1.5 stars (out of 4)
She blew it.
This was Lady Gaga’s big chance to erase the memory of 2013’s abysmal last solo outing, Artpop. Instead, her fifth effort is a disjointed and unrealized mess that sounds as if Gaga got cast in a bad off-Broadway rock musical.
Let’s start with the voice. Though a technically proficient singer, she resorts to an off-putting, theatrical yowling throughout the set, as heard in the strained single “Perfect Illusion.”
With that, she stumbles between hackneyed dance pop (the insipid Beck collaboration “Dancin’ in Circles,” which is about, um, finding your own pleasure) and poorly executed stylistic follies, including the ’80s R&B romp “Hey Girl,” featuring an off-key Florence Welch.
In the grand tradition of Jo Calderone, the pop provocateur uses this occasion to introduce a few interesting new characters. Most prominent is Gaga the folk hero, singing of broken hearts in something off of a spaghetti western soundtrack on “Sinner’s Prayer.” In “Come to Mama,” she morphs into a Phil Spector session singer, trying to solve all the world’s problems and begging to know, “Why do we gotta fight over ideas?” over her own Wall of Sound and a saxophone. Gaga the stripper with a heart of gold also makes an appearance, revisiting her go-go dancing days in NYC’s Lower East Side in the Mark Ronson–produced opener “Diamond Heart.”
Joanne does have a couple of raw, aching ballads going for it, such as the title track — which is an ode to her dearly departed aunt, Joanne Germanotta, after whom the album is named — and the country-swept “Million Reasons.” That’s when Gaga tries to show us the real musician behind the meat dress. Got it, but can the old Gaga please come home?