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Track-by-track reaction: Lady Gaga, 'ArtPop'

By Matt Pais

RedEye music editor

November 6, 2013

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I’m not a Lady Gaga fan. Let’s just put that on the record.

Lately, though, it doesn’t seem like many Little Monsters care much about the pop star’s new “ArtPop” either, if the album’s apparent lack of buzz is any indication. Maybe people have tired of the intense message-peddling that makes Gaga seem like a product rather than a sincere icon for self-esteem and community. Maybe even fans have finally agreed that the gimmicky nature of an artist who, say, plans to perform in space in 2015 is all a big ruse to distract from the weakness of the material.

Or maybe that’s just in my head. So let’s keep that going as I share what’s going through my head as I listen to Gaga’s new record. I give each track a chance, I promise.

“Aura”
Is this acoustic guitar supposed to be the soundtrack to her minor turn in “Machete Kills”? Did she say, “I killed my farmer?” Now it’s a pounding dance track; forget the acoustic guitar. “Do you want to see me naked, lover?” Why would your lover say no? “Do you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura?” What is that referring to? The heavy production reminds me of Justice. You can’t just write a chorus and call it a confession. This song is all over the place.

“Venus”
This sounds like being on another planet, which works. Here’s the terrible, weird singing. Intense drums are an improvement. “When you touch me I die just a little inside; I wonder if this could be love.” Probably not with the whole little death thing. I support the dance-y, percussive refrain of “Take me to your planet” but she’s not actually singing about anything. She mentions other planets; after Uranus she belts, “Don’t you know my ass is famous!” Yes, unfortunately I do.

“G.U.Y.”
An introduction mentions Greek gods and prepares to guide us through new and exciting positions. “I want to be the girl under you.” OK, that gets right to the point. “Love me love me please retweet.” You cannot be serious. Gaga does some gender reversal here but isn’t as empowering when singing, “I’m best when I’m in love, and I’m in love with you.” Fine, just don’t mention Twitter again.

“Sexxx Dreams”
This sounds like an intense trek down a dark hallway. It’s sexier than the last song. “I can’t help my mind from going there.” I know. “When I lay in bed I touch myself and think of you.” Ooh. This is the album’s first effective use of an ‘80s sound. Gaga’s delivery is breathy and features actual singing without pushing too hard. This is the best/only tolerable song so far. Can’t hear the second and third x in the title.

“Jewels ‘N Drugs (featuring T.I., Too Short, Twista)”
This sounds like any other song featuring gratuitous rap guests. High-pitched squeaks don’t help. “Don’t want your jewels, I want your drugs; don’t want your money want your love.” I think I see a pattern here. “I admit that my habit’s expensive, and you may find it quite offensive.” Brilliant rhyme. There’s too much going on here. Now Twista raps very quickly. How novel.

“MANiCURE”
Mentions of lipstick and curling hair make my attention wander. Clapping along is always fun though. I imagine this video taking place in a hair salon. “Touch me in the dark, put your hands all over my body parts.” More genius lyricism, clearly. This could work in a terrible musical. Can I really take nine more songs of this? The wicka-wicka guitar breakdown is good, the song might be OK if Gaga would get out of here.

“Do What U Want (featuring R. Kelly)”
In the background someone says, “Turn the mic up,” I think it was Lonely Island. Sounds like Gaga’s strutting. It’s effective. Her voice is forceful like it should be. I’ll take her Michael Jackson impression over the regular Gaga. R. Kelly’s verse is sexy, a good choice of guest. “Let’s slow it dooowwn.” Awww yeah. “You can’t have my heart and you won’t use my mind, but do what you want with my body.” Gaga embraces sexuality while submitting. Better.

“ARTPOP”
More space beeping. Where’s Beaker from the Muppets? I want to make beeping noises along with it. “My artpop could mean anything.” If you mean anything, you mean nothing. Squealing in the background creeps me out. Who decided that these sounds worked well together? Are there lasers in this room? Is someone sitting on a keyboard? Is Gaga running in place while singing?

“Swine”
Sweaty, bouncy, so far so good. Gaga wails deeply and successfully. I should get on a treadmill right now. Damn, the beat dropped out. I was just getting my burn on. She’s telling a guy he’s disgusting and calls him swine. Can we just get back to the running? I don’t like what she did with her voice just there; too nasal. Who wants to sing along with an artist singing “Swine”? When it’s just the throb, I like it. I could dance to this if I had to.

“Donatella”
“I am so fad. Check out, I’m blonde, I’m skinny, I’m rich and I’m a little bit of a bitch.” I fear for how many people will sing along with this. Now she’s singing about silk and taffeta. This song is not for me. What I think does not matter. She just said “tiara.” “Dolce vita.” Oh, come on. Pre-chorus: “What do you want to wear this spring?” In the chorus she shouts “Donatella!” How much did Gaga get paid for this? I am going to make a pop song about Target. She comment on models eating only salad, having gay friends. This cannot really be a song on an album by one of the biggest stars in the world. I bet it will be popular. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. Lucky her name is Donatella and not Madge or something. And the next song is “Fashion!”? Isn’t that what “Donatella” is about?

“Fashion!”
Great, piano. It’s a little late for a break. OK, it’s just an intro, back to the funky basslines. “Looking good and feeling fine.” This is music only for VH1 shows I don’t watch. Or Bravo. Yes, definitely Bravo. Blecch. “You’ve got company; make sure you feel your best.” This will be used in a getting-ready montage in a movie I don’t want to see. I’m tapping my foot a little, but I don’t want to.

“Mary Jane Holland”
The keys are pounding again. Gaga sings like she’s leaning backward and trying to sound like she’s in a haunted house. Enough of this. Music during chorus sounds like it’s coated in lard. Is she really singing about Mary Jane and Holland? How about something about the legalization issue in America? This is not edgy. She just said she’s “rich as piss.” OK, you are trying to be terrible. I’m onto you. I was onto you before. But now really.

“Dope”
A piano ballad is needed, a breather from wasted energy. She’s trying to add drama in delivery though, her voice is not good like this. “I know I [bleeped] up again ‘cause I lost my only friend.” Wow, that is bad. “God forgive my sins.” Yikes, that wail just made my face do something weird. Is there no one to tell her what does and doesn’t work? “I need you more than dope.” Well, that’s reassuring. This could be a Buckcherry song.

“Gypsy”
Gaga wonders about the fate of a relationship. “I don’t want to be alone forever, but I can be tonight.” Good, be strong. “I don’t want to be alone forever but I love gypsy life.” I’m sure actual gypsies will love being used for this. Squiggly keys. Makes me think of speed-walking, Gaga defiant, wagging a finger to say “no no no.” This will be used in a romantic comedy. She cheaply mentions Dorothy and ruby shoes. With piano, acoustic guitar and a sing-along-able chorus, this could be a hit. It’s ridiculous but better. Her voice still isn’t good. “I thought that I would be alone forever, but I won’t be tonight.” Wait, this is a monogamous love story. I thought she was challenging norms. You are not a gypsy, Gaga.

“Applause”
Thanks, I do deserve applause for making it this far. Here’s more of that haunted voice. “I live for the applause.” That’s quite a direct way of saying it. Why not write a song demanding, “Please remind me you still like me!” The beat is catchier. She could invite people to clap along. Is this meant to be taken literally? You shouldn’t do it for that reason and you don’t seem to be indicting that inclination, Gaga. It’s fine to say you do it for the fans, but saying you do it for applause just sounds like you do it for approval. If that’s true, I feel sorry for you. The beat is a hit. You are not.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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