On my review of Lady Gaga's debut, The Fame, I called her a valkyrie leading an army. Since then, Lady Gaga has taken the reins of her own twisted circus of outlandish outfits and extreme performances. When Lady Gaga can feature the Bath Haus of Gaga with creepily dressed corpses crawling out of pristine white caskets in a music video, you know she's calling the shots. Which brings us to what I will call her sophomore album, The Fame Monster. And if her outfits are anything to go by, fame is definitely creating a monster here, and people love it.
The Fame Monster
is 8 songs, expanded from 2 or 3 that the label was originally going to put on a rerelease of The Fame
. Gaga wanted nothing to do with that idea, and instead presented a new creation to be sold separately from - and in tandem with - The Fame
. The packaging features two covers, one as herself with her big funky blonde wig and shoulders out to Mars, the other with her as a brunette (a wig that looks like straw) and mascara running down from her eye like she's crying. I suppose it is meant to represent two aspects of her, pre- and post-Fame.
The Fame Monster opens with Gaga's current beast of a track, "Bad Romance." I, personally, do not enjoy this track. I find the percussion to be far too heavy and the melody to be spare and mostly ineffective. I think her vocal delivery is tops, however, and there are bits in the track that make it somewhat redeemable. I'll probably be singing it to myself in a few months. "Alejandro" channels Ace of Base's "Don't Turn Around" something fierce, and while the instrumentation alone provides this comparison, on top of that are the lyrics and their delivery. If "Alejandro" is an intentional homage to that fantastic pop group, then well-played, Gaga. If not, at least we still have a new production that reminds me of "Don't Turn Around," one of the group's best. This track is a lot of fun.
"Speechless" is a bluesy track that almost sounds like a stage production track. Could Gaga be writing a musical in the near future based solely on her music? Who knows, but it's nice to see she didn't reject the style that so impressed me on The Fame ("Brown Eyes"), and I love how she goes from strong to vulnerable in .06 seconds on this track. Her last announced single is "Telephone," an odd track for a lot of reasons. Lyrically, it is a successor to "Just Dance." The lyrics involve Gaga talking about not wanting to use her phone in the club. Having a track like this, when it feels like "Just Dance" was so long ago and a different Gaga, is a little awkward. Especially when it is a planned single. Even odder is that superstar Beyonce is featured on the track. This isn't Gaga and Beyonce's first collaboration to hit the mainstream, as they both worked on the revamped version of "Video Phone" for Beyonce's upcoming rerelease. It is an odd collaboration because it serves no purpose. Beyonce doesn't add to the track, and having each artist having a song about phones on their respective rereleases is just… too much. It's fun and disposable but there are better tracks on The Fame Monster to offer as singles.
The rest of the album actually sounds a lot better, on average, than the singles. Going for an epic, tragic pop song, "Dance In The Dark" churns along, heavy and gutsy with a sing-along chorus that is one of the best in Gaga's repertoire. This is my favorite type of pop because it has a lot of layers. The beat hits you first, and you can groove to the track on just that alone, but the melody asks politely for you to switch partners before Gaga smoothly cuts in and twirls you away into pop heaven. While this isn't on her current list of plotted singles for The Fame Monster, it is a standout for me.
"Monster" has 80s-styled beats and sporadic instrumentation that elevates into a driving chorus. This track is actually pretty strange. Gaga frequently uses the line "He ate my heart" which is pretty easy to figure out but a later snippet has her singing "He ate my heart and then he ate my brain!" The imagery is effective and immediately elicited memories of Buffy & Angel/Angelus (for all of you Buffy the Vampire Slayer dorks out there). A deep speak/sing male voice also brings to mind superpop group Aqua. With a similar instrumentation (what will Gaga do once this sound is too tired to keep making tracks like it?), "So Happy I Could Die" is just waiting for contemporary hip-hop choreography in a cute party video. The track doesn't excel, but it also doesn't let down. It's an average Gaga track.
shining star of The Fame Monster
, though, is "Teeth." This track is
so dramatically different from anything she's done before. Starting
off like a twisted combination of Justin Timberlake and Moby with our
heroine begging her man to sink his teeth into her. She begs him to
open his mouth and show her what he's got, ready to love with her
hands tied behind her back. She wants him to take a bite of her bad
girl meat. The track features her singing and speaking, often at the
same time. The most appealing aspect of "Teeth" is the insistent
tribal stomping beat. This track doesn't have any aspect of her
traditional sound, instead proving to be a fantastic experimental
track a la Roisin Murphy's Ruby Blue
album. It's just that good.
The Fame Monster has a lot for Gaga fans to eat up. It also has some
that may bring people into the Gaga fold. It doesn't cover much
ground we haven't covered before, but it is worth seeking out for
anyone who is interested. Again, the album itself comes as a
stand-alone or bundled with The Fame. As a word of warning, my copy
did not say "Edited" anywhere on it, but on the tracks where she says
"I'm a free bitch", she instead sounds like "I'm a free bit-."
Released November 2009 on Interscope Records.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.