Chromatica delivers occasional melodic pleasures but is otherwise stripped of the complexity and contradiction that usually defines Gaga’s brand of pop.
Each new release from Lady Gaga following the Fame and Born This Way heyday is more disarming than the last — increasingly structured around an aesthetic idea with a commensurate conceptual looseness. With Chromatica, a 16-track LP divided into three segments with numbered instrumental interludes, Gaga offers the vague notion of “inclusivity” as a thematic entry into the album, which must be regarding its aesthetic goals rather than the lyrical content or the nature of its production — the songs on the album are concerned with self-empowerment and determination, and of the three collaborations on the album, Elton John’s is the only one that extends beyond mere ornamentation. The music itself generically draws from house and the genre’s associated visuals, suggesting futuristic space technology and intergalactic locales, positioning the record as the soundtrack to a utopian rave. Indeed, the songs themselves sound largely more generic than any of Gaga’s previous work: tracks like “Fun Tonight” and “Sour Candy” are forgettable takes on contemporary pop trends, while “911,” “Enigma,” and closer “Babylon” begin with some interesting ideas but don’t progress.
On what’s probably her most image-forward album, the tongue-in-cheek embrace of contradictions — aesthetic, thematic, and conceptual — which made her last two studio albums such exciting listens is left behind in the parade of upbeat crowd-pleasers. The album’s strongest points, such as single “Rain On Me” and tracks “Plastic Doll” and “Sine from Above,” lean into a particular facet of the world Gaga seems to be building here, linking emotionally grounded lyrics with the techno-dance sound, where the rest of the album is too anonymous to contribute meaningfully to this intended aesthetic statement. Those three songs also feature the best melodic progressions on the whole record, which, in combination with the pleasant cohesiveness of its overall production, encourages repeat listens. Still, a bit of ear candy isn’t enough, as Chromatica fails to measure up with Lady Gaga’s best material.
Published as part of Pop Rocks | Q2 2020 – Part 1.