Chromatica review: Lady Gaga returns to familiar turf of disco-pop with new album that has a slight hint of novelty
Chromatica is the sixth studio album released by Lady Gaga, whose last album was Joanna in 2016.
It feels like a lifetime has passed since Lady Gaga last recorded a commercial pop LP. The electro-pop banger ‘Just Dance’ was an immediate hit back in 2008, and The Fame Monster and Born this Way forever changed the face of what we knew as pop music. Artpop was more of a hit than a miss, a watery conceptual album that made only critics grumble. But Gaga never stopped.
She chose the reinvention route, trading her campy often-wild pop star persona for a softer one in the jazz collaborative album Cheek to Cheek, followed by the soulful balladry of Joanna. A recent notch in her belt is the Bradley Cooper-directed A Star is Born, best remembered for the Oscar-Grammy-Golden Globe winning song ‘Shallow.’
Chromatica is her return to the familiar disco-pop, house music territory — all glossy and synth heavy — with a slight hint of novelty. The album is a teamwork effort, incorporating production inputs of Bloodpop, Max Martin, DJs like BURNS, Axwell, Madeon Max Martin, Tchami, Boys Noize, and Skrillex.
Gaga’s music has always been raw, intimate, and candid, whether it is her exploring the dark side of fame and power or dealing with love and loss. But Chromatica is meant to hit harder. She told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe in an interview how the album was a therapeutic, introspective journey that touched upon her struggles with mental health and sexual assault.
She fuses these dark themes with the upbeat, likeable quality of her sonic choices, urging the listener to dance away the pain. “I’m making a dance record again, and this dance floor it’s mine and I earned it, and all the stuff that I went through… I don’t have to feel pain about it anymore. I can just be a part of me, and I can keep going.”
Three instrumental interludes divide the album, with part one delivering the most memorable earworm-worthy tunes. A dramatic cinematic string arrangement ‘Chromatica I’ marks the beginning, and immediately transitions to a remarkable dance track ‘Alice’, where she finds herself yearning for the light at the end of the tunnel (My name isn’t Alice/ But I’ll keep looking for Wonderland). ‘Stupid Love’, the first single of the album, recalls the infectious energy of ‘Born this Way’.
Gaga has, in the past, combined her star power with female contemporaries like Beyoncé (‘Telephone’) and Christina Aguilera (in a reworked version of ‘Do What U Want’). ‘Rain on Me’, a meditation on self-empowerment, is an unlikely partnership between Ariana Grande and her, where both divas flawlessly complement each other’s energies. In the bouncy ‘Free Woman’, she sings about reclaiming “the dance floor” she fought for, about moving forward after being sexually assaulted by a music producer in the nascent stage of her career.
Then there is ‘Sour Candy’ featuring K-pop girl group Blackpink, which just seems like a forced inclusion to the track list. It is not entirely unpleasant, just leaves one wondering, “Huh? What was that?” Gaga has now joined the band of Western musicians Halsey, Charlie XCX, Jason Derulo, and Ty Dolla $ign collaborating with K-pop stars.
Part two includes ‘911’ — unfolding with the singer’s unruly vocoder-distorted voice — where she encapsulates her experience with anti-psychotic medication. ‘Babylon’ is an almost replication of Madonna’s half speech-half song style from ‘Vogue’ (Can’t really blame Gaga for turning to the Queen of Pop for inspiration). My reaction to the Elton John guest appearance in ‘Sine from Above’ is just a dismissive shrug. It exists, it is there, and I don’t want to hate on it. Elton simply does not deserve it.
‘Fun Tonight’, ‘Enigma’, ‘Replay’, and ‘1000 Doves’ are the songs that will be lost in oblivion, unless a feature in a movie or TV soundtrack revives their career.
Chromatica has both Gaga’s vocals and the backing at an equal footing, unlike the norm of house and electronic songs using vocals as accoutrements. However, if heard in one go, the songs can be hard to distinguish from one other, compromising the vibe of the album. The powers of all the aforementioned DJs and producers may have proven to be a classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth (but only ever so slightly).
Listen to the full album here.
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