Here are the album reviews I wrote for the December issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo yesterday.
-Lady Gaga (Interscope/Universal)
The title implies that the biggest pop star on the planet wants her cake and eat it, too. It’s not enough that everything she’s ever done has an effect on the way popular music is produced and heard, Gaga wants to be acknowledged as an artist, an old argument that has never held much water. Art is where you find it and what you make of it, and there are people who always assumed her stuff is art. Gaga’s problem is that they may not be the “right” people, but if there’s any discernible difference between Artpop and her first two albums it’s mostly a matter of attitude. Artists, she seems to think, are people who are confident about the creative process, which sounds more like a description of a pop star; and while she’s been assertive in the past, it’s usually been in service to an inclusive philosophy, the cultivation of her “little monsters.” Here, she comments on the same themes but with an agency bordering on arrogance. Most of the songs are about sex, but there isn’t a lot of joy, especially when she tells R. Kelly, of all people, to “do what you want.” She plays the top in “G.U.Y.” as if it were payback. And while she’s always been good for a laugh when trolling fashionistas, here she’s just mean. I have no special affection of Donatella Versace, but could any target be easier? Throughout, Gaga’s sonic attack is brittle and bombastic, its pleasures visceral without being exhilirating, which is too bad because her singing remains her most underappreciated facet. Unlike all the other female pop stars her age she uses her lungs and understands that emotions get through when they’re projected with all the oxygen at your disposal. I just wish the emotions were worth it. Avril Lavigne may not seem like one of those pop stars, since her entrance into the pantheon was mainly through the back door (punk), but her new self-titled album definitely feels more zeitgeisty than her past work. The influence isn’t Gaga so much as Ke$ha, whose head tones are easier to pull off anyway, but it’s those exaggerated diphtongs that give the game away. Avril isn’t the only singer who’s appropriated Ke$ha’s style, so it’s no surprise in and of itself, but it is in light of the fact that her new husband, Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, is all over this album, and he’s the last person I would think might countenance the kind of party animal persona Ke$ha represents. Then again, Kroeger co-wrote the creepiest song on the album, “Bad Girl,” in which Avril gives birth to Marilyn Manson’s baby, so he’s obviously more magnanimous than his own power-play rock would indicate. If Avril herself sounds scrappier, more invested in the classic rock hooks than she has since her debut, credit it to the afterglow of the honeymoon. There are worse reasons for making a record. Continue reading