Album Review: Trouble Lights – The Endless Prom

I want to show y’all something, if I may:

Lollapalooza 2007

Click that. Then click the lineup. Then scroll down to the bottom. See way down there, past Iggy and The Stooges and Pearl Jam and Cold War Kids. Even past Chin Up Chin Up and past Ludo (Whoa, I liked Ludo! I wonder what they’re up to). On one of the bottom rows way past all the name bands and the popular DJs and such, there is an awfully familiar name. No, not Cage the Elephant. Before them.

Lady Gaga.

In 2007, Lady Gaga was just a talented woman performing clubs in New York and not an international pop sensation with a somewhat unique persona and insane live performances. She performed on the BMI stage, which, for those unfamiliar with the Grant Park festival’s setup, is a tiny ass stage stuck in some trees with Lake Shore Drive as a backdrop. It is usually where they stick lesser known acts and up and comers. Three years later, she came back to Lollapalooza and headlined the damned thing.

It seems weird to think that someone like Lady Gaga wasn’t always filling up stadiums and arenas and such. There are times when she seems like a pre-fab pop star that just happened to catch the right break, when the reality is she worked her way up the circuit like a lot of performers and is actually really damn good. She just had (and has) something about her that caught people’s eye and has propelled past being the weird lady who sings “Poker Face”. And now, she’s Mother Monster and a global phenomenon. Big enough to fill arenas and stadiums and headline festivals and even be protested against wherever she goes.

Listening to The Endless Prom, it isn’t just an astonishing pop album (though it is an astonishing pop album), it feels like being on the ground floor to greatness. It feels like the beginning of some sort of cultural phenomenon. It feels like a case where in three years, a lot of us are going to look back and go, I saw them perform at Mews or The Space for Ames or in an old classroom re-commissioned into an art show or whatever venue that seems entirely too small for a group this talented. In a world overrun by the pre-fab irony of Rebecca Black or the one hit wonder catchiness of “Call Me, Maybe” and “Gangnam Style” (and c’mon that shit is catchy as fuck), this album has catchy and danceable beats galore. The tracks “Hunting”, “Safe With Me” and “Ready” (see the video above) all have an undeniable beat that seems to burrow into your head and get stuck there. Even a guy like me, who isn’t all that far removed from the John Lithgow character in Footloose, can’t help but tap my foot and, if I’ve had a couple of drinks, actually maybe even sway side to side and do a little shoegaze head bop. Sometimes, I even do little uppercuts. It is exhilarating. But it is a testament to what the music makes me do more than it is an overriding need to dance.

What this album doesn’t suffer from is pre-fabrication or phoniness. It isn’t gimmicky or studio butchered. It feels real and it feels important. For as much as I actually like Carly Rae Jepsen (I do! Seriously!), she seems less a burgeoning pop goddess and more an answer to a trivia question in fifteen years. This album feels real and feels different. I know it is tough to actually quantify that, but the difference between friendly, single serving, throw away pop sensations and Trouble Lights is startling. Even with all of its amazing beats and danceable mixes and hypnotic vocals, sometimes all I can see is dollar signs. While this is one of my favorite albums this year to listen to, it is truly a rare breed where I somehow stare beyond the artistic merit of the album and just say, “Yeah, this is going to be huge,” and start to wonder about the impact on the industry as a whole. I thought it from the first time I heard them back in the spring, I’ve thought it with each live show I’ve seen and I thought it as I listened to the finished product. Each step they take, they seem to re-affirm that thought. Sometimes you just know when something is special. It is a feeling rather than a precise breakdown of the notes and beats and lyrics. And this, this is special.

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