With her last major solo release ARTPOP receiving a lukewarm response from both critics and fans alike. The pressure was surely on for Lady Gaga to pull out all the stops for her fifth album, at least if the ‘Queen of Pop’ was to maintain her crown. ‘Joanne’, however, immediately stands out as one of Gaga’s most musically stripped-back releases.
Joanne means well, and Gaga’s talent shines through on this album, but much of it feels a little too underwhelming and formulaic at times. That’s not to say it isn’t without its highlights: opening track Diamond Heart is an uplifting pop-rock anthem, and one of Joanne’s standout tracks. The swaggering John Wayne is another big highlight, and Florence Welch makes a very welcome guest appearance on the endearing and soulful duet Hey Girl.
While Gaga’s new image and sound does confirm her strengths as a multi-talented artist, one can’t help but slightly miss the outrageousness and unpredictability of the Born This Way era, especially while listening to the latter half of Joanne. Many of the songs are too rigidly written, and overly formulaic. Even the chorus of the album’s first single, Perfect Illusion, becomes too repetitive, making the song itself feel about 30 seconds too long. Elsewhere, A-YO feels strangely like it could be a Meghan Trainor reject. Dancin’ in Circles is another underwhelming number which veers dangerously close to sounding a bit Eurovision-esque.
It feels like the album was written with the deliberate intention of detaching Gaga from the stereotypical generic pop genre, which is what her Just Dance persona was associated with. However, this seems to have backfired slightly, with many of the tracks on Joanne feeling a little too mellow and protective. Having said that, Joanne is definitely more of a wavering, tentative step in the right direction rather than a total misfire, as the change in style will doubtless win Gaga praise for stepping out of her more flamboyant comfort zone, and will aid her in developing from a generic pop princess into a more diverse musician.