A strong vocal with a good backing beat is let down by poor lyrics and vacuous metaphors
Lady Gaga hasn’t released any true pop material since Artpop in 2013, instead focusing on exhibiting her vocal capabilities by releasing a jazz album alongside Tony Bennett and recording ‘Til It Happens To You,’ a heartfelt, Oscar-nominated song to raise money for sexual abuse victims. ‘Perfect Illusion’ is her rocky, mystical, simple, repetitive, and brilliant-yet-meaningless return for the radio, and it’s very different to anything she’s released before. Unfortunately, this introduction to a new era is just likely to leave you a little bit confused.
There is much to praise here, such as her taking of a leaf from Sia’s book with the commendable call to expose a crack in her vocals. It doesn’t quite hit you as effectively as it might from Sia, though the rawness and edgy vulnerability it adds is convincing. The beat behind her – produced by Gaga, Mark Ronson, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, and Justin Bieber’s Purpose guide BloodPop – feels little awkward and ragged at first but soon hooks you with its excellent light-and-shade throughout, which allows Gaga’s vocal abilities and levels to shine. Its peculiar nature is interesting, intriguing, and fundamentally quirky, expressing Gaga’s mantra in a very different form than we’re accustomed to. As a teaser for the style of the “pretty much finished” new album, which will feature Florence Welch, Father John Misty, Giorgio Moroder, and Beck on its eventual release, ‘Perfect Illusion’ is a decent sign of a properly enigmatic comeback to come.
Gaga is well known for her lyrical capabilities and has previously produced some exceptional conceptual pieces with well-built and effective lyrics – think, most notably, ‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Applause’ – making the emptiness created here by incessant repetition all the more frustrating. “It wasn’t love / It was a perfect illusion / Perfect illusion,” the words that make up almost the entire chorus, are heard so often – over 20 times, actually – that they’re devoid of definition by the end, and the titular metaphor itself becomes fairly vacuous with its image not enhanced at all from start to finish. Gaga could have let loose a little more at the end and really showed off her vocal range beyond a key shift that ranks amongst the most startling in recent memory, but instead she is held back. Maybe a music video full of her typical festivities will help to put something behind it, because the lyrics alone (and the concept behind them) are rather underwhelming and certainly not what we’ve been waiting three years for.
‘Perfect Illusion’ is out now via Interscope