Words by Marilyn Kelly
Chromatica is many things: a triumphant career-defining, return-to-form for one of our most fascinating and (as overused as the term now is) iconic artists; a giddy kaleidoscope of music seemingly created to soundtrack gay bars and prides for years to come; and simultaneously a deeply personal autobiography of trauma and growth. Who else but the mighty Mother Monster could pull all this off, simultaneously to deliver not only the best album of last year, but what feels like a triumphant culmination of years of experimentation and carefully crafted image by Gaga herself.
Following a brief spell of trying to push herself to fit a far blander and, let’s be honest, far straighter mainstream with 2016’s Joanne, Chromatica shows Gaga at her peak. Songs such as Stupid Love and Sour Candy are mercilessly precise pieces of manufactured pop joy, bringing to mind the very best of Born This Way and ARTPOP. The albums closing track BABYLON is a delightfully teasing track, Gaga has frequently been compared unfairly to Madonna, and BABYLON ultimately feels like a sly parody of Vogue, whether intentional or not.
While one of the albums high points, 911, speaks chillingly and thrillingly of mania, mental illness and exhaustion, a grinding robotic beat through-out driving us to witness the exhaustion of Gaga - the artist existing with fibromyalgia. While it’s potent lyrics speak of the fixation and obsession on her body, a theme carried throughout her work and given new relevance with the disclosure of the disability that was ultimately responsible for the shelving of several projects.
Gaga has spoken of the album as a kind of therapy, a reclamation of a space she had felt lost to trauma, and it is in the albums high point that this truly comes across, Rain On Me is an absolute masterwork of joy and melancholy, luscious house-music informed pianos give way to perhaps the most joyful bass line in Gagas career, with Ariana Grande on support vocals and a message of redemption and cleansing through living it is a song that by circumstance came to define the nightmare of living through 2020. It is one of the great joys of the album, that it recognises the power and potential of house and disco to be spaces of healing, both for its artist and audience.
Chromatica feels very much like Gaga is back to creating work that exists in tandem with her fandom, and a piece of work that acknowledges her queer fan base. When Chromatica was released it was shipped on pre order with Chromatica Jockstraps, a tacit nod to the appeal of the album as a gay bar banger. Perhaps one of the bigger tragedies musically of this project is that it is such a victim of circumstance, this is an album designed for sweaty screeching dance floor rendezvous, released in a time that such things no longer exist.
If there is a weak point in Chromatica, I’ve still twenty listen throughs in, to find it. What I have found is a joyful brilliant disco record by a woman who has constantly innovated and trod a singular path through to this moment. Paws up. Paws up for ever.