By Elson Feris
Last we saw of Lady Gaga, it was 2014. She was touring with her friend and colleague, Tony Bennett, in support of their collaborative record 'Cheek To Cheek'; a collection of American jazz standards. The record was a means of escape from the negativity plaguing the pop scene she dominated, after her previous record ARTPOP had been met with mostly negative reviews.
The break from pop gave Gaga time to recollect and reflect on the type of art she wanted to put out into the world. 2016 saw the release of Gaga's most personal effort to date; Joanne. Stripped of crystal studded baselines, Joanne hearkens back to a "pre-fame" Gaga, when she was performing at New York's 'The Bitter End' with The Stefani Germanotta Band in 2006.
If you're wondering who the hell Joanne is, Gaga's late aunt, Joanne Germanotta, is the titular lead. Having died of lupus in 1974, Gaga's father had a void burned into him following his sisters passing. To understand her fathers pain, and in her own effort to heal, Joanne was born under collaboration with top 40s favorite Mark Ronson.
Record opener 'Diamond Heart', a song about Gaga's career as a go-go girl before making it big, and lead single 'Perfect Illusion'' are dance floor ready, rock-and-roll bangers. In place of synths, there's rock-heavy guitar riffs; instead of catwalk anthems we're given songs with Nashville country power anthem flair. Album standout "Grigio Girls" is the story of a close friend with stage 4 cancer. The track combines elements of a hopeful power ballad with a field side guitar and thumping beat. "Angel Down", a ballad written about the murder of Trayvon Martin, closes the extremely personal album. The song has Gaga humming "I'd rather save an angel down" over harp and piano.
Gaga is always careful in threading a clear message through her music. With Joanne it seems that this record is for all of us. For the kid with their paw up in undying support at her show. For the gym bunny hitting their next mile. For the stay at mom with her hair in a bun and wine glass in her hand. Joanne is eclectic, while remaining nostalgic, and is the perfect comeback to solidify Gaga's legacy.