Lady Gaga — Joanne ANALYSIS & REVIEW
It’s safe to say that this album was never meant to be driven by melody, although that may come as a surprise to some lifelong Lady Gaga fans. Joanne has a peculiar lack of melodic hooks that aren’t quite made up for by the easy-going ballads, but the melodies still carry a heavy presence that gives each song its own unique flavor. This album is split about 50/50 with melodies having good shape and melodies having no shape, with no correspondence to the style of the song.
Songs such as “A-YO”, “Dancin’ In Circles”, “Perfect Illusion” and “Angel Down” each had some sort of unique shape and substance to it that added a good spark to the music. The songs that lacked that melodic spark, such as “Diamond Heart”, “Million Reasons”, “Sinner’s Prayer”, and “Come to Mama”, had to find other ways to inspire the listener. One can easily make the observation that Lady Gaga is a very versatile musician who can thrive in many different musical settings. That’s certainly true, but to accurately judge this album I cannot take a musician’s history into account in any way. She has shown she can make music with or without the reliance on a melodic hook, but I think more short, repeated motifs could’ve greatly enhanced the album — and better written than the ones in “Million Reasons”.
For the most part, the melodies represented an urge to sound genuine and close to the listener. Lady Gaga definitely succeeded in doing so. While the lines sometimes became flat and disconnected, they still spoke to the listener at a personal level. It was honestly refreshing to hear this, especially in the second half of the album. The melodies may not have worked to create anything stunning, aside from the song “Joanne”, but they had enough space and smoothness to them that achieved the goal of sounding genuinely human.
Lady Gaga’s biggest prowess in Joanne is the way she used harmony. Throughout the album, there were incredible uses of secondary dominants and borrowed chords that gave a heightened emotion to the music while never taking away the solid structure. The album opened with a wonderful i bVII IV progression in “Diamond Heart” that infused energy and kept the song afloat.
The tonal shifts in this album were hit and miss, working very well in “Sinner’s Prayer” but sounding downright cheesy in “Perfect Illusion”. Harmonic rhythm was also a huge plus. When the song was given a unique rhythm for its progressions, as in “Come To Mama”, “Angel Down” and “Just Another Day”, it was on a whole new level of interest. Songs such as “Million Reasons” and “Grigio Girls” would have benefited from a more nuanced rhythm. I also couldn’t get over the obvious Elton John quoting in the harmonies on “Hey Girl”.
The song “Joanne” reached a level that no other song achieved. It was not only my favorite song on the album, but also one of my favorite songs ever written by Lady Gaga. Its biggest accomplishment is the way the harmony laid down an exceptional foundation where beauty could easily thrive. Overall, the harmonies were quite creative and at its best gave an inspiring sense of beauty to this album.
Of the many different styles being shown off on this album, nothing was as effective as the simple acoustic sounds on “Joanne” and “Just Another Day”. The heavy synthesizers and drum machines employed on a few of the songs never quite produced enough fulfillment to be as exciting as they should have been. This was evident in songs like “Diamond Heart”, “A-YO”, “John Wayne”, and “Dancin’ In Circles”.
When trying to sound pop and lively, the timbres became too formulaic and at times annoying. I know that Lady Gaga has totally succeeded at the lively pop sound in the past, but that is not relevant to this album. The songs that backed off on the synthesized sound and had more of an acoustic dominance seemed to fit better within the scope of the album. “Come To Mama” has a very simple, plain, 60’s like feel that was easy to groove to, while “Million Reasons” had a charming piano part that fully enhanced the mood of the song.
Sometimes the timbre wasn’t on the same page as everything else, especially in “Hey Girl” when some odd synthesizer noises kept interrupting the flow of the piano and vocals (I loved the Florence Welch cameo, her voice totally saved the song). Lady Gaga has a wonderful musical mind, and for the most part her timbral experiments in this album were very appropriate and welcome. It’s good to hear this much timbral variety within a 45-minute work, especially if the musician is never truly satisfied with staying put. I applaud Lady Gaga’s supposed lack of satisfaction because it keeps her musicality fresh. I think she indeed has found a worthwhile sound to stay put on in the song “Joanne”, and perhaps it’s a sign of more good things to come. Sadly, it was never replicated in this album.
Lady Gaga could possibly be the most influential musician of the last 20 years, and she is still consistently bringing new and worthwhile sounds to the table. Joanne is without a doubt her best album since The Fame Monster, and her place as one of the most versatile musicians in music history has been solidified. I wouldn’t be surprised if this album doesn’t gain the immense momentum in the music world that her previous work has had, due in part to the timing in her career and her different compositional approach.
Still, it’s a powerful musical work that proves to us that a good musician can accomplish anything they put their minds to. I’m sure the lesser quality songs like “Perfect Illusion” and “Million Reasons” will have more success from a business standpoint than the better songs like “Joanne” and “Angel Down”, but I do not control the media. The only thing I can say is that I’m glad one of the most esteemed musicians of our generation has finally found another successful sound. Regardless of how it’s received by the general public, this album will live on for a good while and serve as great inspiration for modern musicians that are done with conforming to anyone.