What do you call a Mad Max themed gay club?
A self-described dance record, Chromatica is extremely theatrical – an operatic symphony set to the best club soundscapes of the last few decades. Executive produced by BloodPop, the album is an extremely singular vision through which Gaga can fully execute her storytelling.
The record has a clear three-act structure, broken into segments by “Chromatica” interludes each setting the tone and providing delicious musical segues into each chapter. The story reveals itself to be one of redemption. In Act 1, Gaga seeks a love, fails, and is left to pick up the pieces. Act 2, specifically outstanding for the segue into “911,” tests her strengths and her grieving process, exposing moments of weakness and pain intercut with episodes of extreme confidence and progression. It isn’t until Act 3 when Gaga discovers her one true love: music. With the help of Elton John, whose personal narrative immaculately thematically aligns with the album’s story, Gaga expresses this.
Like many pop albums before it, when the flamboyance of Chromatica is stripped away, it is a classic tale of overcoming heartbreak. The point isn’t to tell an unfamiliar story – it rarely is in pop music. Instead, its to welcome the listener into a world of hope that transcends any sort of turmoil they are feeling.
Gaga and her producers’ ambition knows no bounds on Chromatica. The cohesive sound is impressively maintained throughout the album’s 16 tracks. This is as much an asset as it is a weak point. Several songs on the record build endurance only to be undercut by an underwhelming or trivial dance break.
Most prominently suffering from this anticlimax is “Rain On Me,” Gaga’s viral smash with Ariana Grande. Where it resonated with a public looking for hope and acceptance in an incredibly strange time, the track remains, well, not that good.
Like her duet with Elton John (“Sine From Above”), this collaboration utilizes the history of the guest artist to enrich the theme of the song. Anyone who knows Grande knows she has dealt with a lot in the past few years, not to mention her artistic imagery featuring rain and tear, and “Rain On Me” is a good fit because of this.
That said, the single suffers from a less than stellar chorus with the post chorus following suit.
Similar are later tracks “Enigma” and “Replay.” Featured in the album’s second act, the two songs encapsulate the duality of strength and weakness Gaga faced post breakup. In the context of the album, their presence is clear. As single tracks, both are easily forgotten.
Not all of the middle section of the album is like this, nor is the album generally. BLACKPINK lends a much needed injection of style and sleekness to the record, deepening Chromatica with the strongest club banger on the album. “Sour Candy” is a sultry, confident bop from a group of women expertly balancing their sex appeal and power.
Equally euphoric is solo standout “Free Woman.” One of the few tracks to reflect inward, it’s confident and one of the more danceable tunes on the album. The mode of communication Gaga utilizes here lyrically lays in subtext. What often appear as basic pop melodies are really layered insights into Gaga at this point in her life.
Another great example of this is the track “Plastic Doll.” Gaga fittingly uses the seasoned metaphor of the novel female pop artist – the plastic doll that everyone loves, for a time. She’s top shelf, meaning she can withstand the short attention spans and sexist career cycles of women in her genre. Underneath all of these appearances, though, is a deep sadness stemming from the broken-hearted insecurity within the artist.
While it has clear highlights, some of the record comes off painfully commercial. It’s a far cry from the “art pop” the singer has intended to be known for. Where albums Born This Way and The Fame had a lot to say under their glossy production, Chromatica does little to transcend the lived in heartbreak narrative. It lacks the edge that made her two strongest albums pop classics.
Chromatica closes with Gaga’s best “Vogue” impression under the pseudonym “Babylon.” Meant to close the album on a confident note, Madonna’s presence is palpable and impossible to ignore. If nothing more than slightly jarring, its enough fun to hear on the ride home from Chromatica.
At the end of it all, the record sounds exactly as expected. Fans of strobe swaying Gaga will lose it over the collection, while those looking for something new or innovative will shrug and move on as if they never heard the record.
In other words, Chromatica is for the Little Monsters turned Kindness Punks. For proof, see the type of merch Team Gaga is selling.