At the beginning of the year when I reviewed The Fame, I was underwhelmed, finding much of to sound about the same. Ten months and four more hits later, my opinion of Lady GaGa's debut is still about the same. It's launched some great singles, but after that, the album is uneven and overlong.
Both of these shortcomings have been addressed on The Fame Monster, the stopgap follow-up originally envisioned as new tracks for The Fame's re-release, but which has taken on a life of its own as a long EP--long enough really to be considered a new album. At just eight tracks--the same number as on Madonna's 1983 debut--The Fame Monster is lean and mean with just as much (if not more) diversity of sounds than on The Fame.
"Bad Romance" is as stomping a dance track as anything we've heard from GaGa yet. "Alejandro" sounds like an unearthed Ace of Base song from the '90s, during which GaGa rejects the advances of a bevy of Latin lovers--Alejandro, plus his buddies Roberto and Fernando. "Monster," one of several very '80s-sounding tunes, continues the down with love vibe established by the first two songs ("he ate my heart...that boy is a monster"). "Dance in the Dark," also very mid-80s sounding, is ever darker with a fantastic synth refrain and spoken-word middle section clearly inspired by Madonna's "Vogue."
"Speechless" is the disc's only slow song, styled as a rock ballad like the kind Pink excels in, during which GaGa confronts a messy drunk (whom she's claimed is her father) with his "Johnny Walker eyes." "Telephone" is produced by Rodney Jerkins and opens with his trademark harp in the background. Beyonce shows up as a guest artist--returning the favor for GaGa appearing on Beyonce's own telecommunications song, "Video Phone." She's underutilized, singing only in the song's brief middle section.
Blatant narcissism never sounded as good as it does on "So Happy I Could Die," recalling Madonna's Like a Virgin-era sound. Swinging "Teeth" closes the album on a lively R&B note.
As much as anything, The Fame Monster advances Lady GaGa's apparent bid to become the new Madonna, taking several pages from the singer's '80s and early '90s playbooks. With Madonna moving on to do who-knows-what with the Live Earth people, its a role I'm happy to see someone take on.
Best: Bad Romance, Alejandro, Dance in the Dark, Monster, Speechless