Even with all that ironic distance built onto her sound, songs and persona, Lady Gaga still retained a few tenuous intimate connections with her “monsters” on “The Fame” and “Born This Way,” but with her third proper album, “ARTPOP,” Gaga severs all ties. Every song sounds at least one step removed from honesty and lacquered into a cold manqué of what it purports to be. These are not songs dealing directly with sex, fame and drugs — they all play like songs about other songs.
Ostensible sex jams such as “G.U.Y.” and “Sexxx Dreams” are powered by calculated buzzes and whirrs but contain no true intimacy, the connect-the-dots hip-hop pastiche “Jewels ‘N’ Drugs” plays like a joke with no punchline despite the presence of T.I. and Twista and a too-short appearance by Too $hort. And when Gaga tells R. Kelly he can “do what you want with my body” on “Do What U Want,” well, everyone knows what that means from the court records. It does not help that every insincere utterance is surrounded by of-the-moment electronic dance music when it should be forward-thinking — the David Guetta beats on “Fashion!” will be out of fashion by next Fashion Week, and the Versace-slamming “Donatella” feels about as fresh as Right Said Fred. All this detachment means that songs like the allegedly confessional “Dope” sound silly when they should be building emotional resonance — howler lines like “I need you more than dope” come across like Broadway parodies.
All this plastic-fantastic soft provocation is ruled by committee, which is a probable explanation as to why “ARTPOP” lacks focus. Most of the songs are credited to at least four songwriters, and the finale, “Applause,” features no less than eight names on the final tally. Even Cher’s “Believe,” kind of the industry standard for this variety of songwriting dog pile, had only six. So much of Lady Gaga’s career was built on quirks and no small amount of courage in presentation and performance, but on “ARTPOP,” any semblance of personality is filtered out — the “ART” in “ARTPOP” stands for “artifice.”
— George Lang