Hear Me Out: Lady Gaga, Matraca Berg

Lady Gaga, Born This Way

The third album from pop’s poker-faced ingénue isn’t quite album-of-the-decade deserving, as the star herself claimed it would be, but dear Gaga, it’s gotta be the gayest. Gaga’s message of self-love in the face of adversity isn’t just part of the Born This Way emancipation proclamation, on which she celebrates all kinds of queers with kitschy ridiculousness that only Mother Monster could pull off. She does it again on the surging “Hair,” her mane weirdly a metaphor for freedom from oppression. Those songs, and almost every other club anthem on this very gay gospel of Gaga, come at you like a wrecking ball: big beats, bigger vocals and concert-made credos of liberation, religious or otherwise, that never let up. The vagueness of “The Edge of Glory” does it a favor, reflecting some of the cheesy best of ’80s pop with its totally ambiguous narrative and second coming of the sax. “Scheiße,” with mock-German jargon and techno sheen, could be the theme song for a Brüno sequel (couldn’t you just see him doing the catwalk to it?); the aggressive “Bad Kids” is dirtied up in a hard-edged melody that’s also sweetly endearing for all you naughty rebels. But all’s not tip-top: “Americano” is a second-rate “Alejandro,” and “Marry the Night” probably works better live. More moments like “Bloody Mary,” an easy-going song about a bad romance, would be a welcome reprieve from the exhausting anthems. Ultimately, Born This Way is strong enough for the everyman but made for the monsters. Two paws up.

Grade: B

Matraca Berg, The Dreaming Fields

Blessed with a sterling voice, it’s a wonder we haven’t heard more from Matraca Berg in the last 14 years. That’s how long it’s been since the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, who typically works behind-the-scenes and has written hits for such country heavyweights as Martina McBride and Reba McEntire, released any new material of her own. Thankfully, the wait is over. One of the best albums of the year, Berg’s Dreaming Fields is mellow singer-songwriter music for the soul, mirroring legends like Emmylou Harris and Carole King with stellar writing and Berg’s voice – a mellifluous sound that knows how to get lost in a song. When she poignantly recalls pre-suburban pastures on “The Dreaming Fields,” you wanna go back in time; when she mourns the death of a loved one on “Racing the Angels,” you wish you could bring that person back. Given her songwriting credits, none of it’s that country – even with a song title as Southern-cooked as “Your Husband’s Cheating on Us,” a saucy number about a two-timer, the breather in the set. The rest of Dreaming Fields is built on intense emotions of nostalgia and heartbreak, mourning a relationship’s imminent end on “Clouds” and escaping an abusive one on “If I Had Wings.” “A Cold, Rainy Morning in London in June” closes this marvelously moving album on just piano and strings – and if there were any doubts that Berg should be a bigger deal, this is the song to change that.

Grade: A-

Also Out

Brad Paisley, This Is Country Music

For as big of a country superstar as Brad Paisley is, he sure doesn’t act like it. More than ever his latest LP casts him as the dude next door, where his sign-of-the-times songs – about unemployment (“A Man Don’t Have to Die”) and sweating the small stuff (“One of Those Lives”) – are right in line with his image. The title track is awkwardly self-congratulatory, but one of the better songs on the album. All in all, though, this one’s no American Saturday Night, his last LP. But it’s not a bad way to spend the rest of the week.

Ford & Lopatin, Channel Pressure

It’s back to the future for this Brooklyn electro duo, formerly of Games. Glitchy synths and spastic drum machines – both which fold into greatness on “Too Much Midi (Please Forgive Me)” – take center stage during the production team’s space-rock opera, a conceptual story about their teenage years. It’s a long one, dragging out the musical ADD just a few songs too much, but some of the ’80s-drenched throwbacks – especially “World of Regret,” a stuttery whomp rhythm with electro squiggles and fluttery vocals – are as fantastically old-fashioned as cut-off shorts.

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