Lady Gaga, ‘Artpop’: Album review

Lady Gaga’s latest, “Artpop,” is one long blast of dance music.

True to its title, Lady Gaga’s “Artpop” explodes with sound and action.

It’s a (nearly) nonstop disco blast, with beats that pound, synths that dart and vocals that fire like a blowtorch.

Of course, Lady Gaga has never done things in a small, or God forbid, subtle, way. But her third and latest CD — set for official release Nov. 12 but leaked online Monday — outdistances even the star’s previous flair for overstatement.

The disc also aims to up the ante in Gaga’s ongoing exploration — or exploitation — of fame. Many songs find our heroine either admitting her addiction to attention, or taunting the audience with their parallel fascination.

“Do you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura,” she brays, in a song naturally called “Aura.”

“I live for the applause,” she underscores, over and over, in the album’s first single, titled, of course, “Applause.”

But Gaga doesn’t make music for pondering or reflection of any kind. It’s more geared toward propulsion, aiming for the dance floor, regardless of what genre helps get her there.

For “Artpop,” Gaga broadened the routes in. It’s the most changeable sound of her career, offering increasingly disruptive and innovative EDM beats, plus fresh forays into R&B, hip hop and even soul.

In “Jewels N’ Drugs,” she brings in rappers, T.I., Too Short and Twista, though she connects much more intimately with the beats than with any of the guest stars. Her barreling voice makes an apt partner for hip hop’s open belligerence. Likewise, in her duet with R. Kelly, “Do What U Want,” she has no rapport, sexual or otherwise, with the R&B singer. But the tightly undulating funk of the bass allows Gaga to access a soulfulness she has never before tapped.

The lyrics, too, offer a smart twist. While they seem to mimic the clichéd disco proposal of free-flowing flesh, in fact, it’s an assertion that no amount of groping, or projection, onto Gaga’s body can touch her heart, mind or soul.

As an empowerment placard, it’s convincing and clever. But it gets at a broader limitation with this and, in fact, with all of Gaga’s work. As a singer, she’s about power and self-containment. Like the greatest disco divas, her lungs have a steely depth. In timbre and delivery, she best recalls another dance queen, Laura Branigan. But it’s not a voice you can get close to.

Even the album’s sole ballad, “Dope,” finds Gaga shrieking in full operatic glory, expressing great need in the lyrics while displaying only bravado in her delivery.

The star does use some of this distance to her advantage. Key songs deal with that archetypal rock star tug — between the lure and the loneliness of the road. In “Gypsy,” Gaga nearly states it directly. In the title song, any love relationship gets upstaged by the one between art and pop, her true fascination. “We belong together,” sings one idea to the other.

As it turns out, Gaga’s new music owes a lot more to pop than to art. It’s catchier than it is deep, with songs more eager to knock you out than to bore far inside.

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