Here's the problem with Lady Gaga's Born This Way: There are some problems with Lady Gaga's Born This Way. There's an exceedingly bombastic track that swipes elements of Madonna songs wholesale. There's a schizoid disaster that goes to hell and back to drum up religious controversy. There's a cheesy sax-fest that uses hair as a symbol of empowerment... much like the entire musical Hair. And these are three of the first singles the 25-year-old singer and her label chose to release. We disliked them all. She also told fans, "I promise to give you the greatest album of this decade, just for you." We found that distasteful. She called equality "the prime rib of America," for the love of God. We found that really irritating.
But Born This Way is brilliant.
There are 14 songs on the standard version of Lady Gaga's second full-length album, and those three singles -- "Born This Way," "Judas," and "Hair" -- are among its weakest tracks (in the context of the LP, they don't sound quite as bad, with the exception of the irredeemable "Judas"). Aside from raging closer "The Edge of Glory," which Gaga also dropped in advance of the album's release today, she kept most of the goodies out of sight, which is very unlike a woman who neglects to wear pants. There are awesome disco bangers and songs that'll make you want to hop on a plane to a German techno, stat, but the real meat of Born This Way comes late in its second half, as Gaga does what so many artists have claimed to do and failed -- capture the spirit, not just the sound, of the 1980s.
Anyone can mimic a Springsteen bridge (well, maybe not the Killers) or cram a sax solo into a song, but Lady Gaga's skill isn't purely technical. She made songs that don't copycat '80s' nostalgia but generate their own original sense of sentimentalism. It's almost impossible not to get swept up in the nutty euphoria of a track like "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)," which somehow sounds like the past and the future at the same time. Where are we now? Where are we going? They're universal questions frequently addressed in the road song, and Lady Gaga has made an electro-rock highway album -- perhaps the first of its kind.
It's not easy to go from loathing a song to loving an album, but Born This Way truly is a journey, for Gaga and listeners alike, and sometimes we have to be willing to go to the brink of good taste and back to discover a piece of art's real value. Ultimately, it's the fantastic -- the Kylie Minogue throb of "Electric Chapel," the creepy sleaze-jam of "Bloody Mary," the unrelenting thump of "Marry the Night," the harmonic heartland groove of "Yoü and I" -- that stands out on Born This Way. Even more than that fantastically insane album cover.