Saturday, December 12, 2020

Domerberry Album Review: Chromatica

Oh, I'm sorry — were you expecting something else here today? Did you come here looking for a review of another volume of sad songs by a soft girl in the woods from me, a notoriously woods-averse girl who is soft only in ways pertaining to body fat? 

Honey, no. The new Taylor album is one moderately inventive "Goodbye Earl" reboot, one decent bluegrass number plucked from a discarded Sweet Home Alabama: The Musical soundtrack, and 13 other songs that will make a fine replacement for Mumford & Sons someday when I'm looking for a rainy-mood album that, instead of reminding me of my carefree days as a college student abroad in Britain, calls to mind the worst year in modern human history. What a treat! 

What we will be discussing today, my friends, is not Evermore but another album. One that represents a return to form for a beloved pop artist instead of a turn away from it. One with the ability to lift you out of your quarantine depression instead of spiraling you so far into it that you become a sentient cross-stitch of a cursive swear word. 

We will be discussing Chromatica. 

For those who do not know, Chromatica is the sixth album of Academy Award-winning recording artist Lady Gagá. Released in May after a seven-week delay brought on by the misguided belief that seven weeks would be enough time for the whole coronavirus distraction to blow over, it is a dance-pop album with three separate orchestral intro tracks and appearances by Elton John and the megastar girl group Blackpink. It is lightly alien-themed. What more could you want? 

I am the rare Gaga fan who generally enjoyed her countryish Joanne era, but Chromatica marked a triumphant reprisal of the weird, disco-centric Gaga we all know and love. To use a Swiftian metaphor, it was like the relief of hearing Lover after two years dealing with Reputation. "That was fine," we thought, "but thank God she's back." 

For me, the album also carried personal resonance. Thanks to the thin walls in my old apartment and the gays with interesting piercings who lived in the unit above me, Chromatica was my version of Italian people singing to each other from their balconies. I played this record constantly in the month of June, and so did they. As it slowly dawned on us all how long we might remain in lockdown, thumping Gaga beats provided an unspoken social connection, reminding me that, if I couldn't spend time with people, at least there was Stefani Germanotta to share. 

That same thing happened two months later with "WAP," but here on this God-fearing family blog we will pretend that it did not. 

So without further ado, let us travel to the planet Chromatica, one off-kilter club banger at a time. 

Stupid Love: Do you like to dance? Do you want to watch a music video where the premise is essentially Legends of the Hidden Temple in space? If you answered yes to either of those questions, then Chromatica's lead single is for you. This number took me straight back to the days when my dormmates and I would stay up late learning Born This Way choreography — and that, my friends, is a good place to be. 

Rain On Me (with Ariana Grande): We are immeasurably blessed to have gotten albums from both of these women in 2020, and unsurprisingly, this center of the Chromatica/Positions Venn diagram may be the best of the two-album bunch. The first shining, post-COVID day when I get to dance to this song in a club will be the happiest day of my life, and I will not apologize for nor recant that statement if/when I eventually get married. 

Free Woman: Much like Lady Gaga, I was not single when this came out and am not single now, but this song makes me feel like I am. It's a female empowerment anthem. It's fun to sing. It is the reason my top song in Spotify Wrapped this year was finally something cool instead of an obscure duet from a Pasek and Paul musical.

Fun Tonight: This is an upbeat dance song about how much fun the narrator is not having, featuring the lyric "this moment's hijacked my plans." Could there be a better theme song for this hell-year? Despite your best efforts, Taylor "Sad Girl" Swift, no there could not. 

[Side note: those four songs are tracks 3-6 on Chromatica, and had Gaga released nothing but those, she still would have had the best pop album of the year. I said what I said.]

Chromatica II: Twitter is full of jokes about how great this song is for leading into any number of other songs or activities, and that's fine. But I contend that you haven't truly appreciated "Chromatica II" until you've heard it on a Spotify Free account that transitions straight from those anticipatory final chords into an overly enthusiastic commercial for Chex Mix. Give it a try sometime.

Sour Candy (with Blackpink): If I ever decide to become a K-pop stan, blame this.

Babylon: When I say Weird Gaga is back, y'all, I mean back. This finale song is a voguing number about a gossip battle, featuring a gospel choir, set in ancient Mesopotamia, and it is still a bop. I would say that your faves could never, but genuinely, I would like to see them try.

To be clear, Evermore is a fine album, just like Folklore was. It certainly proves that Taylor Swift can do Bon Iver even though Justin Vernon could not do Lover. Taylor deserves credit for that, and she is getting it, all over God's green internet. 

But when I listened to music this year, it was because I wanted to sing loud and dance at my desk like I'm at one of those (what's that word again?) parties. Lots of pop girls helped in that effort, but in my opinion, none did it better than my one true queen: Mother Monster.

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