Lady Gaga — Chromatica ANALYSIS & REVIEW
Everyone has their own ideas of what modern pop is and sounds like. Truth be told, there’s no succinct answer, because even if there are obvious tropes that big pop musicians today use and overuse to the point of annoyance, there’s always ways to be different at every turn. Music always gives room to those who are talented, no matter what the style. Lady Gaga’s “Chromatica” is a reminder that big name pop music still has many different faces, and if done with care and thought, it can really pretty dang good.
“Chromatica” is quite a jam. It hearkens back nicely to the roots of dance pop, using a very saturated and poignant synthetic timbre to illicit simple, fun emotions. How that’s accomplished, though, is far from simple. This kind of atmosphere is actually very delicate, and it can get real boring real quick if steps aren’t taken to infuse actual energy and decorate the structure with some real flair. Luckily, the steps were very much taken here.
The greatest aspect of this album, and indeed what the most important step was in infusing life, did not come from the sound itself. It came from the wonderful pop harmony that was used. Even when creating something so seemingly plain and obvious, harmonic language is a vastly important tool. In fact, it may even be more of an important tool in these instances, since harmonic color can ultimately end up providing the gas needed to get from section to section in such basic forms.
That’s exactly what happened here, and is what made this a memorable and fun work. An album like this proves just how lazy and unthoughtful it is to constantly lay down the same four chords in a setting like this, because it does the opposite. On this album we have a multitude of different short harmonic progressions that each succeed in serving a strong purpose to engage and energize. It also served as the sliver of true uniqueness between tracks, which was needed.
The song “Sine From Above” had great substitutes for the vi IV I V monotony, instead using a minor ii variation in place of IV and a wild minor iii7 instead of V, and it gave an important twist to exceptions along with adding a slightly more nuanced emotional dimension. Even the 3 chord pattern of V vi IV (or bVII i bVI, depending on how you look at it) found in “Free Woman” and “1000 Doves” proved to be a great continuous loop in this dance atmosphere, as it doesn’t really have resolve but can still provide the feeling of movement and traveling somewhere. Perhaps the most thin and straightforward track, “Sour Candy”, still managed to give a strong ii I7 V vi along with a well constructed, nicely syncopated 5 note bassline. And the best song on the album, “Stupid Love”, had a sensational transition moment, going from I bVII IV in the verse to landing on bVII in the bridge with an added 6th in the melody, throwing in bIII at the end of that progression as well for yet another uplifting, tasty bit.
One may think that melody plays a super crucial role in this particular pop setting. In a vacuum, it sure does. But put everything together and lay down a killer groove, and melody doesn’t actually take the spotlight as much as you think. This album was very consciously put together and layered as an album that young people can dance to on repeat, which set the timbre up to be as bombastic and anthemic as it was while creating harmonic loops that carry a ton of momentum. That left melody little room, or even little need, to be prominent. Melody still played a role, and it was the element that still left the most room for growth, but the overly-diatonic phrases and lack of a wide range of motion didn’t factor in a whole lot to the music’s overall appeal.
“Stupid Love” had the only truly compelling verse melody to me, thanks mostly to its duplet syncopation. Some other songs used appropriate melodic non-chord tones here and there, but there could’ve been more variety in rhythm, consonant leaps, and overall linear independence. It may have stopped this album from greatness, but again, it also didn’t hinder this album from giving the core of what it wanted to give.
As I alluded to earlier, the album has a lot of timbral sameness throughout. For one, though, that’s simply not a big negative in itself. For two, that’s pretty much the point of the album. It sets out to be a continuous party, a non-stop jam, and it does just that. It was also nice to get the few short orchestral interludes in, not only to provide a few breaks and let the album breathe a bit, but also to clearly identify sections of the work.
The timbral style did reach a bit of a ceiling for me over time. I felt the effect of the high-octane bright synth sound wear a bit by the song “Replay”, manly because no other part of the music was really getting over the hump of providing outstanding interest points in itself. Repetition can do some harm in that regard. However, I also must give props to consistency, because there were no disengaging drop-offs, nothing was ever too dull, and overall the songwriting formula worked. I really wanted to dance to this. And I don’t say that very often. This, my friends, is some good modern pop. Some good mainstream modern pop at that. That almost seems to be an oxymoron, but it’s actually not.