She promised she’d do “whatever it takes to make the world dance and smile”, and regardless of however you view the many-layered vision of Gaga, no listener of the gobsmacking Chromatica can deny that she has delivered on that promise.
Mining the most commanding elements of ‘90s dance, Chromatica is a glistening platter of whopping house beats, soaring yells-to-arms, and propulsive, agile synths. The trio of sub-minute-long instrumental tracks – Chromatica I, II and III – raise our space elevator up to the surface of planet Chromatica in interludes of noble horns, rich strings and the sort of impeccably-crafted orchestral phrasing which would make Angelo Badalamenti or Thomas Newman weep.
Between, we’re flung into party-caves occupied by the spirits of La Bouche, C&C Music Factory, M People, and in the case of giant closing track Babylon, Madonna (which riffs on Vogue right down to the spoken-word portions, which Gaga uses to engage in ‘Babylon’ = ‘babble on’ wordplay), but Gaga always manages to makes her mark.
Hot club-piano triads are never far away, and the lead-ups to drops employ crisp snares chattering in perfect time; basslines swerve and pivot like an Armand van Helden remix, and BVs are full of throaty pleas to “set me free.”
On the subject of vocals, Gaga’s enunciation has always given her pop a grand, operatic feel; on Chromatica she brings the technique to its full potential, where she gives the ‘o’ in the oft-sung word “love” everything it deserves – she announces the concept with the dignity of a royal title.
Gaga finds many little nooks in which to tuck reflections of her past works – “You love the paparazzi, love the fame,” she sings on Fun Tonight; “Your monsters torture me,” she entreats on Replay – but the moment in which she truly embodies her new chapter is in Sine from Above, her collab with Elton John. Gaga has previously explained her understanding of the mathematical sine wave as a symbol for sound waves (i.e. music); Sine from Above sees Gaga finding her “lightning” – her life’s sign – literally in music. The richness of experience in John’s ever-gorgeous voice as he performs this sonic dance with Gaga is like a key slipping into a lock. The track moves into a huge breakbeat conclusion, with breathy synth flickering about like bright insects.
Chromatica is movement and celebration, but also a request to be heard and supported despite human flaws – and it also is, in turn, a promise to return the embrace with total devotion.
Chromatica by Lady Gaga is out now via Interscope.
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