Lady Gaga: She’s been dubbed the new Princess of Pop, but call her Dr. Frankenstein. The Fame Monster, Gaga’s re-release of debut album The Fame, finds the platinum blonde pop star stitching together bits of ’90s Scandinavian pop and lush ’80s melodies with her own unique charm.
But Gaga doesn’t just reinvent the proverbial wheel on this release; The Fame Monster is the artist giving birth to her own Leviathan — an eight-track exploration through and explanation of the murky waters of the music industry the artist navigated between 2008 and 2009. And her mad science works here: The Fame Monster is an add-on album of near-mythic proportions that not only surpasses the brilliance of her debut release — it smashes it to pieces.
Aesthetically, The Fame Monster is a gorgeously produced and polished work of pop gems. “So Happy I Could Die” and “Alejandro” offer Scandinavian pop at its finest, the latter recalling Ace of Base’s “Don’t Turn Around” with its pulsating synthesization and heavy bass line. “Dance in the Dark” and “Monster” are less cloyingly sweet approaches to ’80s studio pop — more reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s introspection than Madonna’s “Material Girl” work — while Disc One closer “Teeth” is a departure from the heavier tracks with its jaunty vaudevillian and hyper-sexualized mood.
With its introduction paying homage to the orchestral demonstrations of Queen, “Speechless” is an emotional ballad that soars upon power chords and Gaga’s similarly charged vocals. But like a siren, Gaga’s immaculate vocals here bely deeper issues like alcoholism as she recounts “I can’t believe/ How you looked at me/ With your Johnnie Walker eyes” or as she sings “And after all the drinks and bars that we’ve been to/ Would you give it all up?/ Could I give it all up for you?”
And this theme persists throughout the album, every song acknowledging a tribulation Lady Gaga experienced during her year-long travels promoting The Fame. Although heavy bass lines threaten to overcome her emotional exploration, “Monster” — her (surprising) “Fear of Love Monster” — finds the artist recounting her lack of luck in love, singing “I want to ‘Just Dance’/ But he took me home instead/ Uh oh! There was a monster in my bed… He ate my heart then he ate my brain.”
“Dance in the Dark,” her seeming “Fear of Death Monster,” deals with the weightier issue of suicide and murder. An obvious club hit despite its heavy subject matter, Gaga name checks cultural icons like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, and even pageant princess JonBen?t Ramsey, imploring them to “find your Jesus/ Find your Kubrick.”
Yet while every song from this new disc deceives with its sugary coating, nothing here leaves a bitter taste in the listeners’ mouths. Instead, Lady Gaga’s insight is refreshing. Few artists would be brave enough to seemingly bite the hand that feeds them, but she not only does that unabashedly with The Fame Monster — Lady Gaga devours that hand, spits it out and crafts an album that can only be regarded as the best of 2009.
5 stars out of 5.