Lady Gaga has enjoyed quite the diverse career over the past 12 years. Since bursting onto the scene with her first forays into pitch-perfect pop electronica on The Fame and The Fame Monster, she then expressed herself in the rock-pop genre with Born This Way before it all seemed to go awry with the self-induglently incoherent ARTPOP.
She then hit reset, working with Tony Bennett on the jazzy and traditional pop album Cheek To Cheek, before the bold and hugely personal Joanne. Then came another remake of A Star Is Born and with it an Oscar win for her song Shallow. It would seem now that Gaga has now come full circle and is ready to re-embrace her electronica-pop routes on her sixth studio album, Chromatica.
Pitched as a location in her mind where all sounds and colours mix, this Chromatica dystopia was featured in the video for the lead single Stupid Love, featuring Gaga as warrior leader in a kind of vibrant Mad Max landscape where everyone’s outfits are made out of Quality Street wrappers. This does herald a refreshing return to her pop roots, yet sounds basically like an accelerated version of her own Do What U Want. Still, it is hard to resist her beautiful soaring vocals against a banging bassline.
The album is split into three parts, precursed by some beautiful cinematic and string-laden interludes. Chromatica I kicks off with Alice, a ’90s throwback where Crystal Waters channels Lewis Carroll. Rain On Me is Eurohouse-pop melodrama at its finest, pinching somewhat from Stardust‘s The Music Sounds Better With You (which itself borrowed from Chaka Khan‘s Fate). It’s wonderful to hear Ariana Grande‘s vocals crossover into a pop banger and complement Gaga’s shifts in tone and pitch so brilliantly. Free Woman is dancefloor empowerment at its finest, while Fun Tonight is a bittersweet nod to her first album with mentions of fame and paparazzi with parallels to her “prison hell” resonating wildly.
There are also nods to her peers past and present. 911 is very Kylie Minogue Speakerphone, Sour Candy with BLACKPINK is a ’90s dancefloor dream, albeit one that recalls Robin S‘ Show Me Love, with some spoken riffs thrown in at the expense of a truly banging chorus. Babylon, a deconstructed Vogue, appears to be another tribute to Madonna and Shep Pettibone, yet is also classic Gaga.
The album has flavours of EDM and retro ’90s club-pop with BloodPop, Axwell and Skillrex to mention some of those on production duties, while themes of love, vulnerability and empowerment set the backdrop for some wonderful dramatics. Enigma has some of her strongest soaring vocals against a funky ’90s backdrop and Replay is an introspective disco anthem. 1000 Doves is lofty with some divine vocals in the chorus. Sine From Above is perhaps the album’s highlight with its celestial disco stardust and shimmer; having Elton John duet in a trance anthem with a truly curious drum and bass section as the denouement is rather inspired.
At 16 songs and a mere 43 minutes, Chromatica can feel a tad frenzied, but in the round marks a deft return to Lady Gaga’s club-pop roots, resplendent with much ’90s influence. There may not be anything really new here, but why mess with this formula when it can produce such engaging slaps and dancefloor empowerment? Gaga is back, with her bangers intact.