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Album review: Lady Gaga remains ambitious but unfocused on ‘Joanne’

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Two and a half stars

Lady Gaga Joanne

After the relative disappointment of 2013’s sprawling, messy Artpop, Lady Gaga spent the next few years regrouping, focusing on her burgeoning acting career (even winning a Golden Globe for her role on American Horror Story) and retreating into classier vintage music, including her successful jazz collaboration with Tony Bennett. So it would make sense to expect Gaga’s return to pop music on Joanne to be more restrained and accessible than her last couple of albums.

And in some ways it is; Joanne isn’t as cluttered as Artpop or 2011’s Born This Way, but it certainly wouldn’t be accurate to call it understated or simple. Gaga still lurches from one genre to another (arena rock, psychedelia, country, club pop, adult contemporary, etc.), sometimes within the same song, and shifts tones just as jarringly, trying to encompass the entire eclectic range of her artistic vision over the course of a single album. That inconsistency would be more forgivable (or even endearing) if the songs themselves were stronger, but Joanne is pretty short on memorable hooks, even on the most obviously calculated pop songs like lead single “Perfect Illusion” and the funky, upbeat “A-Yo,” which come closest to the catchy electro-pop of Gaga’s biggest hits.

Joanne (named after Gaga’s late aunt, to whom she pays tribute on the soft, sensitive acoustic title track) finds Gaga collaborating with a diverse variety of musicians, including Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Beck, Father John Misty, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker and Nashville songwriter Hillary Lindsey, in addition to expected dance-pop mainstays Mark Ronson and BloodPop, who co-produced the entire album. The result is adventurous but muddled, anchored by Gaga’s often personal lyrics and impassioned vocals but too scattered to make for a coherent vision.

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