Lady Gaga, Artpop (Interscope Records)
Just because the postmodern pop persona so carefully and lucratively constructed by the former Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta asks us to listen with the mindset that her third studio album is capital-A art doesn’t mean she delivers on that promise the way that, say, the Velvet Underground did when it packaged its sounds behind that famous Warhol banana. Musically, Artpop is more potent than the soggy and flaccid Born This Way (2011)—the grooves are groovier, the hooks are hookier, and while there’s still some unnecessary (and unsuccessful) hair-metal balladry, it doesn’t dominate the disc the way it did last time. In fact, if you disconnect or chemically impede your intellect while listening, you can have a fair amount of fun until things derail with the piano-driven pretentiousness of “Dope” and “Gypsy.” “Venus,” “Sexxx Dreams,” “MANiCURE,” “Swine,” and “Mary Jane Holland” are as good as modern dance-pop gets—but dance-pop isn’t art-pop. It’s only when you give Gaga what she wants and stop to think about what she’s saying that the disappointment and revulsion set in, whether it’s the lazy Uranus/her buttocks puns of “Venus,” the desperate come-ons that permeate much of the rest (“Touch me, touch me, don’t be sweet/Love me, love me, please retweet”), or the hypocrisy of pairing with R. Kelly, whose stance on women and sex is diametrically opposed to everything Stef has told us about her concern for her female little monsters. Could we really have been so wrong in thinking she is better than this?
Rating on the four-star scale: 2 stars.
Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Interscope)
What’s changed for Marshall Mathers, now a 41-year-old corporate businessman, in the 13 years since The Marshall Mathers LP? Not nearly enough. “I find his sing-song, nursery-rhyme delivery and ultra-commercial musical backings to be supremely uninspired, while the murderous stories in his lyrics are the equivalent of Scream III (art-less, lowest-common-denominator entertainment) as opposed to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (a substantive work of art that happens to be about a schizophrenic murderer),” I wrote back then. Well, that’s still the case on this sequel (or reboot, if you prefer), though now I might substitute Saw VI for Scream III. More troublingly, Eminem still is couching his hatred for women in whining about how his ex-wife Kim and his mom did him wrong, and he’s still defending his blatant homophobia by saying that’s just the way battle rappers talk. This desperate bid for attention masked in cheap shock sensationalism was unworthy of an artist with this natural talent as a rapper the first time around. Now, it’s all that and tired nostalgia, too, which somehow makes it even worse.
Rating on the four-star scale: .5 stars.