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Lady Gaga is back: 'Perfect Illusion' shows the singer has rediscovered her mojo

Lady Gaga is back: 'Perfect Illusion' shows the singer has rediscovered her mojo
Listen to Lady Gaga's new single, "Perfect Illusion." (Mikael Wood)

Let's not bother with a poker face here. The new single by Lady Gaga? It. Totally. Rules.

Released late Thursday, "Perfect Illusion" is a stomping disco-rock jam with a killer robot-Motown groove, buckets of scuzz-punk guitar fuzz and a key change designed to trigger Pavlovian fist-pumps. It has a melody that will burrow into your brain before the 2-minute mark.

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And like all the best pop songs, it can't decide if it's sad or happy, paranoid or ecstatic; the tune lifts you up at the same time that it marches over you, a blast of serotonin under constant threat of reuptake.

"I don't need eyes to see / I felt you touching me," Lady Gaga sings, her voice fraying at the edges. "High like amphetamine / Maybe you're just a dream."

Go ahead, take a second — there's a lot to process.

"Perfect Illusion," the vivid first taste from an album the singer says she's nearly completed, is sure to surprise many who hear it.

If you haven't paid much attention to Gaga since her mannered 2014 collaboration with Tony Bennett — a cynical bid for respectability following the perceived flop of 2013's uneven "Artpop" — you'll wonder where she found the energy to create a song this alive.

Yet the signs of renewal have been piling up lately for those watching closely.

At the Academy Awards in February, the singer did a fierce rendition of her piano ballad "Til It Happens to You" that channeled some of the raw intensity of her earlier work. A few weeks later, she played an amazing benefit gig at billionaire Ron Burkle's estate where she demolished "La Vie en Rose," of all things, while wearing a pair of stockings ripped to shreds.

Those performances suggested that Gaga had rediscovered her mojo after a period of shallow inspiration — an idea borne out by the throbbing "Perfect Illusion," which seems to acknowledge that situation in its opening lines.

"Trying to get control," she sings. "Pressure's taking its toll."

All that said, "Perfect Illusion" is likely to raise the eyebrows of even Gaga loyalists with its proudly unglossy textures. The singer co-wrote and co-produced the song with a trio of fresh collaborators in Mark Ronson, Kevin Parker (of the Australian band Tame Impala) and BloodPop; what's more, they drafted Josh Homme, the stoner-metal kingpin from California's Queens of the Stone Age, to play guitar.

Homme's recruitment in particular points to a level of dedication to remaking Gaga's sound. And early Friday the singer offered another indication when she said in a radio interview that her album includes a duet with Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine.

It's no illusion, people: Lady Gaga is back.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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