TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Two years ago Lady Gaga got raves for playing a sensitive singer-songwriter in the film "A Star Is Born," but now she's gone back to the dance floor for a new collection of disco-based songs called "Chromatica." The album's a big hit, debuting at No. 1. Less popular but deserving just as much acclaim is Carly Rae Jepsen new album of imaginative dance music called "Dedicated Side B." Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of both albums.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAIN ON ME")
LADY GAGA: (Singing) I didn't ask for a free ride. I only asked you to show me a real good time. I never asked for the rainfall. At least I showed up. You showed me nothing at all. It's coming down on me, water like misery. It's coming down on me. I'm ready. Rain on me. I'd rather be dry, but at least I'm alive. Rain on me - rain, rain. Rain on me - rain, rain. I'd rather be dry, but at least I'm alive. Rain on me - rain, rain. Rain on me.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: During the current moment, many musicians are offering their music as comfort via the Internet, playing mostly acoustic, sometimes in collaboration with other players Zooming in quietly from different locations. As a human being, I appreciate this effort. As a critic, though, I find it lacking what I really want right now. Rather than acoustic versions of greatest hits, I find myself craving new material that has some noisy passion to it. I yearn for the sound of electric instrumentation providing the jolt of good rock music, hip-hop and dance music. Now come two collections that satisfy some of that need. The first is Lady Gaga's "Chromatica," an album filled with flashy disco.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STUPID LOVE")
LADY GAGA: (Singing) You're the one that I've been waiting for - got to quit this crying. Nobody's going to heal me if I don't open the door. Kind of hard to believe - got to have faith in me. Freak out - I freak out. I freak out. I freak out. Look at me. I get down. I get down. I get down. I get down. Look at me. I freak out. I freak out. I freak out. I freak out. Look at me now 'cause all I ever wanted was love. (Vocalizing). All I ever wanted was love. (Vocalizing). I want your stupid love, love.
TUCKER: After the success Lady Gaga enjoyed singing mawkish, singer-songwriter pop in "A Star Is Born," I am so glad she returned to the dance floor with a vehemently silly song like the one I just played called "Stupid Love." Its frenetic passion is a reminder that Gaga is also the author of 2013's "Artpop," a gloriously over-the-top collection of would-be avant garde tunes. The lyrics on this new album, "Chromatica," speak frequently of soul deep melancholy and struggles for self-esteem. But the words are wrapped in music that contradicts the pain.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUN TONIGHT")
LADY GAGA: (Singing) Feeling something that I can't explain, think it's a wound I still entertain. I'd do anything to numb the flame. I guess I'm just on fire these days. I can't see straight. I cant see me. There's too much hurt caught in between. Wish I could be what I know I am. This moment's hijacked my plans. I'm feeling the way that I'm feeling, I'm feeling with you. I stare at the girl in the mirror. She talks to me, too. Yeah, I can see it in your face...
TUCKER: The other album of big, bold, brassy music that's making isolation less lonely is Carly Rae Jepsen's "Dedicated Side B," a collection of songs Jepsen says she left off last year's album, "Dedicated." But "Dedicated Side B" doesn't sound like leftovers to me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WINDOW")
CARLY RAE JEPSEN: (Singing) Baby, I could praise you, try to turn your head around. Could you take a compliment? Everything I say, you find a way to drown it out, make it like an argument. I see you a different way. So take my eyes to borrow. Keep a window for me open, open for me always. Please don't lock the door. I'll be your special somebody...
TUCKER: That's "Window," as good a pop song as I've heard since I started hoarding toilet paper. Jepsen fascinates me. She's made a string of excellent albums all featuring wispy, echoed vocals that should not be as expressive as they are, singing curt, crisp, disco-based tunes that shouldn't be as memorable as they are. She's adept at pop that has no patience for phony melodrama, as you can hear on this song called "Fake Mona Lisa."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FAKE MONA LISA")
JEPSEN: (Singing) He was born in Vegas among the stars. And on his cheek, a beauty mark. I barely noticed it from the start, a constellation to stir my heart. Every night I'm wearing my black in case you're coming 'round. Fifty-Seven days and it still feels like I'm not coming down. The night we painted over your fake Mona Lisa…
TUCKER: I understand why Carly Rae Jepsen isn't as massively popular as Lady Gaga. Her persona isn't as extravagantly dramatic. Her compositions are more tidy and precise. But that doesn't mean her music isn't as strong. Jepsen recently said she's recorded what she calls a quarantine album in collaboration with producer Tavish Crowe, with whom she wrote her 2011 breakthrough hit, "Call Me Maybe." It doesn't have a release date yet. But it's the first bit of quarantine music I'm actually looking forward to.
GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed Lady Gaga's new album, "Chromatic," and Carly Rae Jepsen's new album, "Dedicated Side B." After we take a short break, Maureen Corrigan will review Mary Morris' new memoir. Morris typically writes about travel. But the new book is, in part, about the shattered ankle that temporarily prevented her from travelling - or going anyplace. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DIGABLE PLANETS SONG, "REBIRTH OF SLICK (COOL LIKE DAT)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.