The narrative behind Joanne is, if you can believe it, that Lady Gaga has been touched by her experience dabbling in jazz with Tony Bennett – something that only her dwindling number of core fans and maybe another six people cared about – to release a down-to-earth back-to-basics album that will “surprise” her fans. Given that Artpop was a hilarious flop, perhaps it is reasonable to be cynical and assume that this is a necessary reinvention for someone who seems to crave attention like a drowning person needs oxygen.
However, from the moment the first track Diamond Heart blasts over the speakers, I am pleasantly bowled over by just how much she manages to recapture that era of big rock jams and weepy ballads of the 1980s and 1990s. This track has a rousing singalong chorus that makes it perfect to blasted at full volume while speeding down a highway with the windows rolled down, or something like that. That splendorous key change late in that song in full-out rock-out awesomeness is icing on the cake.
The rest of the album follows that same route. There are wacky jams like A-Yo and Dancin’ in Circles which reminds listeners that there are still some of the previous Lady Gaga left in her, while ballads like the title track and Million Reasons show some country and blues influences. Many of these tracks, like Grigio Girls, are stripped down even when they are uptempo, and yet, there is a strong sense of cohesiveness in these tracks despite their often disparate sounds.
It seems like Lady Gaga wishes to present the songs here as something closer to her heart. A rather clichéd kind of “baring of the soul” move, perhaps, especially one that conveniently comes when her old sound can’t move the same numbers anymore, but still, when the end result is something that sounds this good, who am I to disagree? I am too busy having fun.