Even after half of the tracks from Born This Way have already managed to creep their way into my ‘Top 25 Most Played’ songs on iTunes, I’m still a little fascinated and perplexed with each listen. The reasons? I could list them all, but plain and simple – what else can you expect from a self-liberating artist going by the name of Lady Gaga?
First things first, Born This Way is not just another album. Whereas 3 years ago, Gaga was singing of her “Summer Boy” and “Brown Eyes” – now, it’s “Government Hooker” and “Judas”. You can connect the dots yourself. Lyrically, and conceptually, Gaga has evolved beyond her humble (in comparison) beginnings. The theme of being born this way isn’t just employed for the title track, and is more laced throughout the album than initial listens would allow you to realise. A track with a similar formula would be “Hair”, an empowering furore wherein the rebel inside Gaga finds it’s realise – even with the somewhat juvenile attitude of going crazy with ‘that’ hair –
“I’ve had enough / this is my prayer / that I’ll die living just as free as my hair”
Gaga herself continued to tweet that she’ll “dye” living just as free as her hair. She’s crazy AND has a sense of humour. Who would’ve known?
Something already established about Gaga is that she pushes boundaries – that much we know. It seems like only yesterday she was bluffing with unmentionable body parts (see ‘Poker Face’) and now she’s blatantly singing about being employed to flaunt said unmentionable body parts (see ‘Government Hooker’). Surprisingly though, the efforts don’t seem forced (in the most case) and it really does make for some incredible dancefloor music:
“Put your hands on me / John F. Kennedy”
I’m not sure how he’d feel about being referred to in such context, but again, one of the stand out tracks for sure. The album is full of moments like the above – a tense silence, a clenched fist and frozen glare, as for half of the first listen you wonder how she gets away with it all. Scheiße (read ‘shy-za’) blares German from the speakers, as ironically, Gaga sings over the noise “I don’t speak German/but I can if you like”. It makes no sense but it works. The controversial Biblical references come thick and fast too – “Judas”, “Bloody Mary”, “Electric Chapel” and “Black Jesus†Amen Fashion”. Maybe she’s converted, but I don’t see her becoming a nun anytime soon (except when singing about her multiple Italian lovers – see “Alejandro”).
Perhaps the clearest thing of all about the otherwise shady record, however, is the sheer musical quality. Crisp and polished on all fronts. It’s a totally fresh sound, like none heard before, and GaGa’s vocals layered on top simply add to the masterpiece. Listening to “Born This Way” and then returning to her roots (“The Fame”), her origins don’t have a patch on her new sound. If this is only album two, her evolution could birth wondrous things still. It’s a term often thrown around, but Gaga truly is a revolution. Comparisons to previous icons (Madonna’s “Express Yourself”) lead only to fuel her to defend her creations, and my, she does a fine job.
Although often shrouded in hooks about highway unicorns and heavy metal lovers, Gaga does allow the softer side of herself to peek through, even if just for a moment, on the closing songs of the record. “You and I” is a throwback to Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and has such a simple sound and idea that is just brought to life with Gaga’s help:
“You said sit back down where you belong / in the corner of my bar with your high heels on”
A break towards the end of the track has Gaga announce that there’s “something about the chase – 6 whole years” and the feeling emerges that she’s not only talking about her Nebraska guy, but her chase of this whole dream, her whole dream.
It’s the track “Edge of Glory” however that has the responsibility of closing the cover on this chapter of Gaga’s life. A power ballad and disco anthem all in one, a lament and yet a song of extreme liberation she leaves us with these final thoughts:
“I’m on the edge of glory / and I’m hanging on a moment of truth / I’m on the edge of glory”.
Another homage to heaven none the less, but, I can’t help but think she’s long past the edge and is on to something glorious.
And that is the pleasure of it all. You need not know what it is that is so fascinating and perplexing about it all. It’s one huge piece of elaborate Gaga fantasy that we, the so-called “Little Monsters” can consume and take a little piece of it back to our everyday lives. Whether for simply a moment, or something infinite, the evolution is upon us all the same.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.