We’ve known for a while now that anyone expecting Lady Gaga to recreate her pop magic would be left somewhat disappointed. Joanne is about as far from left field as one could expect from Gaga, though considering the hints she’s been dropping, it’s no surprise that she wandered towards folk and rock territory instead. Her fame-ridden lyrics have taken a back seat for her own homebound life; family, friends and life in general are what she focuses on instead, and while it’s not the most exciting she’s ever put out, it’s a bold new direction that works amazingly well for her.
Despite mostly being a rock album, it’s still got signs of Gaga’s pop experience all over it, and the mixture of her talents with Mark Ronson, Kevin Parker and her other varied collaborators works well. A-YO may be focused on its guitar and percussion, but its hand clap beat and Gaga’s own hook writing give it a vibe very similar to MANiCURE—a fate John Wayne also faces, as it feels very reminiscent to Mary Jane Holland despite its stronger rock sound—acting as a beacon of familiarity on the album, while Dancin’ in Circles—a very on-trend dancehall inspired masturbation anthem—is about as pop as the album gets, leaving a lot to be desired considering Beck’s involvement in the song, but standing out as a solid single choice and something for The Fame fans to cling to. Even her collaboration with folk pop goddess Florence Welch slips into this category, with retro synths and a slow, almost sensual beat leaning towards the indie synthpop crooners of the modern age rather than the older inspirations of the album.
The slow songs are where Gaga’s newfound vulnerability get a chance to really show off, and while they tend to be somewhat spotty in terms of lyricism on various occasions, Gaga takes well to them in other respects. The light folk sound of Joanne and the country twang of Million Reasons are the most stripped down we’ve seen her go on a major album so far, but it’s a move that suits her vocals perfectly. The more upbeat Grigio Girls shows that she isn’t afraid to mix these two sides, showing strong hooks that the other simpler songs tend to lack, and singing of a theme of friendship most people could relate to. While we can’t be sure that Joanne is a sign of Gaga albums to come, should she continue down this road instead of returning to full-on pop music, these kind of kinks in the system are the kind of thing she’ll surely overcome by her next venture.
With her own life at the core of the record instead of the life fame created for her, we get to see a refreshing side of Gaga that feels much more human and less off-putting than even her jazz covers on Cheek To Cheek showed us. Those that wanted Gaga to return to the world of pop may find themselves turned off by Joanne, but in response Gaga is sure to draw a wider net as she drags herself down to earth this time around. It’s hard not to miss the glitz and glamour of The Fame and Born This Way, but if Lady Gaga’s intent was to do what she wanted and still offer a pop-friendly album that people could enjoy, then she’s more than succeeded.