Pop music reinvents itself with alarming regularity. So much so that invariably there is a case of the “emperor’s new clothes” about the latest chart sensation. Let’s rewind that particular fable. A couple of tailors promise a foolish emperor a new suit made from a fabric invisible to anyone unfit for their position, or just plain stupid! The emperor, of course, can’t see the cloth himself, but has to pretend that he can or risk looking a mite less kingly. His courtiers do likewise, as no one is willing to step out of line and question things. But when the emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, a child shouts out, “He’s not wearing anything!” and the crowd slowly adds their voices to this realization.
In music it can take a brave “child” to cry out against subterfuge. The illusion is cast by artistes fixated by success or simply by their muse, financed by record labels who jump on a good bandwagon when they see one, hyped by the media and ultimately paid for by the public who fall for it. The Fame Monster by Lady GaGa is a case in point. The album will sell in its zillions but can we question whether the lady, famous for her racy outfits, is really wearing anything at all.
I have to admit I don’t get this. Lady GaGa is full of contradictions. Like Madonna, she’s paid some early dues, working seedy NY clubs on her way to becoming something of an overnight global superstar. She’s reinvented the theater of glam rock, itself not exactly the greatest period in R&R history, and brought Barbarella back into the mall. Her fashion style is pure exhibitionism and this translates to shock imagery and plenty of lewd posturing. But the ex-convent gal is clearly intelligent, focused and portrays herself as a perfomer first and foremost. “It’s about the performance, the attitude, the look; it’s everything. And, that is where I live as an artist and that is what I want to accomplish.”
It’s quite possible to forget that Boney M ever existed as long as you avoid the kind of restaurants that play Christmas tunes right now. In which case you might catch their dire version of “Mary’s Boy Child”. GaGa’s hit “Bad Romance” which opens proceedings revisits Boney M with a large dose of Madonna in between. I ask why? It has to be said that Lady G’s style is more S&M than BM. And therein lies another conundrum. Is it conceptual art or pornography? And who’s exploiting who? Which is it to be -– the shiny black latex shrouded diva of The Fame Monster or the gothic, stigmata eyed princess victim from the alternative album cover?
So many questions and too few answers. The eight songs on Disc One chronicle the darker side of fame. Her synth hooks and dance-friendly beats belie a serious lack of love in much of her work. The imagery of “eating your brain as well as your heart” and “wanting your disease” suggests a sensibility far removed from the norm of boy meets girl hurts girl. It’s an interesting take but strangely removed from the usual modes of human interaction. Strip away the glossy fashions, theatrics and celebrity fixation and what are you left with? Dance tunes you can gladly strut your stuff to, only don’t listen too hard to the lyrics at the same time.
After “Bad Romance”, we get a fairly plodding “Alejandro” with more Boney echoes and compressed Abba wrapped in a dud tune that wouldn’t have made the cut in Mama Mia. Moving on, you can eat your heart out to “Monster” and eat your brain too, if you still have an appetite. “Speechless” opens expectantly with Beatles guitar circa Abbey Road but develops into a dull yet overblown ballad. The song does show much more of the singer’s vocal range but the result would be more convincing if they switched the vocal effects button to off. The next song, “Dance in the Dark”, is a routine and formulaic dance R&B track with retro eighties synth. “Telephone” features Beyoncé (yawn). It’s hard to think of anything positive about this dismal excuse for a song. Neither of them needs the money. If you were at a wine tasting, you’d be getting “Rasputin”. As a wee digression, maybe Jay-Z should reinvent that Boney M track as a rap and dedicate it to the Russian premier.
Where were we? “So Happy I Could Die” (promising title, readers) actually ain’t that bad. It’s a chilled song with the lyrics open to interpretation. She could be giving rise to her Sapphic desires or simply talking about her alter ego, the transient effects of wine and fame. Disc One closes with “Teeth”, a repetitive chant which gets its point across in the first verse, rendering the rest of it almost redundant. Pass me the Colgate.
In pure pop terms, there’s nothing here as strong as “Just Dance” which opens the second disc, itself a repackaging of Lady GaGa’s debut album, The Fame and available with the product’s deluxe issue. There’s nothing also as cheering as the bright, melodic “Eh Eh (Nothing I Can Say)” which appears as track six on Disc Two. The Fame Monster will undoubtedly please Lady GaGa’s army of fans and spawn more lush videos. You have to admire her full-on style and carefully constructed persona but I’m not sure this album is adding anything by way of originality or true invention to the music world. It’s like Sci-Fi as imagined in the ’60s and ’70s. We’ll all be wearing plastic clothes and weird headdresses. Then again maybe some will see through the queen’s new clothes before we all go gaga.
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