- It's difficult not to view Joanne through the prism of Artpop, the 2013 album where Lady Gaga's expanding fame balloon finally popped. Ambitious but muddled, Artpop debuted high but came crashing down to the ground, stalling out after the second single, the R. Kelly duet "Do What U Want." Gaga quickly retreated to the confines of cabaret, cutting a nicely accomplished standards album with Tony Bennett, a move that not only gave her the opportunity to work with a legend, but signaled that she considered Artpop a step too far: The camp of Cheek to Cheek was elegant, not garish, an acknowledgment that she was once again back in control of her joke. It set the stage for Joanne, a clever streamlining of the Lady Gaga persona that functions as the opposite of Artpop. All the excesses are excised while the eccentricities are used as accents on songs that are usually well-rendered pop. A few numbers take a passing glance at country music -- the title "Joanne" winks at Dolly Parton's "Jolene"; in a different arrangement, the ballad "Million Reasons" could be an adult contemporary crossover from Faith Hill or Shania Twain -- but Gaga's feet remain firmly planted in dance-pop even when she brings in Father John Misty, Beck, Florence Welch, and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age for collaborations. Homme co-wrote "Diamond Heart" and "John Wayne," two of the harder disco songs here, while Misty assists on the steady rolling "Sinner's Prayer" -- perhaps the best fusion of country and pop here -- and "Come to Mama," a buoyant throwback to Motown that finds a companion on the Welch duet "Hey Girl," an analog slow jam that floats in the shimmer light. These, plus the riotous "A-Yo" and the masturbation ode "Dancin' in Circles," don't necessarily find comfortable companions in the ballads peppered throughout the album, but executive producer Mark Ronson helps polish Joanne so it flows easily, which is its appeal. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Rolling Stone - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "With JOANNE, Gaga starts over with music that feels stripped-down, restrained, modest and other adjectives that you wouldn't usually associate with her. It's an old-school Nineties soft-rock album, heavy on the acoustic guitar..."
Spin - "She's never sounded more matter of fact than on the arpeggiated folk of album's title track, an ode to her father's sister whom she was named after....Intimate moments register throughout -- especially on the Hillary Lindsey-co-penned country dirge 'Million Reasons'..."
Entertainment Weekly - "JOANNE is surprising, wandering, and, yes, inexplicable -- which is to say, it's Gaga -- and with it comes an infectiousness that was introduced in 2014's CHEEK TO CHEEK but is solidified here: When Gaga is having fun, we all are." -- Grade: B
NME (Magazine) - "Gaga Americana is not the Nashville kind, nor the big-beards sort, but a schlocky, thrill-packed theme-park. When Gaga strips herself back, what's underneath is just a more streamlined strangeness."
Clash (magazine) - "Her latest, JOANNE, finds Gaga mostly stripped of the bombast that permeated her early work and injected with surprising but fresh shades of country and light Americana."