"The Fame Monster" by Lady GaGa

Lady GaGa very quietly released her debut album “The Fame” as 2008 came to a close. Promotion was minimal and hardly anyone noticed or cared. Then somebody got a hold of “Just Dance.” Almost overnight, GaGa became an electro/dance-pop sensation and her slick, electronic beats, gourmet lyrics and stellar vocals made “The Fame” the album of the year for the American public. But people wondered, would GaGa’s superficial obsession with fame be strong enough, deep enough to carry her to the status of a true artist in the eyes of the public and the critics? Or would she forever be confined to the rank of dance-pop darling? The answer, of course, was no. Good thing the Lady has more than just a seemingly endless supply of addictive hooks up her sleeve.

At the end of 2009, the enigmatic blonde re-released “The Fame” along with eight brand-new tracks, aptly titling it “The Fame Monster.” Her beats are still pulsing and addictive, her lyrics still poetically metaphorical and her vocals still flawless, but this time, there are no shiny dance tracks glorifying fame, money or fashion. Instead, each one represents a personal “monster” of GaGa’s, be it her fear of men, addiction, death, love, sex…you name it. This time around, she gives her fans a glimpse of Stephani, not just her alter ego. So what’s she like without her “Poker Face?” Surprisingly…deep.

The album opens with what is quite possibly GaGa’s strongest track ever, if not her absolute best. “Bad Romance’s” chorus positively throbs with power, and GaGa sings, snarls & chants of her longing for the love of an imperfect man with astonishing strength, delivering a vocal performance so impressive that it feels almost out-of-place on such an overtly pop track. But its certainly a welcome abnormality.

At first listen, “Bad Romance” sounds like yet another ode to the fact that yes, girls do like bad boys, whether or not they should. Then it becomes clear that GaGa is singing about true love. Not sugary summer flings or the cheap variety found in a dance club, but the love that says “I love you so much thatI want all of you, not just the good stuff or the “safe” parts, but your flaws and your weaknesses, your scars and your secrets, everything that makes you human. Everything that makes you…you.” Clearly, GaGa understands what love really is. And she’s right to be afraid of it.

The album’s next track seems to pale in comparison to its thundering predecessor, but in reality, it’s a nice piece of Latin-influenced electro-pop that can stand quite well on its own, thank you very much. While certainly lighter than “Bad Romance,” “Alejandro” does have power, just not quite as much. In it, GaGa bids her former Latin lovers (Alejandro, Roberto, Fernando etc.) a cheeky goodbye via one helluva catchy chorus. This is a song that will stay on “repeat” on countless iPods, however, the overall depth and quality of the entire song is somewhat overshadowed by said chorus, coming up short by just a hair.

“Monster” has it all. A compelling storyline, all the depth “Alejandro” lacked and more, an infectious hook, and lyrics that sound “good enough to eat.” This impressive track tells of an encounter between GaGa and an unnamed “monster” boy she meets in a club who eventually ends up in her bed. Though GaGa does not hold up “Monster” as a cautionary tale telling female listeners to beware smooth-talking young men and the emotional consequences of one-night-stands, it could certainly be interpreted that way. After all, this monster boy pursues her, flatters her, gropes her, dances with her, insists on taking her home, French kisses her, beds her…and eats her heart. But though the intended meaning is ambiguous, two things are for sure; this is GaGa at her best and “That boy is a monster/m-m-m-monster” isn’t going to get out of your head anytime soon.

GaGa follows “Monster” with a smashing power ballad that blows everything else completely out of the water. Though it does feel a tad out of place, the Freddie Mercury-esque “Speechless” contains GaGa’s absolute best lyrics and her most stunning vocal performance to date. It’s impossible to accurately describe the raw beauty of this song, so I won’t even try. I will say this, though, before you listen, look up why and for whom she wrote it. It will only serve to enhance the experience.

“Dance In The Dark” serves as an ode to women oppressed, berated and abused by the men in their life. Backed by skipping, pounding synthesizers, GaGa snarls, moans, gasps into the mic and stretches her voice to tell their story, even including a shout-out to famous women who met tragic ends (Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Princess Diana, etc.) It is both dark and maddeningly addictive…hence the title. Not the best on the album by any means, but nevertheless, a solid, albeit chilling, track.

GaGa’s songs got their start in dance clubs, so it is necessary for her to include at least one track recorded especially for them. Although the fact that it features Beyonce may raise a few eyebrows, especially after the disaster that was “Video Phone,” surprisingly, this compilation works. “Telephone” is pure club fun and its sole subject is the girls’ plea for their boys to stop calling because they are busy dancing and can’t talk. It has zero depth, zero substance and its only merit is a hook so addictive you won’t be able to turn it off.

“So Happy I Could Die” is the track that makes you scratch your head and go “Huh?” It tells of GaGa’s physical insecurities and her fear of addiction, both to herself (that is, her Lady GaGa persona) and to substances, but initially, it seems very much to be singing the praises of red wine…but it isn’t. Listen carefully and with an open mind and you’ll get it. Maybe.

GaGa closes the album with another song that makes you work to understand it. With an almost tribal beat and animalistic chant-vocals, GaGa tells her lover, “Take a bite of my bad girl meat…/I’m gonna love you with my hands tied/Show me your teeth/,” making “Teeth” sound like nothing more than an ode to sex. But she also says “I need direction/…Tell me something that’ll save me…/Tell me something that’ll change me…/Just need a little guidance” Is it possible that this is GaGa’s way of saying that maybe she’s not such a “tough bitch” after all? That she really might need a savior?” I’ll say it’s a definite possibility.

It isn’t often that something comes out of Kanye West’s mouth that is worth repeating for good reasons, but recently, he seemed to have a brief moment of brilliance (or perhaps sobriety) when he declared that Lady GaGa was the new Queen of Pop. Maybe that statement is premature, but if “The Fame Monster” is any indication, I’d say she’s well on her way to claiming the throne, assuming, of course, she hasn’t already.

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