“Trying to keep control / pressure’s taking its toll,” Lady Gaga belts on her new single, “Perfect Illusion.” She’s talking about a bad romance—“It wasn’t lo-oo-oo-ove, it was a perfect ill-ooh-sion” goes the chorus—but you might wonder if those words also describe her headspace going into her fifth album. Following 2013’s polarizing ARTPOP and a subsequent jazz rebound with Tony Bennett, can Gaga reclaim the dance-pop crown she earned with modern classics like The Fame Monster?
That may be the question on everyone’s mind, but it doesn’t sound like it’s on Gaga’s. This time, she skips the flashy synths and club beats for a streamlined, rock-n-roll banger made with an unlikely team of Mark Ronson (“Uptown Funk!”), BloodPop (Justin Bieber’s “Sorry”), and Kevin Parker (of the psych-rock outfit Tame Impala).
The four of them waste no time getting to the goods. It takes only 30 seconds for the chorus to arrive, which on paper is great news—Gaga has written some truly epic sing-alongs in recent years, from hits like “Bad Romance” and “Born This Way” to ballads like “Speechless.” Here, though, the “Poker Face” singer gives away her hand too early. The quick, repetitive hook doesn’t achieve the desired liftoff, building toward a climax that doesn’t come; even with a disco-flavored key change near the end, the song hits its peak just as it’s getting started.
Still, there’s plenty to celebrate, from the left-field production (as thrilling as her list of collaborators) to Gaga’s voice, which is as powerful and theatrical as ever as she details a too-good-to-be-true relationship: “High like amphetamine / maybe you’re just a dream / that’s what it means to crush.” So maybe she didn’t crush it on her comeback single — it’s still a rush to have her back. B