Joanne isn’t Lady Gaga’s country album. But perhaps it should’ve been.
Fans already knew that Gaga’s fifth studio album, out Friday, would be a departure. In between the release of her last proper pop album, Artpop, and now, she’s undergone a complete public-image makeover, changing the way fans hear (teaming up with Tony Bennett to record a jazz album) and see (trading her red-carpet meat dresses for classic Hollywood glam) the chameleonic star.
Joanne still bears traces of Gaga’s hit-making past, and is being marketed as such, in lead singles Perfect Illusion and A-YO. But the rest of the album tells a different story, one of an artist stripping away the theatrics that have accompanied the rest of her releases for a collection of songs colored by country and western, invoking the genre’s familiar specters of trouble-causing cowboys, independent women and God.
The album gambles that listeners care as much about Gaga the artist as Gaga the spectacle. And her gamble pays off, in the most sonically varied, emotionally honest album of her career.