way. Longtime fans won’t be surprised Gaga’s not shy when it comes to talking about goin’ solo, something she mentions in “So Happy I Could Die” off “The Fame Monster.” Despite the topic, the song is perfect for blasting while lying on the beach in the summer.

“Tap down those boots while I beat around / Funk me downtown”

“Perfect Illusion”: The first single of the album, “Perfect Illusion” is a foot-stomping, teeth-gritting dance-floor anthem. Yet, clocking in at just three minutes, Gaga again fails to develop a gradual build. She jumps right into the quick pace that grinds throughout the track, leaving us feeling as if the song’s missing a bit of development.

“High like amphetamine / Maybe you’re just a dream”

“Million Reasons”: One of the three songs she performed before the official release of “Joanne,” “Million Reasons” is Gaga’s quintessential somber love ballad that sneaks its way into every major release with “Brown Eyes,” “Speechless,” “You and I” and “Dope,” respectively. Like always, grab some tissues and make sure your mascara is waterproof. This is that classic song for any person who’s gone through heartbreak.

“And if you say something that you might even mean / It’s hard to even fathom which parts I should believe”

“Sinner’s Prayer”: Gaga surely listened to some Johnny Cash before she wrote this song, and it pays off. With the leathered-up, pensive mood of a cowboy sitting in a saloon, Gaga doesn’t disappoint with “Sinner’s Prayer.” Fans might wish the tempo was slower in this tune and feel the key change toward the end of the track is a bit forced.

“I can carry you, but not your ghosts / Wish I had the faith, but I don’t know”

“Come to Mama”: Wondering what John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks” would sound like if stuffed into a blender together? Listen to “Come to Mama.” The song’s got a good message, but there’s not much about it that doesn’t sound like every other upbeat pop track with a choir in the background. Bonus points for the impressive vocals near the end of the song.

“So why do we gotta tell each other how to live? / The only prisons that exist are ones we put each other in”

“Hey Girl”: Featuring Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, “Hey Girl” is a surprisingly seamless blend of two sharply different voices. Perhaps one of Gaga’s first forays into R&B, it veers far from what we’d normally expect from Mother Monster, and it’s a pleasant daydream of a surprise.

“And we dance down the bowery / Held hands like we were 17 again”

“Angel Down”: A beautiful ode to Trayvon Martin, “Angel Down” shows the activist side of Gaga seldom shown in her music. Fans will know she’s run her own charity foundation for years, but it’s one of the first times Gaga takes a stance on a political issue in her music. The dark, yet whimsical instrumentation is similar to Lana del Rey’s “Video Games,” but has its own voice and message.

“Angel down, angel down / But the people just stood around”

“Grigio Girls”: With “Grigio Girls,” Gaga’s girl-squad anthem gives listeners feel-good vibes a la Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.” Unfortunately, the song quickly becomes your standard song about young girls getting together and drinking to cope with modern life, the sonic equivalent of the movie “How to Be Single.”

“And then we’ll have our sixth / Spice girl in this bitch”

“Just Another Day”: “Just Another Day,” heavily influenced by The Beatles’ more poppy, upbeat tracks, sounds like a song you’d play during the credits after a romantic comedy. It’s designed to be simple and get stuck in your head, and that’s all it really does.

“We both know I could learn a thing or two / About behaving, but I love you”

“Joanne” is an unexpectedly emotional fifth studio album by Lady Gaga, and there are tracks that will appeal to both fans of Gaga’s poppy, upbeat work in “The Fame” and her darker, more pensive work in “Born This Way.” The first half of the album is stronger than the second, and the album definitely could have been strengthened by trimming a couple of tracks. However, the album doesn’t lack in flavor. “Joanne” is currently on sale in stores and online.

Essential Tracks: “Diamond Heart,” “John Wayne,” “Million Reasons”

Rating: 3.5/5

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