Opening with the sweeping and epic orchestral majesty of ‘Chromatica I’, it’s made clear that Lady Gaga is once again out to make something interesting in the landscape of modern pop music. It becomes apparent while listening also that this album is laid out in three parts, each marked by its own orchestral movement.
The first of these is the sad beauty of ‘Chromatica I’, which then slides into the thumping bass and beastly lyrical loops of ‘Alice’, channelling those kind of mid-range pop dance songs from the 90s (you know the ones, the ones that were lacklustre in the context of the time, but have since become classics in their own right), but in all of the best ways.
This sets the tone for both this album and the tracks that follow in the first part. This is the return of Gaga, the outlying monster of pop. Continuing into ‘Stupid Love’ and ‘Rain On Me’, the first two singles, the tempo doesn’t slow down until the second interlude. Sadly, inconsistency also starts to bleed in from here on.
‘Free Woman’ and ‘Fun Tonight’ are decent enough pop songs but lack any of the edge of previous Lady Gaga work. Apart from THAT incredible 90s drum beat over the last section ‘Free Woman’, these two tracks are almost indistinguishable, starting a pervading feeling of generic pop monotony that reappears throughout Chromatica in later tracks like ‘Enigma’ and ‘1000 Doves’.
The forgettable ‘Fun Tonight’ fades into the darker tone of the classical ‘Chromatica II’ giving way to the industrial electronic pulse of ‘911’. This is the kind of track I expect when I think of Lady Gaga. Clearly pop music, but with an edge to it so sharp you could harm yourself. A mechanical, over-tuned, indulgent dirge that continues into ‘Plastic Doll’ with an added echo placed over to give the illusion of cold, empty space.
‘Sour Candy’ follows, marking the second collaboration of the album. BlackPink adds something to this track that’s arguably missing from ‘Rain On Me’, the identity of the collaborating artist pervading the song. This track oozes 90s dance like Faithless and Pendulum in the verses before snapping to perfectly constructed pop during the transitions backed by piano, then smashing the listener back into the dance for the chorus. The tonal whiplash here is beautiful.
Part two of Chromatica is then rounded off by the joyous bounce of ‘Replay’, possibly one of the most damn catchy songs pop music has thrown out in years. This song has it all; unusual melodies, a fantastic lyrical hook keeping you trapped in it, astonishingly clever lyrics, and a phenomenally catchy beat.
‘Chromatica III’ brings a more triumphant feeling to the classical interludes, setting the tone for the third part of the album, kicking off with the third collaboration ‘Sine From Above’, featuring the legendary Elton John. A hopeful, empowering anthem, this song has possibly the most emotional lyrics on the whole album. Ending with an unexpected garage style drum breakdown in capping a musical journey on a single track.
Closing the album is ‘Babylon’, a rather weak pop offering channelling the 80s, especially early Madonna to an almost scary degree. In fact, I could happily drop this and ‘1000 Doves’ and would have found the end of the album far more impactful. Or switching the order around, but that wouldn’t have made sense considering ‘Chromatica III’.
Chromatica is a damn good pop album. A 90s dance aesthetic runs through almost the entire thing, which is definitely my era, but it’s missing the usual flair of the Mother Monster. The lyrics are still clever, and the construction of the tracks is still arguably genius, but the darker edge of her work is notable in its absence.