Little monsters have been waiting four years for Lady Gaga’s sixth studio album. After leaks and release delays, Chromatica is finally here. The album is a return to the brazen electro-pop realm that catapulted Gaga to superstardom. Utilising disco synth pop, lush strings and sharp and erratic beats, the record is a personal exploration of the woman behind the pop star: her struggles with fame, addiction, her longing to be loved, to be free and to heal. Split into three parts, Chromatica draws back on 90’s retro influences, taking its listeners back to the world of voguing.
Chromatica opens with the first of three instrumental pieces. Chromatica I uses swirling lush strings to introduce us to Chromatica, a planet created by Gaga where equality rules. The track serves as an introduction to Alice, a house track that pays homage to Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Gaga sings of trying to find peace within her mind, singing “My name isn’t Alice but I’ll keep looking, I’ll keep looking for Wonderland”. The track utilises heavy synths with a pumped-up base, where Gaga utilizes her higher register. There’s an anthemic quality to it and sets the scene for the listeners journey throughout Chromatica. The album’s lead single, Stupid Love, uses amplified synths as Gaga sings of falling in love and wanting that love in return. She also reflects on old love and wanting to move on from past trauma. Gaga collaborates with pop-superstar Ariana Grande on the previously released single, Rain On Me. A French-House inspired pop track, the song is about perseverance during hard times and getting through the pain. The euphoric Free Womanis an empowering 90’s house inspired anthem where Gaga has reclaimed her identity and sexuality. On Fun Tonight, Gaga makes reference to her old relationships and the juxtaposing feelings she has towards fame. One of the more emotional tracks on the record, Fun Tonight has a melancholic feel paired with the EDM sonic sounds of the record and a catchy hook. The track is reminiscent at times of Gaga’s 2011 hit, The Edge of Glory.
Chromatica II is another string heavy, instrumental interlude which segues straight into 911. The track is a callback to earlier Gaga albums, electro-pop perfection, and is the experimental Gaga we met during the Born This Way and Artpop eras. Utilising robotic vocals with some clever harmonies that run counter to the main melody, Gaga talks about her battle surrounding mental health and self-loathing, singing “My biggest enemy is me, ever since day one”. The track navigates how her mental state can obscure what is happening around her. Plastic Doll at times seems like a leftover song from Artpop. On the track Gaga admits that she fits into the archetype of a typical popstar and has a longing to be seen as more than that. Chromatica’s second collaboration is with K-Pop girl group, Blackpink, on Sour Candy. The English/Korean track is a mix of bubblegum K-pop, hip-hop and house beats and an anthem of being accepted by your partner, flaws and all, and a warning to not try and change them. On Enigma, Gaga acknowledges her chameleon nature. Throughout her career she has taken on many different personalities and alter egos as well sonically changing throughout her music. She is reclaiming the word, and letting the world know she can be anything she wants to be. Replay is a retro dance dream, with Gaga’s dramatic side coming out. The French-house track is an exploration of the affects the trauma she has experienced have had on her life, and the conflict between Gaga the artist and Stefani Germanotta, the person.
Chromatica III is the final string interlude of the record signalling the final act of Chromatica. Sine From Above is a beautiful dance floor ballad that within the realm of Chromatica, feels most outer worldly. The cinematic track is by far one of the more exciting songs from the record and marks the second collaboration between Gaga and Sir Elton John. The pair sing of hearing a sine, a sound wave, from above and how that sine (music itself) changed their lives and saved them. The euphoric chorus feels like an angel singing from above before house beats take over. The main take from the song is that music can heal. 1000 Dovesis an almost trance ballad where Gaga makes a breakthrough, acknowledging she’s not perfect but will not give up. It’s the closest thing to a ballad on the album, with the deluxe edition offering the piano demo of the track. Chromatica’s final bow Babylon is a retro house track condemning gossip and the belief in misinformation. Artpop Gaga is back in full motion here. The song takes on a metaphorical context, setting the track in 16th century Babylon. It’s through this metaphor that Gaga contextualises gossip. A dance track that will have listeners strutting their stuff, like David Bowie, as Gaga takes on a monotone voice over the punchy chorus reminiscent of Black Jesus + Amen Fashion from Born This Way. Gaga brings in a choir and utilises synths to mimic brass sounds. It’s Gaga being Gaga.
For listeners who scored the deluxe version of Chromatica, they’ll be treated to Love Me Right, a track that continues to address self-love, a piano demo of 1000 Doves and the Vitaclub Warehouse Remix of Stupid Love.
I delayed my review of Chromatica because on first listen, I found it difficult to get through. By the eighth track I felt the songs started to sound the same and thought it best to take a minute. After a short break, I finished the album and found its second half to be more successful than the first. I wanted to give this record a chance as I know in the past, certain songs or albums become more receptive after a couple of listening sessions. After 3-4 listens, top to bottom, my views changed. I found the record to be a well rounded examination of Gaga’s psyche and an album about love and acceptance. The record is a joyous moment within a time of uncertainty and social unrest. It calls back to earlier moments in Gaga’s career but also shows the growth the popstar has undertaken, lyrically, musically and personally. It plays with modern sounds and experimentation. It is the singers most personal and straightforward record to date. Gaga is still taking risks but also knows what works for her.
Standout tracks: Alice, Rain on Me, Fun Tonight, 911, Plastic Doll, Sour Candy, Replay, Sine From Above, 1000 Doves, Babylon
By Vasili Papathanasopoulos
Image Source: Lady Gaga Facebook