Get well soon, big man…
Katherine St Asaph: Whether you think there’s any gumption to Gaga’s glory-seeking, she’s certainly got the components: dance gliding into rock, powered by pistons, the Clarence Clemons solo that serves not only to go “fuck you, I’ve got a Clarence Clemons solo” but to make him idol to a lot of tweens who’d probably never heard of the guy before, the synth-orchestral fanfare right before that, and a stuffed-down darkness to it all–Gaga’s made it quite clear in interviews that what’s beyond the edge is death. You can accuse her of doing too much per song, but you can’t say she doesn’t know exactly what each piece is doing.
Alex Ostroff: Born This Way is a glorious mess of ideas and influences, overstuffed and half-formed, like a torso haphazardly fused to a motorcycle. “The Edge of Glory” is the one moment when the disparate elements of the project come together. The verses have melody and movement, propelled by lightly stabbing synths, eventually exploding into a chorus with soaring vocals, pounding beats and grinding synths. It’s a power-metal-dance-ballad with a totally (un)necessary saxophone solo, and a genuine synthesis so seamless as to feel completely natural.
Alfred Soto: As I wrote recently: “Ask Bonnie Tyler or Patty Smyth what “The Edge of Glory” is and how we avoid stepping over it; perhaps it involves commanding Clarence Clemons to stop blowing a siren song on his saxophone; perhaps it means the seizure of eighties triumphalism from their cold dead fingers.” As a disco thumper though it’s not bad.
Iain Forrester: Its epic signifiers really work best as a crowning glory atop the full 70-minute sprawl of Born this Way, but there’s an effective song underneath it. Certainly is does midtempo forcefulness over chugging beats much better than “Born This Way,” especially the synth-strings and saxophone bits.
Al Shipley: There are so many little vocal moments here where her presence, her starpower announces itself more clearly than it ever has before: “tonight, yeah baby, tonight” or “the edge, the edge, the edge!” or even the way she bites into the word “dangerous.” The audacity of the ’80s retro and the brazen meaninglessness of the lyric wouldn’t get nearly as far without that voice going just over the top.
Edward Okulicz: Confident and huge enough to be the epic it wants to be. Gaga doesn’t deploy the WMD that is her voice to its most powerful level very often, so it’s a joy to hear her do it here. Coupled with the delightfully over-the-top saxophone, it makes for a fine palate-cleanser after the overstuffed, sexless headache of “Judas,” but a great single on its own merits, too, even if part of it skirts a little close to “Hanging By A Moment” for safety.
Matthew Harris: Overall, Born This Way makes Gaga seem like an awkward pop nerd, prowling for the ultimate expression of attitude-less awesome. So here’s the trick to understanding “The Edge of Glory”: it is a hair metal anthem dressed up in Euro-dance clothes. Just read the grinding synths on the chorus as geetars. It’s a fun, strange little manifesto: dance-pop is the new cock rock. And it’s why I like that Clemons’ sax solo is more Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamic” than uninflected 80′s nostalgia. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to cry to that chorus on the dancefloor.
Jonathan Bogart: Every time I want to join the consensus I listen to it again and am stalled by the way the joints show, the way the different sections of the song plow into each other without regard for what came before. It’s not that I demand a seamless garment – plenty of great pop songs are Frankenstein’s monsters stitched together with Scotch tape and charisma – but I can’t hear any joyous release in Clarence Clemons’ wailing if it sounds like the radio was just switched to another station to get to it.
Pete Baran: An odd pick for a single from Born This Way. Not that its not a strong track, but its role as a valedictory stomper makes it one of the more predictable tracks off of the album. And a track that feels like a final album track (and I can’t quite hear it out of context yet). If nothing else it displays what Gaga is the stone cold lost Eurovision winner: I can hear this sandwiched between Sweden and Serbia about a third of the way through the competition and blowing the competition away. And again, as the credits come up, a drunk Gaga snogging the front row in Azerbaijan and the over-running DP desperately trying to get the credits up before the sax break kicks in.
Zach Lyon: At first, the only thing I cared about was CLARENCE CLEMONS IS GOING TO BE ON POP RADIO AGAIN, which contained a hint of HA, KIDS THESE DAYS ARE GONNA LISTEN TO A CLARENCE SAX SOLO WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT. And you know, that’s good enough for me. I love Clarence. I know he’s going to recover and live 80 more years. I honestly don’t think any more justification for my love is needed. But I have time. For one thing, let’s hear it for Gaga’s triumphant return to lyrical meaninglessness; it’s always been a good look for her. She can actually take a cue from Coldplay! And this sounds like the music from “Born This Way” if they had only taken a step back and stopped trying so hard to build a monument. And, hell, the solo. No, it doesn’t fit, at all, not like the sax in Katy’s hideous “T.G.I.F.” I prefer it this way. It’s a solo borne out of the desire to collaborate with a specific sound in a new context, rather than forcing it into a trite one. It’s respectful. And, fuck it, it’s Clarence Clemons. If it worked on Macauley Culkin, it’ll work on Gaga.
Chuck Eddy: Just like with the new Brad Paisley (whose previous album also made my Pazz & Jop ballot two years ago), I’ve been procrastinating on checking out Gaga’s new one just because all the singles so far have been so uniformly, mind-bogglingly underwhelming. And given her SoundScan nosedive since Amazon’s 99-cent release-week blowout, I get the idea that I’m not alone thus far in being disappointed. I concede that it’s conceivable, as one Jukebox critic swore to me over the phone last week, that Born This Way is more than the sum of its parts: That it works as a top-to-bottom great album, even despite less-than-great singles. But albums like that are rare enough (at least in the Top 40 pop realm) that I’m pretty skeptical, especially because I get the idea that some of the fawning reviews for her new one are coming from critics who missed the boat on its predecessor — an old story with follow-ups to debut albums that didn’t get their due ’til long after release. Still, who knows, maybe I’ll be surprised. Meanwhile, there’s this, which feels bombastic enough in a certain indeterminate sub- Bobby-O ’80s flashdance-bosh sense (i.e., a genre that music critics unanimously ignored back when it was actually new), but which also (unlike nearly all her debut’s singles) exhibits not a smidgen of Gaga personality that I can discern. I just hope she’s thankful to Clarence Clemons; a few months later, for all we know, this record’s most likable moment might have been impossible.
Isabel Cole: I really did not want to like this song, but goddamn if it isn’t irresistible, a pulsing burst of sweetness delicious as one of those fancy gourmet cupcakes with the frosting that doesn’t leave a nasty aftertaste, the sax solo bringing the delightful surprise of unexpected chocolate filling. It’s so infectious it breaks down my philosophical opposition to pop songs longer than four minutes, like how Crumbs convinced me there is no shame in cupcakes for dinner. Or …something. Whatever, words are inconsequential here out on the edge. Glory! Rush! Alright! Yeah, baby! Indeed.
Michaela Drapes: I can’t help but feel I’m trapped in the DJ booth of the gay bar at the end of the universe when the lights are thrown on at closing time, revealing everyone’s left the joint except that one very odd girl still giving it her all on the dancefloor among the crushed plastic cups and popper vials. You can keep the party going, honey, but you can’t party here.
Jonathan Bradley: When I first heard the song independently of the album, I thought it was a middling bore, an exercise in canned ebullience channeling Glee’s spirit of inclusive uplift without Glee’s whatever-it-is-that-makes-people-like-Glee. But “The Edge of Glory” is properly heard as a closer. It plays like a musical number, an encore. It charges once more into the pop breach after an hour of hair and bad kids and Judas-betrayed black Jesuses for one last turn in the spotlight. Stuffed with synths and saxophones, it’s a victory lap its singer is gracious enough to give to everyone but herself.
Mallory O’Donnell: This is pretty dull, but loads better than most of her output because it removes almost every distinctive tic and affectation. Which says more about her than it does about this song, a fairly generic power ballad that could have been sung by anyone from Linda to Katy Perry. Perfect for that remake of Top Gun I’m sure is looming around the corner.
Jer Fairall: Donna Summer’s “Heaven Knows” meets Cyndi Lauper’s version of “I Drove All Night” with only some Euro synth stabs and squiggles around to sully the mood. Thankfully, Clarence Clemons is on hand to render the whole homage era-appropriate again, though the song still loses a bit of momentum by being about a minute longer than it needs to be.
Asher Steinberg: A schizoid song. In the verses, Gaga proves for the first time in her career, or at least her singles catalogue, that she’s perfectly capable of being a winning, earnest square. Even ‘Born This Way,’ with its sledgehammer messaging, didn’t go nearly as far as this does in dropping all the quote marks with which her stuff is usually encumbered. But then the made-for-reality-TV-competitions-and/or-outros-to-commercial-breaks-in-major-sporting-events hook happens. And happens, and happens, and happens. (Indeed, the NBA’s already co-opted the hook.) And what had been a song about a meet-cute/fuck-cute turns into a Charlie Sheenish beer commercial. This dismaying conflation of affairs of the heart with “gloa-wee,” so typical of discourse about romance in 2010s America, shows that Gaga has way more in common with the other great Jersey girl TV star of our time than she lets on. I refer, of course, to Snooki.