We can all agree, Lady Gaga’s current image (whether or not it is genuine) is her most earthly incarnation. Known for being a pop diva whose music was carried by the attitude and the aesthetic rather than the content, on Joanne Gaga sings about her relationship with pop music itself, her mistrust of a genre that is becoming increasingly hollow.
Purely autobiographical opener ‘Diamond Heart’ showcases Gaga’s superlative vocal range, and also pretty sweetly summarises all that is wrong with Joanne. You can hear in the production that Mark Ronson was not entirely sure what kind of record he wanted to make with Gaga, and so takes a “why not?” attitude to genre bending in the hopes of creating a new subversive sound, but ends up just playing into the roots idiom that numerous other mainstream artists have embraced this year. The mixing on this track and the rest of the record has serious issues: why bother getting Joshua Homme to play biting guitar lines on your record only to reduce it to an insignificant background in the final mastering of the track? What exactly did Kevin Parker do on ‘Perfect Illusion’? We’ll never know.
Beck has a writing credit on ‘Dancin’ in Circles’ – an on-trend song about masturbation that has it’s content so unsubtly explored by lyrical “symbolism” that it comes off as pretty obnoxious. Go and listen to ‘Million Reasons’ again and feel frustrated, again, that those beautiful instrumental embellishments are layered under some other uninteresting synths. It’s not as though the tracklist lacks instrumental flavour, but rather frustratingly put the organic instrumentation in the background in favour of plastic sounds.
On ‘A-Yo’, Gaga’s spin-off brand of ‘Shake It Off’ we get hand clap percussion courtesy of Este Haim. Sure, the track coagulates joy, but you can’t help but wish that Gaga would sing about the glass ceiling, rather than “mirrors on ceilings”. The title track has some of the strongest songwriting on this LP, but Gaga’s voice is not conducive to the “weary” aesthetic that Ronson is trying to elucidate on this track. Gaga’s intention of an earth-bound aesthetic is undermined in the execution.