Underneath all the meat dresses and dangerously inappropriate footwear, there’s something charmingly old-fashioned and traditional about Lady Gaga. While everyone else is content with niche popularity, which is pretty much all that most artists can obtain in the 21st century, Gaga strives for the pop icon status that Madonna and Michael Jackson enjoyed during the ’80s. She makes epic-length music videos with enormous budgets, she appears on any TV show that will have her, and with her second full-length album, “Born This Way,” she’s targeting multiple audiences the same way that Jackson did circa “Thriller,” when he and Quincy Jones got Eddie Van Halen to play the guitar solo on “Beat It” in a completely successful attempt to appeal to the rock kids. You can almost check off the boxes as you listen to the album: for European techno listeners, she offers the militant faux-German thump of “Scheisse,” for Latino fans there’s the utterly ridiculous “Americano,” complete with mariachi horns, and for the blue-collar American heartland, Gaga manages to combine club beats with chest-beating Springsteen-style balladry (even featuring the E Street Band’s late, great Clarence Clemons on saxophone) in the oddly affecting album closer “Edge of Glory.” Not all of this market-testing works; the title track, a self-styled LGBT pride anthem, is still more valuable as a message than as a song, cribbing blatantly from Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” and despite drafting in Queen’s Brian May for a guitar solo, “You and I” is cornball pseudo-country nonsense (if you don’t cringe when she’s singing about “my daddy and Nebraska and Jesus Christ,” then you have a stronger stomach than me). Gaga is at her best when she stops thinking about her audience and focuses on just writing absurdly catchy hooks. Album opener “Marry the Night” is a masterclass in pop music done right, Gaga crooning the forlorn opening verse over spare organ before bursting into the pulsing, anthemic chorus. It’s powerful, energetic, exciting and more than a little bit silly, i.e. everything that you’re looking for from a Lady Gaga song. When she can fill an entire album with stuff this good, then she’ll be as unstoppable as she thinks she is.
Lady Gaga, ‘Born This Way’ (Interscope)
Posted June 30, 2011, at 2:37 p.m.