Gaga is back and better than ever with “Joanne”

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After years of anticipation for her next solo act, Lady Gaga’s little monsters can finally dive into her new music in her latest release, “Joanne.”

A dedication to her late aunt from whom the album gets its name, “Joanne” sets aside the glam and disco influences of 2008’s Grammy winner for Best Dance Album “The Fame” and 2012’s Album of the Year nominee “Born This Way.” Instead, “Joanne” strips Gaga’s style back to the classics.

At its core, “Joanne” is an ode to Shania Twain’s country grit of the 90s mixed in with a dash of glossy dance pop for which she’s known. 

Other artists such as Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel, and Dolly Parton come to mind when thinking about the album’s influences, but the biggest question was whether or not Gaga could make it all work.

She not only makes it work, she turned this amalgam of rock, country and electronica into an instant classic. Lady Gaga becomes “Joanne” and has embodied the true rockstar persona of our generation.

Prior to its release, “Joanne” donned three somewhat well-received singles. Although they didn’t compare to the chart-topping success of her previous singles, they established Gaga’s new sound and new persona.

With help from Tame Impala’s lead Kevin Parker and newly legendary producer Mark Ronson, the first single “Perfect Illusion” made its debut early September with a hard-hitting rhythm and vocal power never seen in Gaga’s repertoire before. However, critics were divided on their impressions. The single is decent on its own, but in the wake of the entire album, it feels almost like fan service to little monsters in an attempt to bridge the gap between 90s country rock and electronica.

The following singles, the slow and nostalgic “Million Reasons” and the upbeat anthem “A-YO” give a clearer image of the sound Gaga is experimenting with in this new era. She dives further into the country rock genre in both with gut-wrenching vocals over sleek rhythmic guitar.

The title track of “Joanne” is a true highlight of the album. Raw guitar matched with simple vocals reveal the emotional struggle behind the lyrics. Written by Gaga as a tribute to her aunt, Joanne Germanotta who died of lupus at 19 after being sexuallly assaulted on her college campus. Germanotta along with Gaga’s own personal experiences were large influences in the writing of her Oscar-nominated original song, “Til It Happens To You.”

Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme adds guitar in the lead track “Diamond Heart” and tribute to Paula Cole’s cowboy compulsion in “John Wayne.” However, even in the midst of such deep western cuts, there’s still room for the she-bopping reggae rhythm of “Dancin’ In Circles” which also happens to feature five-time Grammy Award winner Beck.

“Hey Girl” featuring Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, came as a shock to many of Gaga’s listeners since she has so few duets in the span of her work, however this steady Prince tribute also rings reminiscent of Elton John’s legendary “Bennie and the Jets.”

“Joanne” serves as a striking reminder of what it means to be a true album artist, and despite its shortcomings, it’s also a reminder of what making music as a passion looks like.