Lady Gaga’s third album suffered from a seemingly interminable gestation period. As anticipation swelled, every advanced piece of the album faced brutal dissection. “Born This Way” was labeled an “Express Yourself” copycat, “Judas” the bastard child of “Bad Romance.” Many declared the cover art to be among history’s worst (okay, that one may actually be true). However, these little pieces don’t tell the whole story. In the end, Born This Way just needed to be birthed in one piece.

No longer singing about the pursuit and pitfalls of fame, Gaga has wisely shifted her focus to her fans, crafting an album united by the theme of empowerment. Aesthetically, this led her to the excesses of the 80s, a decade not necessarily known for great music. Marrying her contemporary, pounding synth hooks with the over–the–top rock and cheesy pop that defined the decade, she has miraculously crafted something crazy, yet quintessentially and brilliantly Gaga.

This is the first time Gaga has fully incorporated rock instrumentation to her music, and the pastiche is wildly successful. The album’s best track, “Electric Chapel,” begins with a guitar riff reminiscent of Bon Jovi. It then descends into a slow meditation on sex and religion, effectively blending metal and pop. “Meet me at Electric Chapel,” sings Gaga. “Pray for your sins under the glass disco ball.”

Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band adds saxophone breaks to “Edge of Glory” and “Hair,” with the sax and synth blending seamlessly. Both tracks have a whimsical, nostalgic feel, but when Gaga sings “I’m as free as my hair/I am my hair,” she achieves the perfect blend of sincerity and camp. Everything comes together in “You and I,” the album’s epic power ballad featuring an arena-rock drumbeat and Queen’s Brian May on guitar. “Put your dreams up!” Gaga screams while slamming on the piano. Even on purely synth songs, Gaga throws in the kitchen sink. In “Government Hooker,” she sings to a dead president over a track that seams to blend euro-pop, Brian Eno and New Order.

Despite some missteps (“Judas” really doesn’t belong, and “Bad Kids” is just too juvenile), Born this Way is a landmark album. It may be influenced by the past, but it doesn’t feel dated. For most artists, blending so many different styles could easily result in a muddled mess. Gaga somehowmakes the entire album feel natural, and the more crazy she gets, the more cohesive and believable she sounds.

4.5/5 Stars Sounds Like: 80s pastiche, Gaga style 99–Cent Download: "Electric Chape"