Chromatica is a comeback album from an artist who has never gone away and never experienced a dip in popularity. Maybe Artpop provided a dent in her armor back in 2013, with none of its singles dominating the charts or conversation the way the hits from The Fame Monster and Born This Way did, but the album went to number one, as did her 2014 duet record with Tony Bennett, as did 2016's purported country-rock makeover Joanne, and the soundtrack to 2018's A Star Is Born, a smash that also earned her an Oscar for the ballad "Shallow." None of these stylistic excursions can be heard on Chromatica -- there isn't even a ballad that attempts to replicate the surging pathos of "Shallow" -- but they can be felt underneath the diamond-hard surface of this determined revival of Gaga's dance-pop roots. By dedicating the entirety of her sixth proper studio set to club music, she's effectively declaring that she's come in from the cold, but the old-school show biz moves that made her beloved of old-timers like Bennett and Hollywood alike can be heard by how she slyly finds cameo space for her spiritual godfather Elton John and Ariana Grande, the biggest star in dance-pop in 2020. Gaga stands proudly between these two poles, hipper than Elton John but sounding down-right old-fashioned when compared to Grande. Gaga leans into her status as a veteran on Chromatica, making only the mildest attempts to sound modern. She'd rather revive memories of The Fame Monster while evoking sounds that conjure memories of the '90s and Y2K. Since it's been so long since Gaga has been determined to deliver glitzy thrills, it might take a moment to realize that Chromatica is simultaneously a retreat from the contemporary pop charts and as personal a record as Joanne, which was touted as her singer/songwriter affair. Chromatica willfully ignores trap and the other dour pop trends of the late 2010s for exuberant disco and house, styles that are not only in her musical comfort zone but allow her the freedom to explore personal pain and loss, such as the cry for help of "911." The emotional urgency driving a good chunk of the songs means Chromatica doesn't feel stiff or fusty even if it rejects the present, and there's also a lot to be said for the show biz razzle-dazzle Gaga has absorbed in the years since Artpop. Maybe she's lost her appetite to be a weird provocateur, but she has learned how to sharpen and stylize her attack, and that focus makes Chromatica one of her most consistent and satisfying albums.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
|4||Lady Gaga feat: Ariana Grande||03:02||Amazon|
|10||Lady Gaga feat: BlackPink||02:37||Amazon|
|14||Lady Gaga feat: Elton John||04:04||Amazon|