It's a shame most of Born This Way is designed to appeal to the easily amused foot-tapping twelve year olds and/or socially bemused "little monsters" looking for some sort of weird, ambiguous icon to rally them with a generic battle cry (Gaga's base). Her most elating work has always been filled with hooks we didn't see coming (until they haunted our commutes) or simple yet strange phrases now permanently ingrained in the fabric of the collective conscious as Gaga-isms worth knowing ("Bad Romance" and "Paparazzi" to name a few). Those songs were, on first listen, odd and enticing, and later, realized as "hits" in the truest sense. Unfortunately on Born This Way only half the songs make the enticing cut, and beyond them, almost none to the level of ubiquitous joy that the Lady has achieved with her Fame Monster persona.
So it's no surprise then that this is an album of singles. After all, this is where Gaga makes her money. Just don't confuse these for the kind of blockbuster entertainment you've come to expect from Gaga (though the radio dial will probably tell you otherwise). From the single worst offender — the depressingly tofu-tasting "Born This Way" — to the silly sax-laden "Hair", Born This Way is thin on ideas. Unless you want to count the laughably corny overuse of foreign schtick (most lamely on "Americano", a low-budget sequel to "Alejandro" at best, and surprisingly similar to a Weird Al song). The token German song? Without the corny conceit, the melody might actually hold some weight, but like many of the other tracks, it suffers an obsession with being runway fodder rather than a building of tension and release. The pounding is too insistent to create an arc of excitement. It's all upper, and as a result, it's as excitable as a supporting character in a Wes Anderson movie.
First single "Judas" betrays the record, as it leads the minor resistance to this new, watered down Gaga, reminding us there is someone still brilliant behind the merchandising machine. The riff is most likely a slight challenge to young, hook-hungry ears, but once over the hump, a new and unique song emerges (and is quite beloved, even by this skeptical author). Retracing one's steps, it's easy to hear additional evidence elsewhere; "Marry The Night" has the aforementioned arc, at least in the beginning, and a great chorus. The intro to "Government Hooker" is promisingly odd, but doesn't deliver anything beyond. "Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)" isnt exactly poetry, but it's a sticky composition. And "Electric Chapel" is pretty cool, although a little too even-tempered to save some of its over-extended peers.
The production here is huge, which is both helpful and inhibiting. A shitload of compression and lots of laser-lights-and-thumping-bass backtracks don't necessarily bring the "epic" factor to the table when the refrain is "I'm a bad kid", even if someone like Lady Gaga is singing it. And sometimes they don't even make sense, like on "You and I", another piano-driven musical theater ballad along the lines of "Speechless", which comes with some strange choices to back up Gaga's wailing. The risk would be fun if the rest wasn't so disappointingly mediocre.
The record may end on the "Edge Of Glory", but Gaga still has a few more go-rounds to prove she belongs there.