My judgment occasionally gets clouded by hype. Only in most cases, the hype has an effect opposite to it’s intention. Instead of drawing me more toward something, hearing endless amounts of PR spin causes me to approach the item (whether it’s a CD, a book, a TV show or a movie) with significantly more skepticism. That’s been my issue with Lady Gaga almost since the moment she danced into stardom.

It took me almost a year to give Gaga a chance. Despite the fact that the singles from her album, The Fame, were omnipresent, I can’t say I appreciated a song of hers until “Bad Romance”. Then I went back, listened to The Fame with a fresh pair of ears, and had to say: this chick isn’t so bad after all. Once you strip away all the manufactured weirdness and her occasionally obnoxious “message”, she writes a good song, she has a good voice, and she has an ear for hooks-much like her most obvious predecessor, Madonna, does. Or did, anyway. In the end, I was won over by good music. As it should be.

Unfortunately, the powers that be in Gagaworld now believe that there needs to be a permanent hype machine swirling around the former Stefanie Germanotta. So, the outfits have gotten weirder and the public pronouncements and interviews have gotten more side-eye worthy. I can’t imagine that there was anyone in the U.S. with a TV or a computer who didn’t know that Gaga’s second (third?) album, Born This Way, was coming out (NPI). However, now that I’ve had a chance to listen and digest the album, I can’t say that the music outweighs the hype this time.

The album as a whole has a very late Eighties/early Nineties dance feel to it. From a musical standpoint, a comparison to make would be C&C Music Factory. Of course, Clivilles and Cole never sang a song in German, and Lady Gaga sends that musical style into another dimension just by virtue of her personality. However, it doesn’t always translate into good songs. I can see people listening to “Poker Face”, “Bad Romance” and “Alejandro” twenty years from now. “Judas” (which basically rips off Gaga’s own “Bad Romance” and “Hair”? Not so much.

Not to say there aren’t good songs here. The album gets off to a great start with two anthems: “Marry the Night” and “Born This Way”. Although I’m not big on an ostensibly straight woman attempting to wave a flag for gay rights (that’s like a white guy as the head of the NAACP), the song is hooky goodness independently of it’s message.  Same goes for the rock guitar-etched “Bad Kids”, a song that sounds like a 21st century rewrite of Pat Benatar hits like “Love is a Battlefield” and “Invincible”. Cheesy as all hell, but fun to listen to.

I think Gaga might have fallen victim to excess a little here. I’d probably bump Born This Way up a grade if 2 or 3 songs had been excised from it’s 14 tracks. The album starts strong, finishes strong, but sags a little bit towards the middle. Also, the synthesized thump-thump-thump gets monotonous after some time. Despite it’s faults, Born This Way is a relatively solid album that manages to narrowly escape the sophomore (kinda) jinx. Pop album of the year? Hardly-not when artists like Adele and Paul Simon have created masterpieces in the genre. Dance-pop album of the year so far? Maybe, but it’s not like that’s been a ridiculously crowded field so far.

Long story short: Born This Way isn’t a bad album, but this time the quality of the music definitely doesn’t equal the hype.

Grade: B-

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