The most embarrassing moment on Lady Gaga’s debut album The Fame is not, shockingly, the part where she sings “Let’s have some fun / This beat is sick / I wanna take a ride on your disco stick”.
No, the most embarrassing moment is a song called “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)”. As a defiantly modern club album, awash in dirty synths and whispered promises of promiscuity, The Fame comes to a full-halt when “Eh, Eh” comes on, as — unlike the sinuous strobe singles that came before it — this vapid, superficial piece of gooey ’80s synth-pop ruins the bad-girl party atmosphere that was being so carefully constructed during the first four tracks. When Gaga (real name Joanne Germanotta) sings “there’s nothing else I can say” ad nauseum over the irritating keyboard melody lines, you can’t help but think that, in fact, she couldn’t think of anything to say at all when it came down to writing actual lyrics.
It’s a shame that we have endure tracks like “Eh Eh”, “Paper Gangster”, and the forgettable piano ballad “Brown Eyes”, because the rest of The Fame is remarkably enjoyable. When Gaga focuses on crafting hedonistic four-on-the-floor bangers and nothing else, she succeeds more often than not. The intensely catchy lead single “Just Dance” is an excellent indicator of what to expect, as the rest of the The Fame, though not exactly intellectually stimulating, does manage to get you moving and grooving at an almost effortless pace. Part of this success comes from the fact that The Fame isn’t designed to be a club record: it’s simply a pop record with dancefloor intentions, which, really, gives the disc a meaty backbone that relies on hooks more than grooves, making each song all the more digestible and accessible (the whole disc clocks in at a very manageable 50 minutes).
“Paparazzi” and “Poker Face” both mine much of the same glitzy territory that “Just Dance” covered, but never once does it feel like Gaga is deliberately repeating herself; instead, her faults only come from covering territory that she’s obviously not prepared for. On the plus side, there are times when she’s deliberately self-conscious of her place in the pop music food chain (the fact that she wants to take a boy to see the Killers in concert during “Boys Boys Boys” serves as a key tip-off). On the down side, her vocoder-assisted white girl rapping during “Paper Gangster” feels tired and outdated (a “California Love” reference? Really?), proving that, more than ever, the world needs a new Princess Superstar record.
Yet for those expecting this disc to be a non-stop soundtrack to dorm room dance parties, The Fame‘s best surprises come from Gaga’s stylistic curveballs. Closing track “Summerboy” is a full-bodied Blondie pastiche, replete with mid-range disco drum beats and new-wave guitar licks. The awe-inspiring title track, meanwhile, is an even better modernization of the B-52s sound than even the B-52s themselves were able to pull off with last year’s Funplex. It’s moments like these that make Flo Rida’s regrettable cameo on the very Scott Storch-esque “Starstruck” all the more forgivable.
Much of the album’s success can be attributed to rising club producer RedOne (who’s biggest credits to date include remixing a song for Robyn and producing the latest New Kids on the Block album). This Moroccan studio whiz knows his way around a good synth hook, which is perhaps why he produces a majority of Gaga’s best tracks (“Just Dance”, “Lovegame”, “Boys Boys Boys”). Though Gaga started out in New York’s tough-to-break club scene, her ability to pick out a good hook (along with her ability to spot a good producer) makes The Fame sound like a unified whole — something that’s truly amazing when you account for the fact that five different producers/beatmakers were brought in to craft this disc.
So is The Fame a modern-day club classic? Sadly, no, as Gaga’s desire to try new sounds and genres can sometimes submerge her in waters in which she’s just not ready to swim in. Yet The Fame is still a solid dance album — and, really, when you’re in the middle of your favorite nightclub at 2 a.m. in the morning, dancing like there’s no tomorrow, isn’t that all that matters?