Review: Pop star Gaga is back, but where’s the art or spark?

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga, “Chromatica” (Interscope)
In the 12 years since Lady Gaga dropped her first album, the singer has exceptionally shown that she knows how to create a killer album.

“The Fame” was danceable and clever. “The Fame Monster” was an epic adventure into her darker mind. “Born This Way” brilliantly wove in elements of rock and house with her signature pop. Though she might have tripped over her disco ball on “ARTPOP,” the album still had direction and character. And “Joanne” was a deep, emotional set of songs that paved the way for the sound of “A Star is Born,” a flawless album that captures all the great sides of Gaga.
Enter “Chromatica,” her sixth studio effort, and her return to the electro dance-pop sound that made her a multiplatinum pop star.

It’s an album made for the clubs, though during this current pandemic, that’s equivalent to dancing alone in front of your floor mirror.
But instead of bopping along to the album, you’ll want to social distance from it.
“Chromatica” is a letdown from one of pop’s best voices. The production, which is basic, is the album’s biggest problem — and the flat sound doesn’t help bring the heavy themes of the album to life like Gaga has been able to do in the past.
BloodPop works as lead producer, co-crafting most songs on the project. But other helpers are also part of the process, including Max Martin, Skrillex, Ryan Tedder, Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso, Justin Tranter, BURNS, Rami Yacoub and Tchami. Too many cooks in the kitchen could be the reason the album lacks real flavor. Where is the salt, or spark?
“Alice,” one of the better songs on the 16-track set, opens the album as Gaga sings, “My name isn’t Alice/But I’ll keep looking, I’ll keep looking for Wonderland.”
Her search isn’t over if “Chromatica” is any indication — this feels like a watered-down version of the creative Gaga we all love.

In an interview to promote the album, she explained that “Free Woman” was about her sexual assault and “Rain on Me” was partly about her overdrinking. The topics are real and at times, extremely heavy, and Gaga gets points for sharing her real-life feelings and experiences in her music. But the album’s production doesn’t serve as the best vessel for those deep emotions to breathe. And her vocal performance, surprisingly plain and unmemorable, doesn’t help either. Sometimes it feels like Gaga isn’t even present.
Some of the lyrics feel lazy, too. On “Plastic Doll” she sings, “I’ve lived in a pink box so long/I am top shelf, they built me strong.” Enter side-eye emoji here.
Gaga fares better on tracks like “Replay,” or even “911” and “Babylon,” though both songs sound like leftover tracks from “Born This Way.”
But most of “Chromatica” is problematic: First single “Stupid Love” is forgettable; “Enigma” is predictable; and the inclusion of the chart-topping Ariana Grande on the bouncy but super-mediocre “Rain on Me” screams, “I JUST WANT A NO. 1 HIT RIGHT NOW.”
Having little depth, the best way to describe “Chromatica” might be shallow.