Monday, May 23, 2011

Lady Gaga

Born This Way [2011]


Born This Way was always going to be a big transition album for Gaga. We already had 2 albums worth of the types of songs that have made her famous over the last 3 years, and as entertaining as those albums were, she needed to showcase herself more as an artist than a pop star with her latest record. Luckily, she seems to have fully understood this, and has pushed herself as hard as she could on her new album. There are only tiny glimmers of old skool Gaga on BTW, mostly on the tracks, 'Judas', and on the ballad, 'You and I'.
New genres are explored, new ways of using the full ability of her voice are showcased, and more depth has been added to her writing. It doesn't come off as trying too hard or contrived either, she really pulls off every new direction or idea on the album perfectly. She's obviously been waiting to spread her wings for a while.

1 // Marry The Night 4/5
Big and bold, the perfect way to open the album. The song opens as a piano ballad, but quickly turns into a heavy disco track. It sounds a lot like old skool Whitney Huston.

2 // Born This Way 3.5/5
I've learned to enjoy this over time, and even though it's one of the weaker songs on the album, i still think it made sense as the first single and it works within the context of the whole album. It's catchy.

3 // Government Hooker 5/5
The amount of time Gaga has been spending in Eastern Europe is very obvious on this track. It sounds like something out of grimy Euro sex club. Production wise, it's the coolest song on the album. If Marilyn Manson was doing pop music, it might sound a lot like this.

4 // Judas 3.5/5
It took me a while, but i've finally warmed to it. It's rating would be much higher had the melody and structure of the song not sounded like Bad Romance part 2, for that, it loses a bit of wow factor due to RedOne's lazy production. I do love the heavy tribal beat though, and since the album offers so much stronger material, i don't mind this as a filler track. I still think it shouldn't have been a single though.

5 // Americano 4/5
The most oddball moment on the album. It sounds like a pop song written for a Broadway production. It's very boisterous and silly, but also very catchy. I would have really fallen in love with it if the mariachi aspect of the music was even stronger.

6 // Hair 4/5
I need to be in the mood for it, but when i am, i think it's a lot of fun and the message behind it is sweet. The carefree vibe of the music reminds me of Cyndi Lauper.

7 // Scheisse 4/5
I don't seem to be as amazed by it as most other fans of the album are, but i still think it's a cool song. I love the faux German, i wish we heard more of it in the lyrics.

8 // Bloody Mary 5/5
I can't get enough of this song, i love the sweeping melody of the chorus and the creepy music during the verses. I'm not sure why, but it reminds me of ABBA.

9 // Black Jesus + Amen Fashion 5/5
The early 90's production on this track is perfect. It sounds like something that would be played all over runway shows in New York. It reminds me a lot of something Madonna would have done on her Erotica album.

10 // Bad Kids 4/5
I've noticed people tend to get turned off by the overly upbeat vibe of the chorus after they hear the much more aggressive verses. I think it works though, and the song has really grown on me over time. I kinda love it.

11 // Fashion For His Love 3/5
Cute song, but obvious filler. Another Whitney Huston 80's inspired track. I like it, it has a great upbeat vibe, but it's also forgettable.

12 // Highway Unicorn [Road To Love] 5/5
I can see why a lot of people don't like it, i admit, first time i heard it, i thought it was really messy, but i've grown to adore it and it's now one of my favourites on the album. It sounds exactly like the type of song you'd listen to driving on a highway, the beats have such a great thumping rock momentum to them, and the chorus is big and loud. Production wise, it's the most experimental track on the album. There's all sorts of crazy shit going on in this.

13 // Heavy Metal Lover 5/5
It's one of those songs you hear that you know everyone will love. The beat is dark and sexy, and i love the Daft Punk inspired bridge with the distorted vocals. Hot song.

14 // Electric Chapel 5/5
The 80's metal guitar intro to this is bad ass. If Alice Cooper did dance music, it would sound something like this. Can't wait to see this live.

15 // The Queen 2/5
I struggle with this song. The first half is a bit too cheesy sounding for my taste, like something Avril Lavigne rejected from her first album. The music transition halfway through however is really great. I love the slowed down tempo, and when the guitar comes strumming it, it sounds beautiful. I only wish the whole first half sounded like the second half.

16 // You and I 3.5/5
This reminds me a lot of a Motley Crue rock ballad meets Elton John. It's a great song, but one that is mostly enjoyed when i'm in the right mood for it.

17 // The Edge of Glory 5/5
It's so uplifting and beautifully produced. The chorus is massive and Gaga's vocals soar of the music so perfectly, it almost gives me goosebumps. There's such strong emotion behind the track, it's euphoric. One of the best songs she's ever done, and an amazing way to end the album.

There's some really great production scattered throughout BTW. The fusion of rock and dance music is mixed perfectly into some of the songs on the record. Gaga said the album was created around the idea of the album working in a live setting, and that's exactly what the album sounds like, a body of work waiting to explode properly on stage. That's probably why the production works so well, Gaga's strong side has always been her ability to take her music from album to stage and improve on it because of her ability as a live musician and performer. The stage gives her an opportunity to interpret her work in different ways.

With a "live setting" frame of mind being used to create the music, it's allowed the songs to have a much bigger sound, as well as letting her voice truly shine on many of the tracks.

With so much image marketing behind Gaga's product, it's easy to forget that she is first and foremost a singer and songwriter. Vocally her voice is fantastic on BTW, and writing wise, she has expanded the types of issues she covers in her songs when compared to her more superficial first 2 albums.

The albums themes aren't only heavily related to Gaga's personal life [Marry The Night, Edge of Glory], but they also address many world issues as well, ranging from the political [Government Hooker] to the social [Born This Way, Americano]. She doesn't do it in a boring preachy way either, even though the topics themselves are serious, they're all presented to us a with a trademark Gaga wink. Gaga wants us to have fun, not feel depressed.

The album isn't perfect, there are a few bumpy turns along the road. RedOne continues to showcase how tired his sound is becoming, especially on 'Judas', which is a decent enough song, but a step back as far as doing something new is concerned. He does much better on 'Hair', but still seems unable to let go of that stupid trademark sound effect he always has appearing in all his work. He only appears on the album a tiny bit though, so it's not a major issue.

A couple of the bonus tracks on the special edition also add little to the overall experience of the standard album. I do love one of them in particular [Black Jesus], but they aren't essential when it comes to looking at the album as a whole product. Aside from that though, there really isn't much else to fault on BTW.

Gaga hailed her new album as "the best album of the next decade", a ridiculous and over the top statement for sure, but after hearing the album countless times, there's no doubt BTW is a very strong record. A decade from now, who knows where the album will stand, but as of RIGHT now, Gaga is hitting pretty much every right note she can with the release of this record. By the time the BTW era is at an end, she will have no doubt proved she's here to stay for the long haul.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Insidious 2/5
Starring: Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson

Directed by: James Wan

A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their son in a supernatural realm called The Further.

I held off torrenting this because it recieved a decent reception from critics. It's hard to come by horror movies that actually do well on a wider scale like that, so i thought it'd be worth my while to check this out on the big screen. Plus, the trailer was impressive. I wish it could have lived up to my expectations though based on the reviews i had read, sadly, it didn't.

Insidious stars off really well. Right from the opening credits, you feel like you're in for something creepy and interesting. The entire first half of the film is executed perfectly, with some nice slow pacing and a few genuinely creepy scares. I did jump a couple times, and i was loving the sense of dread growing throughout the story. Once the film starts heading into the second half of the story however, we lose all sense of tension and scares, and start watching a completely different movie all together.
The movie takes a dramatic turn, and goes from being a slow burning haunted house thriller, to an over the top demon fantasy adventure. At first i was surprised by the sudden switch in tone, but thought maybe the film would take more of a horror fantasy route, similar to Poltergeist [which is a great movie]. I certainly loved the introduction of the demon character, and seeing it appear behind people and in dreams was rather startling.
Sadly, an hints at Insidious being Poltergesit 2.0 were quickly washed away once we enter the realm of 'The Further'.

At that point in the movie, everything was an over the top mess. The story change wasn't the problem, i accepted the fact that we were heading in more of a fantasy direction, but the director seemed to lose any sense of what he was actually trying to do at this point and it all started feeling disjointed and uneven.
A whole group of new and unintentionally hilarious spirits were introduced into the story, and rather than being exciting or creepy, it was all just silly and almost like a horror parody. The spirits looked like extras from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video, it was hard to take any of it seriously. The demon they perfectly presented as a ghastly figure in the first half of the film, all of a sudden became some sort of ridiculous cheesy movie monster, at one point it even sat at a sewing machine making clothes for string puppets [don't ask]. It was all over the place.

It was frusturating watching Insidious because it showed a lot of potential. There are some great things in the movie, but it all gets so muddled by the end, that i was laughing rather than feeling scared at anything i was seeing. The casting is good, and some of the creature design was nicely done, especially with the demon. Some of the creature design howeverwas just way too cheesy, and the movie didn't know what the hell it wanted to be. At one point we are even introduced to 2 ghost hunters, who for whatever reason were meant to provide some un-needed comic relief, it just didn't fit the tone of the movie at all.

If you want an entertaining horror fantasy that knows how to mix atmosphere with over the top visuals, watch Poltergeist. Insidious however is a wasted opportunity filled with great ideas that sadly don't know what direction to go in.