Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Ga Ga struck me as little more than a passing curiosity when "Just Dance" crashed onto the radio early in 2009, setting up an incredible run that probably no one at the time would have believed was to come. Then the song perched at number one — a rare achievement for unapologetic dance music — piquing my curiosity as to whether she could parlay that success into something more. At first glance, "Poker Face" just sounded like a retread of the previous hit, and it took a while for it to win me over. I found those menacing male voices — "mwah mwah mwah mwah" — an odd reminder of the Eurodance styles of Ace of Base and Real McCoy. Around the time "Poker Face" was topping the Hot 100, Amazon was pimping the The Fame CD for five bucks, and I thought, "What the hey."
Turns out The Fame is a magnificent piece of work, bottomless with potential hits, and I enjoyed getting to know it while Ga Ga emerged as one of the more creative and engaging forces in pop in quite some time. Songs like "Paparazzi," "Summerboy" and "Poker Face" display an impressive knack for pop songcraft, and I can overlook the occasional uncanny similarity in sound (particularly on "Summerboy") to Gwen Stefani. Around the time I got the album, the stunningly good Pet Shop Boys remix of ballad "Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)" appeared, and I was hooked. Another pivotal moment was the SNL appearance with its intimate piano performance that clearly demonstrated the spark and gravitas of something more than a manufactured pop star.
I think it's premature to declare Ga Ga the new Madonna, but the early appearance of a strong second album when probably a couple of more hits could have been milked from its predecessor does nothing to counter that notion. She gets bonus points, as well, for making The Fame Monster a proper album rather than making it one of those lame re-releases with a couple of calculated singles tacked on.
Lead single "Bad Romance" encapsulates everything that clicked so well for her first string of hits while setting the stage for another impressive run of singles, and it's tough to predict which those will be, given that it's all radio-ready.
Seventies-tinged balled "Speechless" would be an adventurous single choice that could bolster her credibility among those eager to dismiss her as a disposable dance pop diva. It's hard to imagine the unshakable "He ate my heart" chant of "Monster" not making it to radio, and "Dance in the Dark" is emerging as the irresistible "Paparazzi" of The Fame Monster. Word is she'll release a third album late in 2010, and I can't wait to see where her Abba-esque knack for melody and Madonna-esque knack for style and production will take this superstar in the making.