Pop music reinvents itself with alarming regularity. So much so that invariably there is a case of the “emperor’s new clothes” about the latest chart sensation. Lets rewind that particular fable. A couple of tailors promise a foolish emperor a new suit made from a fabric invisible to anyone unfit for their position, or just plain stupid! The emperor, of course, cant see the cloth himself, but has to pretend that he can or risk looking a mite less kingly. His courtiers do likewise, as no one is willing to step out of line and question things. But when the emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, a child shouts out, “Hes not wearing anything!” and the crowd slowly adds their voices to this realization.
In music it can take a brave “child” to cry out against subterfuge. The illusion is cast by artistes fixated by success or simply by their muse, financed by record labels who jump on a good bandwagon when they see one, hyped by the media and ultimately paid for by the public who fall for it. The Fame Monster by Lady GaGa is a case in point. The album will sell in its zillions but can we question whether the lady, famous for her racy outfits, is really wearing anything at all.
I have to admit I dont get this. Lady GaGa is full of contradictions. Like Madonna, shes paid some early dues, working seedy NY clubs on her way to becoming something of an overnight global superstar. Shes reinvented the theater of glam rock, itself not exactly the greatest period in R&R history, and brought Barbarella back into the mall. Her fashion style is pure exhibitionism and this translates to shock imagery and plenty of lewd posturing. But the ex-convent gal is clearly intelligent, focused and portrays herself as a perfomer first and foremost. Its about the performance, the attitude, the look; its everything. And, that is where I live as an artist and that is what I want to accomplish.
Its quite possible to forget that Boney M ever existed as long as you avoid the kind of restaurants that play Christmas tunes right now. In which case you might catch their dire version of Marys Boy Child. GaGas hit Bad Romance which opens proceedings revisits Boney M with a large dose of Madonna in between. I ask why? It has to be said that Lady Gs style is more S&M than BM. And therein lies another conundrum. Is it conceptual art or pornography? And whos exploiting who? Which is it to be - the shiny black latex shrouded diva of The Fame Monster or the gothic, stigmata eyed princess victim from the alternative album cover?
So many questions and too few answers. The eight songs on Disc One chronicle the darker side of fame. Her synth hooks and dance-friendly beats belie a serious lack of love in much of her work. The imagery of “eating your brain as well as your heart” and “wanting your disease” suggests a sensibility far removed from the norm of boy meets girl hurts girl. Its an interesting take but strangely removed from the usual modes of human interaction. Strip away the glossy fashions, theatrics and celebrity fixation and what are you left with? Dance tunes you can gladly strut your stuff to, only dont listen too hard to the lyrics at the same time.
After Bad Romance, we get a fairly plodding Alejandro with more Boney echoes and compressed Abba wrapped in a dud tune that wouldnt have made the cut in Mama Mia. Moving on, you can eat your heart out to Monster and eat your brain too, if you still have an appetite. Speechless opens expectantly with Beatles guitar circa Abbey Road but develops into a dull yet overblown ballad. The song does show much more of the singers vocal range but the result would be more convincing if they switched the vocal effects button to off. The next song, Dance in the Dark, is a routine and formulaic dance R&B track with retro eighties synth. Telephone features Beyoncé (yawn). Its hard to think of anything positive about this dismal excuse for a song. Neither of them needs the money. If you were at a wine tasting, youd be getting Rasputin. As a wee digression, maybe Jay-Z should reinvent that Boney M track as a rap and dedicate it to the Russian premier.
Where were we? So Happy I Could Die (promising title, readers) actually aint that bad. Its a chilled song with the lyrics open to interpretation. She could be giving rise to her Sapphic desires or simply talking about her alter ego, the transient effects of wine and fame. Disc One closes with Teeth, a repetitive chant which gets its point across in the first verse, rendering the rest of it almost redundant. Pass me the Colgate.
In pure pop terms, theres nothing here as strong as Just Dance which opens the second disc, itself a repackaging of Lady GaGas debut album, The Fame and available with the products deluxe issue. Theres nothing also as cheering as the bright, melodic Eh Eh (Nothing I Can Say) which appears as track six on Disc Two. The Fame Monster will undoubtedly please Lady GaGas army of fans and spawn more lush videos. You have to admire her full-on style and carefully constructed persona but Im not sure this album is adding anything by way of originality or true invention to the music world. Its like Sci-Fi as imagined in the ’60s and ’70s. Well all be wearing plastic clothes and weird headdresses. Then again maybe some will see through the queens new clothes before we all go gaga.
The Fame Monster
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