Lady Gaga, ‘Born This Way’

Born This Way

The litmus test of any new pop record is the opinion of a little girl who already loves the artist unreservedly and will brook no criticism.

So, into this treacherous arena went ‘Born This Way’, and first we gauged recognition: “Is it Lady Gaga?” One hurdle cleared. Further responses to Stefani’s hi-NRG dambuster included bouncing up and down from Junior (five-and-a-half), Junior 2 (two-and-eleven-twelfths) and Junior 3 (a week shy of one) – confirming Gaga’s all-ages appeal – and an unprompted round of applause at the finish.

Then the question we’ve all avoided. Yes, determined to mark ‘Born This Way’’s place in the Gaga pantheon, I asked which was better, this or ‘Bad Romance’.

“Both.”

All that without mentioning ‘Express Yourself’. Unjaded by the past, unworried that all the pop tunes might have been done and everything’s now just a swish rejig, Junior doesn’t hear Madonna in this. Nor does she catch a whisper of ‘Rio’, or Jesus Jones’s ‘International Bright Young Thing’ or even Maxine Nightingale’s ‘Right Back Where We Started From’.

Come to that, she didn’t spot a Joe Satriani noodle recast in ‘Viva La Vida’, nor a short refrain from an 18-minute Cat Stevens song in the same. Because no one really knew them and they weren’t really there.

And she doesn’t fret that Lady Gaga’s courting of the gay audience might be a hard-nosed ploy. Perhaps she knows Gaga’s got plenty of ground there anyway, or perhaps she knows Gaga’s still got some way to go and it’s all fair game. After all, my brother still belongs to Kylie.

Whatever could go through Junior’s head, she takes ‘Born This Way’ on its own immediate terms; a fiery, anthemic, infectious jolt. Let’s all do that.

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[12] Coldplay, ‘Viva La Vida’

When the Pet Shop Boys covered this in their Pandemonium show – Neil Tennant in crown and gown, natch – it fostered the biggest singalong of the night. I’d swear, somewhat insultingly (for whoever), half the audience assumed the song was Tennant and Lowe’s – and wised up too late. Otherwise, I’m not sure there’s a natural overlap between the bands, but the point for me is ‘Viva La Vida’ has fast become an anthem and, I’ll wager, the Noughties hit that will last. At least in the sort of Absolute Radio pantheon that will forever rate Bohemian Rhapsody and Stairway To Heaven the standout peaks of our popular culture.

Obviously I think this is a great record, and while much of that is down to its immediacy and bursting pride, there’s also the question of its surprising birth. After all, X&Y had pretty much clawhammered the joy out of the soul of anyone who listened. It was a flatulent album, stretching its reserves of hot air over a dozen lifeless rhyming-dictionary clods of half-songs. They barely deserved their Brian Eno moment. However, he turned up anyway and has to take a hefty slice of credit for the alert Coldplay that emerged. But credit to Martin and co for actually bothering their arses this time.

Like Doctor Who, this is a family favourite. Actually, Doctor Who’s too scary for Junior. Let’s call this a mainstay of our automobile glee club.

Junior says: “WOAH-OH-OHH-OH-OHHH-OHHH. That’s the best bit.” And probably the only bit not pilfered from Joe Satriani, Cat Stevens, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’… – ah, we’re all the sum of our influences, aren’t we? Whatever cobbles this together, it gets Junior smiling every time. Maybe she’s got some publishing rights too.

Best bit: Well, what she said.

[6] Coldplay, ‘Viva La Vida’

Coldplay

As the opening strings stab, Junior vouches, “It’s my song,” which just about crowns a vexing couple of weeks for Chris Martin. That’s Junior and Joe Satriani on his tail. Joe’s beef is that the melody of the verse borrows a widdly guitar part of his, and while you can’t deny the similarities it’s tough to call it a steal. At any rate, ‘Viva La Vida’’s strength is a pulsating string sound and a chorus you can shine your shoes with.

After the complacent, sloppy muck of X&Y, I wasn’t expecting great things of Coldplay, and Viva La Vida’s lead single ‘Violet Hill’ wasn’t exactly a curveball – but, once you got past the throwback mis-step of ‘Cemeteries Of London’, the album turned out to be a real gem. There’s a switch halfway through fourth track ‘42’ where the band relaxes, tries on some new threads for size and bangs out beauties to the end. It’s tempting to call it the work of Brian Eno and, even if his hand was only a guiding one, he can take some credit that the album is succinct, moving, interesting and brave – in relative terms, at least. The title track is its beating heart (albeit a heartbeat after some mild exercise), a stirring tale of a great leader fallen and shamed. Neil reckons it’s about Tony Blair.

Junior is “woah-oh-OH-OH-oh”ing within a bar or two, pre-empting the chant before the final chorus. Perhaps it was at the start in her first draft.

2008 Top 20 Singles?

Halfway through the year, always looking for delaying tactics and ways to ramp up the tension for the year-end countdown, here’s a minor indicator – the Top 20 Most Played 2008 Singles on my iPod thingy.

[1] Martha Wainwright, ‘Bleeding All Over You’
[2] The Ting Tings, ‘Great DJ’
[3] Laura Marling, ‘Ghosts’
[4] Alphabeat, ‘Fascination’
[5] Fleet Foxes, ‘White Winter Hymnal’
[6] Coldplay, ‘Violet Hill’
[7] The Ting Tings, ‘That’s Not My Name’
[8] Death Cab For Cutie, ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’
[9] MGMT, ‘Time To Pretend’
[10] Lykke Li, ‘I’m Good, I’m Gone’
[11] Coldplay, ‘Viva La Vida’
[12] Santogold, ‘L.E.S. Artistes’
[13] Portishead, ‘Machine Gun’
[14] Vampire Weekend, ‘Oxford Comma’
[15] Laura Marling, ‘Cross Your Fingers’/’Crawled Out Of The Sea’
[16] Hercules And Love Affair, ‘Blind’
[17] The Shortwave Set, ‘No Social’
[18] Goldfrapp, ‘A&E’
[19] H ‘two’ O featuring Platnum, ‘What’s It Gonna Be’
[20] Foals, ‘Red Socks Pugie’

Admit it. You’re astonished.