Today marks one year since Lady Gaga launched her career-reinventing album, Joanne. Did the album age like wine or spoil like milk? In this track-by-track review, we’ll revisit the Album of the Year contending album and give our thoughts. In the words of Mother Monster, “here we go!”
Gaga kicks things off with the rousing stadium-rock anthem, “Diamond Heart.” The gravity-defying vocal performance coupled with the grit and spunk of the instrumentation makes for an epic introduction to Joanne. If anything, this track sounds even better one year later; the bridge is goosebump-inducing. Biographical lyrics bring a sense of edge and darkness to counterbalance the jubilance of Gaga’s vocals. The attention to detail in the production of the final chorus is pleasing to the ears and incredibly impressive. Hats off, Gaga!
The chicken-fried and twang-inflected “A-YO,” is a fun track stacked with handclaps and sweet hooks. The dynamics of soft vocals and slight growls makes for an interesting combination that somehow works. This track places dance-pop Gaga in the more laidback-era of Joanne-Gaga, a feat that shouldn’t work, but ultimately does. The intense energy of the final chorus calls back to the structure of “Diamond Heart,” and it’s a trend that more pop artists should try.
The emotional title track, named after Gaga’s late aunt, is a sweet tribute to her memory. The verses are quite strong lyrically, but the hook kind of falls flat. The acoustic guitar instrumentation was the perfect choice for this track and it draws attention away from the lackluster hook and bridge. The first line of the bridge is a bit bothersome because it lacks cohesion: “Girl where do you think you’re going? / Honestly, I know where you’re going.” I will say, the mixing sounds off in the second verse, almost like it was recorded in a different studio with different equipment. The final chorus, again, has a rush of intensity that really drives the concept, no matter how flimsy the concept may be.
The weirdly fictional and colloquial lyrics drag this track down, but THAT BREAKDOWN. The chorus isn’t anything to write home about, but the drop blends the harsh EDM of ARTPOP with the rock/country influence of Joanne. Beyoncé-reminiscent vocal layering dominates the bridge which leads to a powerful electronic outro. The song is enjoyable, and it actually aged incredibly well unlike most of Gaga’s last solo album.
Dancin’ in Circles
The slightly Arabian-influenced production aged incredibly well, all thanks to the near perfect mixing of this track. Gaga’s sultry and soft vocal in the hook is sensual, a somewhat new look for her, and she wears it incredibly well. The endlessly explained double entendre of the track works just as well a year later. The only downside of this track is that god-awful screeching at the end of the bridge and robotic effects on the line “vanish when I touch myself.” Both of these moments were annoying and cringe-inducing then, and now.
One of the more polarizing lead singles in recent pop music history, the punk rock influenced, “Perfect Illusion,” aged very well, again thanks to the stellar production and mixing. The lyrics are heartbreaking and uncomfortably raw; it’s what we love from Gaga. The bridge is absolutely gorgeous, the contrast of her soft whispery vocals with the strong verklempt belts of “mistaken for love” is gorgeous. Then, the key change heard around the world sweeps the listener away, and with the addition of the emotional vocal growls and runs and the purposeful strings, “Perfect Illusion” is damn near a perfect ten. This track aged like fine wine.
Easily the biggest hit from this album, the modern day classic ballad is just as vanilla as it was a year ago, but sometimes vanilla works. Regardless, the song does benefit from clean production and a critical emotional apex at its bridge. This Song of the Year contending single does its job, it’s an emotional ballad that ranks high amongst Gaga’s discography and reminds us that she can be a vocal powerhouse when she wants.
This track was severely underrated a year ago, and it is severely underrated now. The menacing, Johnny Cash-esque vocal delivery really drives home the Western feel of the album, as do the simple and straightforward lyrics. The register change in the final chorus is one of the best moments on the entire album, it’s absolutely gorgeous and attention-grasping. This is the most authentic song on the album and a gem in Gaga’s discography.
Come to Mama
This utopia-seeking 50’s influenced track falls flat a year later. Between the drums, the horns, and Gaga’s gruff tone, there is absolutely too much going on with this track. Gaga’s voice sounds a tad too monotone on parts of the track and the song seems out of place on the album. This was one of my favorites upon first listen, but one year later, the track is underwhelming. One last thing, the mixing is off here too, in the third chorus Gaga’s voice gets a bit drowned out by the flood of instruments, the subsequent screechy belts don’t help at all either.
Hey Girl (feat. Florence Welch)
A pseudo-follow up to the likeminded girl power anthem “Telephone,” “Hey Girl,” benefits from two powerful vocalists that compliment each other. Florence’s ethereal tone blends beautifully with Gaga’s theatrical, and at times lush, tone. This is probably Gaga’s most controlled vocal performance on the album, and it makes the track shine. Gaga experiments with an R&B-lite vocal production that fits the nostalgic lyrics and relaxed tone of the track. Lastly, this track just might have the strongest outro out of all the other songs on the album, the fade out actually works and doesn’t feel like a cop-out.
A tribute to the wrongfully murdered Trayvon Martin, “Angel Down” is a stunning vocal performance and lyrical exercise. The track could have very easily come off as preachy and self-indulgent, but the innocent darkness of the lyrics saves it from reaching that point. The final chorus where Gaga belts her heart out is the single most emotional point of this album, she’s emotive and poignant throughout the track. Again, the outro is gorgeous; the nursery rhyme quality of the lyrics and production compliment the theme of loss of innocence on this beautiful track.
This track isn’t anything particularly special, it was adequate back then, and it is adequate now. The girls’ night out/in theme of the track is cute, nothing more and nothing less. It would’ve made a great single, though.
Just Another Day
This track just screams “New York.” The bouncy vibe of this track recalls classic Frank Sinatra uptempo tracks and her malleable vocal performance shines brightly. The instrumental bridge is a beautiful moment and showcases her Cheek To Cheek influences. When she imitates the production with vocal runs and scats during the final chorus and outro, you can’t help but grin.
Joanne was enjoyable a year ago, and it aged very very well. This album is a highlight in Gaga’s discography and a beautiful culmination of her past personas in the context of a brand new one.