When Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket took off from Earth for its first flight into space at the beginning of June, it was hard not to feel a little envious. Out there in the great, wide galaxy, you don’t have to deal with the anxieties of the climate crisis, the fear of the coronavirus pandemic, or the rage-inducing inequality that plagues our planet. Unless you’re extremely loaded, though, there’s no chance of jetting off into the atmosphere.
Or is there? On her sixth album, ‘Chromatica’, Lady Gaga has built a brand new planet where equality reins, the ills of Earth are non-existent and all it costs to escape to this new haven is the price of however you consume music these days. Bargain! Instead of a boring white rocket, you’ll be riding something much more exciting to get there – bubblegum pink, embellished with studs, spikes and Day-Glo lights; a cyber-punk rave rocket here to whisk you away from perpetual darkness.
There’s no sense of boredom or restlessness that you get in the middle of long flights here either – ‘Chromatica’ is a journey that rushes past, compelling you to get out of your seat and dance every step of the way. It’s a colourful collage of bold dance-pop, from the new wave-y ‘911’ to the classic Gaga electro strut of ‘Stupid Love’. Only three orchestral movements sporadically interrupt the party, but once their elegant string melodies have wafted away again it’s straight back to the good stuff at the heart of the dancefloor (the transition from ‘Chromatica II’ to ‘911’ does admittedly slap though).
Moving on – be that to a conceptual new planet or to a better space in your life – is at the core of the record. While writing it, Gaga hoped to be healed by the music, allowing her to accept the struggles she’d faced in life, like sexual assault or mental illness. The results are unrelentingly empowering and positive. Even when things aren’t perfect, she’s looking on the bright side, or, as the Ariana Grande-featuring giddy banger ‘Rain On Me’ puts it: “I’d rather be dry but at least I’m alive.” In their world, when life gives you downpours you bounce and splash through every puddle.
The lasering synths of ‘Alice’ find the pop star at the start of her own journey, “tired of screaming” but determined to keep pushing on through and “keep looking for wonderland”. On ‘Stupid Love’ she sighs, “All I ever wanted was love”, a little resignation piercing through the song’s bright, bubbly exterior, but two songs later she’s in a much different space. “I’m still someone if I don’t got a man,” she asserts proudly over Ibiza-ready synths. Later, ‘911’ turns needing antipsychotic medication into a New Order-tinged pop gem, Gaga cheerfully declaring: “My biggest enemy is me ever since day one/Pop a 911 then pop another one.”
Working through your problems alone would be a lot less fun than with friends and Gaga calls on three collaborators to help her through. As well as teaming up with Grande on the pure gold of ‘Rain On Me’, Gaga heads to Korea with BLACKPINK on ‘Sour Candy’, creating a darkly glimmering track that has a lot of promise but ultimately falls flat. Similarly, despite its EDM explosion of a chorus – all Major Lazer trills and pulsating beats – and stately Elton John cameo, ‘Sine From Above’ doesn’t quite land. Then, out of nowhere, comes a drum’n’bass climax that’s disorientating and walks the line between genius and messy.
As ‘Chromatica’ prepares to land on its namesake planet, so the quality in the tracks takes a dip. The theatrical swoop of ‘Enigma’ takes the form of colourful Euro-pop but once you’re onto the next track it’s hard to recall. ‘1000 Doves’ is generic disco-pop that compares its creator to the titular white bird, but one who’s in need of some help (“Lift me up, give me a start/Cos I’ve been flying with some broken arms”), while ‘Babylon’ is so indebted to Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ it feels at odds with Gaga’s usually unique creativity.
Still, for the most part, ‘Chromatica’ is the perfect antidote to a world ruled by negativity; a voyage into an alternate reality ready-made for enlightened “kindness punks”. Book your seat today.