It's been a fun day of rating and reviewing the 14 tracks that make up Lady Gaga's latest album, Born This Way, which leaked to the internet late last night. Now that we've gotten through each and every last one of 'em, we've done you the favor—you know, because we're such good friends—of assembling them in one post for you. So in case you haven't been diligently checking the site all day, you can knock 'em out here in one fell swoop right now. Remember, they're ranked from #14 (our least favorite) to #1 (our most favorite):
No. 14: "Americano"
Sounds Like: Gaga's attempt at making the world's most fist-pumping tango, a flamenco-tinged house number complete with dramatic strings, synth horns and lyrics in Spanish.
Pros: The pulsating synths are pretty cool. And if you thought that "Hernando's Hideaway" needed a homoerotic dancefloor update, then you will be very, very happy that this song exists.
Cons: Gaga's attempt at a Spanish accent is predictably miserable, and the entire exercise ends up sounding grating and impossibly cheesy—helped little by the fact that we're still reeling from how much "We No Speak Americano" was overplayed the second half of last year. Plus, no castanets? If ever there was a time...
Yearbook Lyric: "Mis canciones son de la re-revolución / Mi corazón me duele por mi generación" (Roughly: "My songs are of the revolution / My heart hurts for my generation")
Gaga Hashtags: Foreign languages, bad accents, Jesus, alternative sexuality
No. 13: "Highway Unicorn (Road 2 Love)"
Sounds Like: David Guetta if he grew up on '80s cartoon themes instead of Ibiza hits and really, really liked "Poker Face."
Pros: Like the rest of Born This Way, "Highway Unicorn" is immense, sonically and vocally. For once her political lines ("she don't care if your papers or your love is the law," "burning roads with a flag in her bra") aren't completely obvious. And, y'know, there are about three separate drum breakdowns in this thing.
Cons: Big as "Highway Unicorn" is, it's also completely unwieldy, a bunch of heavy parts taped to together to weigh each other down. It's as if co-producer RedOne wanted to remake The Fame and Gaga just wanted to rock out. What's left is a compromise, a watered-down "Edge of Glory" (spoiler or not? wait and see!) with "Poker Face" synths poking out at awkward moments, more and more on every listen.
And there's just a definite limit to how good a song called "Highway Unicorn (Road 2 Love)" can be. We know ponies and unicorns are a Gaga mini-trend--there was that necklace, and then GagaVille (we've been there, and never let us speak of it again) looks like a Lisa Frank explosion. But it's going to take a much better track than this to get inspiration out of a sparkly pony bleeding rainbow syrup.
Yearbook Lyric: "Follow that unicorn, on the road to love!"
Gaga Hashtags: Ponies, organs, the word "tonight," freedom, drinking.
#12. "Bad Kids"
Sounds Like: J.U.S.T.I.C.E. producing a 21st-century Madonna song, with "It Gets Better"-type motivational lyrics of teenage self-acceptance.
Pros: The song has a nice little groove to it, helped immensely by that sinewy digital-guitar riff in the background on the song's verses and the shimmering synths that spruce up an otherwise underwhelming chorus. (Crap, that's half con, isn't it?)
Cons: Another song pandering to the Little ones, Mother Monster? How many times do you need to tell them just how Born This Way they are before you trust them to move on with their lives? You don't have to spend an entire song proudly (if somewhat sarcastically) self-identifying with every possible socially outcast youth group—to wit: nerds, losers, brats, punks, freaks, twits, bitches, rebels and of course, straight up Bad Kids—just to let the kids know once again that it's OK to be different. If they haven't gotten it by now, they were probably too cool to begin with.
Yearbook Lyric: "Don't be insecure / if your heart is pure."
Gaga Hashtags: Parents, loserdom, being a teen, spoken-word intro, soft chorus
No. 11: "Electric Chapel"
Sounds Like: Lady Gaga founding a religion based on electric guitars, wobbly synths and plenty of longing for the never-completely-identified Electric Chapel.
Pros: The attention to detail. Check out the church bells, organs and choral swells in the background, or the piano line that cascades through. That part toward the end where Gaga tries to outsing the would-be guitar solo is cool too. And what listener can't relate to "you want me bad, I think you're cool, but I'm not sure?"
Cons: "Electric Chapel" is solid, but it's also lightweight. Everything good here is done better elsewhere on the album, and we suspect Gaga's team had this in mind when they stuck the track near the tail end of the album. It'd sound awesome in any other context, but baby, this is Born This Way.
Yearbook Lyric: "If you want me, meet me in electric chapel."
Gaga Hashtags: Being a teen, prayer, disco, organs.
For songs number ten through six, click NEXT.
No. 10: "Schieße"
Sounds Like: A callback to the electroclash era, with grimy bass, deadpan spoken-word sections, and random lyrics in German, which inevitably turns into another neo-disco stomper.
Pros: Synths, synths and more synths. The Technotronic-like syncopated ones on the pre-chorus, the dueling screechy ones on the chorus, the growling, guttural ones on the verses—it's an absolute keyboard assault on the senses, which is rarely a bad thing. Plus, the pre-chorus proclamation—"If you're a strong female / you don't need permission"—is so very "Justify My Love."
Cons: Fraulein Gaga is a little more believable and less ridiculous then Señorita Gaga, but her affectations once again make it a little hard to take the song seriously. And the central lyrical conceit—"Sheiße" means "shit," FYI—is just perplexing. "Shit be mine, shit be mine"? "I wish I could be strong without the shit"? Or is "Scheiße" just supposed to be some sort of amorphous, means-whatever-you-think-it-means concept, like Veruca Salt's "Seether"? Eh.
Yearbook Lyric: "I don't speak German / but I can if you like."
Gaga Hashtags: Foreign languages, bad accents, soft chorus, disco, prayer, the lyric "tonight"
No. 9: "Heavy Metal Lover"
Sounds Like: Four minutes of drunken sleaze, with slurred, dirty verses and a dirtier groove. Something you wouldn't play before 12 a.m.
Pros: "'Born This Way’ is the marijuana to the heroin of the album," Gaga once said (in Gaga years, three months counts as "once said"), and she wasn't wrong: imagine that single drenched in sewage, and you won't be too far off from "Heavy Metal Lover." The sleazy pulse is something Depeche Mode might have done back in the day (or Ladytron in the less-distant day), and while the half-moaned lyrics along the lines of "dirty pony, I can't wait to hose you down" are kinda cheesy, you can't say they're out of context.
Cons: You can only hear so much of "Heavy Metal Lover" before needing a shower; unfortunately, that point arrives with about a minute left. Aside from that, a bunch of coos with "heavy metal lover" stuck in the middle doesn't qualify as a chorus, and absolutely nothing here qualifies as metal. Why waste that title here?
Yearbook Lyric: "I want your whiskey mouth all over my blonde south." (We'll assume it goes on the back page with the signatures.)
Gaga Hashtags: Whiskey, dancing, ponies, synth growls.
No. 8: "Judas"
Sounds Like: "Bad Romance" a couple levels further underground, a mean-spirited juggernaut of a stadium house anthem with tightly-packed verses, choruses and bridges all tussling for elbow room.
Pros: The thing sounds fucking enormous, the ultimate "MAKE WAY FOR GAGA" anthem, and one that makes the less ballsy house stompers on the album seem puny by comparison. The fact that it manages to weave so many disparate sections into a five-minute song that sounds even remotely plausible on pop radio is impressive, as is the fact that lyrical phrases like "ear condom" and "fame hooker prostitute wench" don't derail the song's lyrical themes of love, betrayal and guilt completely.
Cons: The chorus is a disappointing pull-back after the battering-ram verses, and it sounds way too close to the "Bad Romance" hook for our tastes. Plus, as big and bursting-at-the-seams as "Judas" is, it can get seriously exhausting after a couple listens too many. And do we really need to mention the fake Jamaican accent on the verses?
Yearbook Lyric: "Jesus is my virtue / But Judas is the demon I cling to."
Gaga Hashtags: Jesus, sing-speaking, bad accents, mention of "Gaga," soft chorus, prostitution
For songs number seven through five, click NEXT.
No. 7: "Government Hooker"
Sounds Like: A red-light district populated by about five Gaga personalities, proffering all the beats they could scrounge up, some vague political/analytical scheisse and all the other raw material in Lady Gaga's brain.
Pros: "Government Hooker" is full of awesome, uh, hooks: the mock-operatic intro (definitely no La Scala, but no Florence Foster Jenkins either), the 8-bit "Funky Town" click track atop tense verses, the guitar stabs, the guaranteed "HOOKER!" earworm on the chorus. And that's just the first minute and a half.
Cons: There's too much of everything. Like "Judas," Gaga packs too much into "Government Hooker" for any individual segment to stand out. And some of the gimmicks actively hurt the track, like those gratuitous bleeps and the even more gratuitous Italian-language interludes (we're at #7 and we still have to harp on this?) More generally, the pop-star-as-hooker metaphor is as played-out as the Marilyn Monroe shoutout. Hey, speaking of which:
Yearbook Lyric: "Put your hands on me, John F. Kennedy. I'll make you squeal, baby, as long as you pay me."
Gaga Hashtags: Prostitution, the name "Gaga," foreign languages, bad accents, spoken word, disco.
No. 6: "Hair"
Sounds Like: A bunch of artists you probably never really thought you'd hear in the same place, as a Dr. Luke-esque dance pop beat is adorned by woozy Weezer synths, Boys Like Girls-style backing "oh-oh"s, and Bruce Springsteen piano and saxophone.
Pros: First and foremost, that Gaga spends much of the song declaring "I am my hair" and does not come off as a complete dolt for doing so. Gaga's use of her hair as a metaphor for her style and independence may be a little thick, but the confidence of her message and the righteous conviction of the music underneath puts it over. Not to mention that it's somewhat refreshing to hear Gaga making these proclamations solely about herself for once, and not attempting to speak for an entire generation of misfits and freaks in the process.
And the musical amalgamation, while jarring at first, actually turns out to be quite a potent mix. All the little touches are great—the sprinklings of "Thunder Road" piano and saxophone (though this is neither the great Clarence Clemons' first nor finest appearance on the album), the subtle appearances of the classic "Be My Baby" drum beat (when has this ever not been a welcome addition to a pop song?), Gaga's final wails of "my haiiii-aiiiirrr!!"—and the chorus brings it all together in one hands-in-the-air moment of glorious individualistic release. You will be very surprised how much you enjoy listening to this song.
Cons: Some of the isolated lyrics can't help but come off a little corny, especially when Gaga starts whining about her parents again ("I scream 'Mom and Dad / Why can't I be who I want to be?'"). And as bad as it may want to be, the "My hai-ai-ai-ai-ai-airrrrr..." stutter-hook on the bridge is certainly no "puh-puh-puh-puh-poker face."
Yearbook Lyric: "This is my prayer / That I'll die living just as free as my hair."
Gaga Hashtags: Stutter hook, disco, freedom, parents, being a teen, Springsteen, piano breaks, prayer
No. 5: "Bloody Mary"
Sounds Like: Gaga and a couple monks amid a moody religious meditation that occasionally moves her to growl. And you can still dance to it!
Pros: It's wonderful to hear Lady Gaga on something slower, with a sinuous melody and a synth pulse that cradles you instead of fist-pumping you in the back of the head. "Bloody Mary" makes half of The Fame--hell, add The Fame Monster too--sound hopelessly canned. It's even better to hear Gaga tighten up her "Judas" cast of characters to focus only on Mary Magdalene, albeit a Gaga-ized superstar version that traditionalists will definitely take issue with.
But forget all that stuffy theology. How can you hate a song that scores "Gaga" for Gregorian chant? That comes up with "Punk-tius" Pilate? Where Gaga roars "LOOOOOOOVE!" like she's suddenly in a death metal song? This is camp at its finest.
Cons: More gratuitous foreign-language interludes. It's not the languages per se we have a problem with, it's that Gaga seems to think they're a shortcut to sophistication. The German's a particularly poor choice, considering that Germany didn't even exist during Jesus' time or the Middle Ages. And when you've got this kind of killer ambience, why ruin it with lazy songwriting shortcuts like that "dum dum, da di dah" bridge? In its place, she could have swiped a few more church fixtures from "Electric Chapel." That choir part was more than atmospheric enough to work.
Yearbook Lyric: "I'll dance, dance, dance with my hands, hands, hands above my head, head, head, like Jesus said."
Gaga Hashtags: Jesus, dancing, the name "Gaga," foreign languages.
For songs number seven through five, click NEXT.
No. 4: "Born This Way"
Sounds Like: Yeah, like you don't know by now.
Pros: We're actually kind of impressed by how well "Born This Way" has held up since it leaked somewhere back in 1994. It's without a doubt Gaga's most coherent single to date, with an uncharacteristically straightforward lyric, a pure disco hook and beat and a subject matter that everyone—well, everyone who would possibly listen to Lady Gaga in the first place, anyway—can relate to. When it was released it felt like the song that all of Gaga's career had been leading up to, and we still love listening to it, either on the radio or as the second track on her album of the same name, today.
Cons: The last half-minute or so could probably be lopped off without causing too many frowns. And we're still not entirely sold on the whole "Him or capital H.I.M." bit.
Yearbook Lyric: "Don't be a drag / Just be a queen."
Gaga Hashtags: Spoken-word intro, foreign languages, parents, disco
No. 3: "Marry The Night"
Sounds Like: A desperately giddy race through '90s revivalism that both engages with and transcends the dance-until-death trend on the pop scene today.
Pros: If Lady Gaga does not release "Marry the Night" as a single, she might as well just quit now. It's got everything you need: a reflective intro to get things going (that radio programmers can easily clip off if they're in a no-filler mood, although we recommend against this), a massive chorus that thrills anew every time it comes around and that wouldn't sound at all out of place on the radio, yet isn't just another Dr. Luke copy, and a build to even greater heights. There's not a diva in the pantheon, '80s to today, who wouldn't stake her career on this.
Out of Born This Way's cornucopia of leaks, "Marry The Night" is the most well-formed. Gaga once again pays meticulous attention to detail without ever sounding like she's micromanaged things--see actual singles "Born This Way" and "Judas," where you could almost hear the sequencer chugging away and slotting everything into the queue. Notice the "Holiday" percussion on the second verse, for instance, a nice subtle Madonna reference. The handclap breakdown begs for audience participation, and the half-shouted "the night!" chants just afterward give us shivers just thinking of how they'll close the show. And don't forget the lyrics, which strike the perfect balance between subculture bone-throwing like "throw on some leather and cruise" and more universal words.
Those last are the key. Pick just about any pop song from the past year and scratch at it, and you'll find plenty of darker themes: dancing until the end of the world, until the place explodes, until you pass out. "Marry the Night" isn't as overt about this, but it's still there. Why does Gaga want to marry the night, anyway? All those other options--boys with their heartbreak, peers with their cruelty--just bring her to tears. There's a barely concealed desperation beneath "Marry the Night," which makes it all the more cathartic once Lady Gaga transcends it. Once the "come on and run" bridge arrives, suddenly major-key, it's more inspirational than a thousand It Gets Better glosses.
Cons: Good question. FarmVille was involved? The fact that we didn't hear this earlier in the hype cycle? Does it matter anymore?
Yearbook Lyric: "I'm gonna marry the night--I'm not gonna cry anymore."
Gaga Hashtags: Loserdom, stuttered lyrics, disco, drinking.
No. 2: "You and I"
Sounds Like: A ballad of Jovi and Guns-sized proportions, mixed with an Elton John groove, an Aerosmith-like swagger and a Queen (via "We Will Rock You") drum beat. Basically, all of Gaga's biggest rock influences rolled into one.
Pros: If Lady Gaga had ever lacked for a set-closer at live gigs, she need no longer want. "You and I" is the kind of stadium-filling, crowd-pleasing, lighter-raising anthem that every performer with ambitions beyond playing Bob Marley covers at coffee-house open mics covets. It copies the feeling of prime hair metal-era power-balladry—getting legendary AC/DC and Def Leppard producer Mutt Lange in the studio was a good first step towards that—without sounding imitative or even particularly nostalgic.
It's still a Lady Gaga song, and it still fits in brilliantly as Born This Way's penultimate track. It just uses backing vocal harmonies, wailing guitar solos and straightforward love-song lyrics to create the same epic feeling she gets elsewhere from glittering synths, 120 BPM beats and messages of self-empowerment. Gaga has frequently professed her love for hair metal and stadium rock in interviews, but until now, we'd never heard it come through so vividly in her music. Here's hoping we won't have to wait too long until we get to hear it again.
Cons: It's possible that repeated references to Nebraska might make fans in some of the other flyover states jealous. If Gaga's smart, though, she'll change the lyric at live gigs to reflect whatever state she happens to be playing in at the time. And we're pretty sure that Lady Gaga is smart.
Yearbook Lyric: "There's something about this place / Something about lonely nights and my lipstick on your face."
Gaga Hashtags: Whiskey, pianos
For our #1 song off Born This Way, click NEXT.
No. 1: "The Edge of Glory"
Sounds Like: Born This Way's victory lap: a thousand '80s anthems' worth of drama, Gaga's best vocals yet and Clarence Clemons's glorious saxophone coming together to create something absolutely monstrous.
Pros: When "The Edge of Glory" dropped, we called it one of the best pop songs of the year, and we will defend that again today to anyone who disagrees. It's easy to write an anthem--we're pretty sure Max Martin alone has about 20 of them sitting on his hard drive--but it takes skill to go this high up the emotional scale without tottering off the peak. The choruses don't have an inch of space or sound to spare. If the lyrics got any more portentous, they'd sound computer-generated. And the amount of time Gaga devotes to the bridge would be ludicrous were it not a showcase for Clemons' sax, the deadliest, most unexpected weapon in Gaga's pop arsenal. Those synth-violin fanfares alongside him aren't just decoration; they're earned.
But we knew that already. What brings "The Edge of Glory" to #1 is how well it holds up in context. Everything we've heard of Born This Way has been so snippetized and previewed and promoted past hell that it's easy to forget that it's an album, one that's supposed to be at least somewhat coherent. "The Edge of Glory" is the last track, and it crowns everything that comes before: the yearnings of "Marry the Night" and "You and I," the bumper-sticker mottos of "Born This Way" and "Bad Kids," the politics of "Americano," the religion of "Electric Chapel" and the scope of just about everything. We couldn't ask for a better conclusion.
Yearbook Lyric: What else: "I'm on the edge of glory, and I'm hanging on a moment with you."
Gaga Hashtags: Saxophone, Pat Benatar, the word "tonight," freedom.
Agree with our rankings? Disagree? Confused as to why we didn't rank "Poker Face"? Let us know all about it in the comments section.
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