Lady Gaga – ARTPOP (4/5)
On ‘Hacker’, the closer of Death Grip’s 2012 hit album, The Money Store, Mc Ride makes the bold claim that “Gaga can’t handle this shit”. Before I heard Gaga’s latest ARTPOP, I also had little doubt that she could handle her shit; no amount of meat dresses, product placement or motorcycle/Gaga hybrids was going to change that. She knew what she had to do and that’s exactly what she did.
ARTPOP has made me worry. Not being an avid reader of so called ‘entertainment’ magazines I had no idea that Gaga had any sort of drugs problem so imagine my shock when in ‘Dope’ she sings that “I need you more than dope”, as though dope were the line by which necessity was measured. Her performance is genuinely heartbreaking and the naked honesty with which she approaches the subject is something to be respected. Maybe Mc Ride was right.
But then maybe he wasn’t. In spite of any struggle she’s been through ARTPOP is gloriously bonkers and at times absolute genius. Just listen to opener ‘Aura’ which starts off as a distorted admission of guilt and ends up sounding a bit Death Gripsian. Though ‘Aura’ is doubtless the maddest track on the record, Gaga maintains a high enough degree of insanity that ARTPOP is never not interesting. And, it has a typically amazing R. Kelly feature, which is probably the main criterion in making pop art.
Gaga CAN handle her sh*t after all.
Polly Scattergood – Arrows (4/5)
It’s with a growing cynicism for faux-80s pop albums that I first approach Arrows, the second album of Colchester-born Polly Scattergood. The name, the image and the synth-led melodies all suggest that this is just another no name pop act trying to catch the gravy train, but thirty seconds of album opener ‘Cocoon’ is enough to turn that notion on its head. Arrows is something truly special.
Both this song and final track ‘I’ve Got a Heart’ were written by Polly alone, and it shows. These tracks are raw: their vocals full and tremulous like a falling raindrop, Polly sounding tearful and wounded. ‘Cocoon’ eloquently summarises the human risk of letting other people into our private thoughts, a world of limitless beauty and self-doubt; the synthesiser and drums swell to the chorus, echoing the same concept of emergence implied in the title.
‘I’ve Got a Heart’ is so stripped down that the piano, synth and cello act as the subtlest of musical compasses, nudging the listener back to the lyrics. It’s a discomforting experience, where you can’t help but sympathise with the pain of watching a lover walk away.
Arrows is not an album to switch off to. Highly reminiscent of Leonard Cohen and Pink Floyd, the clear-sighted exploration of mortality cuts to the bone. The message gets distorted in the chorus-centric ‘Disco Damaged Kid’ and ‘Wanderlust’, the latter coming with a bizarre and breathy spoken verse. Those two duds prevent a perfect score, but Arrows is still the best pop album I’ve heard this year.
Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP2 (5/5)
Eminem is back, and his new album The Marshall Mathers LP2 proves that talent does not diminish with age. Take the darker sounds of The Marshall Mathers LP, combine them with the humour of tracks ‘My Name Is..’ and ‘Without Me’, and add the anger conveyed in Recovery and you get the innovative sound of the new album.
The album includes the typically satirical single ‘Bezerk’ which uses warped comical voices and sounds, as well as ‘Survival’, which provides an outlook on Eminem’s career, along with recent single ‘Rap God’, showcasing his immaculate rapping skill and effortlessly demonstrating that he’s still on top of his game, his talent immensely superior to so many of today’s other rappers.
A lot of references to The Marshall Mathers LP are made: ’So Much Better’ follows his ongoing hatred with Kim, and ‘Legacy’, which looks into Eminem’s idea of his place in rap history, holds a chilling similarity to ‘Sing For The Moment’, from the album Encore.
Overall, Eminem has successfully reinvented his old familiar sounds and made them relevant to today. His sound may have matured but his legendary ruthless offensiveness still remains, and he’s shown and unwillingness to be forgotten anytime soon.
photos: Amazon, NME.