If it feels like Lady Gaga's debut, The Fame, has been a long time coming it's because her record label has been prepping the artist for the titular distinction for over two years now. The Lower East Side scenester joined the Interscope payroll in 2006, penning songs for the likes of the Pussycat Dolls and New Kids on the Block while whetting the appetites of dance-pop fans around the globe with her own over-the-top performances and web videos. There's no denying that Gaga (born Stefania Gabriella Germanotta—a much more interesting artist name, if you ask me) has tapped into the trash-obsessed zeitgeist (Christina Aguilera shamelessly co-opted Gaga's look for her VMA performance last month), but fuck me if I expected The Fame to live up to all the glittery hype.
Gaga's lyrics alternate between cheap drivel ("I wanna take a ride on your disco stick") and nonsensical drivel ("Drive it, clean it Lysol, bleed it/Spend the last dough in your pocko!"), and her vocal performances are uneven at best, successfully tossing out dirties on "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich" and painfully enunciating without any semblance of sex appeal on "LoveGame." When she tries her hand at a ballad, "Brown Eyes," Gaga just seems out of place and her voice is abrasive, while the breezy island vibe and soft demeanor of "Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)" is hard to buy when sandwiched between songs like "Poker Face" and "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich." There's not an ounce of irony in songs like the title track and "Money Honey"; what would seem superficially satisfying under normal circumstances is, in the wake of the current global financial crisis, utterly obscene.
The songs that work—and there are plenty, including "Poker Face," "Starstruck," "Paper Gangsta" and "Summerboy"—rest almost solely on their snappy production and sing-along hooks and reveal Gaga as the Xtina/Gwen/Fergie hydra monster that she is. Ultimately, though, Gaga most resembles the kind of clueless, desperate train wreck you're likely to encounter getting wasted at any dive on the L.E.S. at four in the morning: "Where are my keys?/I lost my phone," she proudly declares on "Just Dance." Gaga's thank-you list includes nods to icons to which she likely aspires to be (Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Prince, Madonna—and also "Fashion"), but sadly, while more worthy artists like Róisín Murphy suffer through label purgatory, Gaga is receiving the red-carpet treatment.