The gospel of Gaga, as told in Born This Way, goes something like this: Humanity will be damned by its own self-doubt until Gaga the Savior delivers us with the might of her music. On the album’s first two singles, the messianic ”Born This Way” and ”Judas,” our muffin-bluffin’ Lady of yore is reborn as an earnest dance-party evangelist, retaining the beats but trading in her disco stick for a splinter of the Cross. ”In the religion of the insecure, I must be myself/Respect my youth,” the 25-year-old sermonizes on the fanatically inspirational title track.
Luckily for us heathens, most of the 14 songs on Born This Way — Gaga’s rewarding but wildly uneven latest — hold more earthly pleasures, too. The only deity invoked on rollicking cuts like ”Hair” and ”The Edge of Glory” is Bruce Springsteen, whose E Street sax player, Clarence Clemons, guests on both tracks. And the ’80s worship doesn’t stop there: Nearly every song is tinged with Reagan-era excess, from the evocative Depeche Mode-ian frost of ”Heavy Metal Lover” to the misplaced Def Leppard stomp-claps on barroom ballad ”Yoü and I.’
If Gaga doesn’t find a stand-alone hit here on the order of ”Bad Romance,” the album’s sprawl still shows off the breadth of her talent. She brings expert songcraft to each cut — tectonic chord changes, soaring choruses, and that sawtooth-edged voice — even when her goth-lite lyrics don’t deserve the effort. For all its fire and brimstone, Born This Way doesn’t herald pop’s second coming. But it’s not a bad way to spend the wait. B+