& Bradley Cooper
A Star Is Born (2018)
On the classics fourth remake. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper bring a refreshingly modern take to the classic story with a soundtrack which manages to capture all the emotion of the big screen, whilst standing on its own feet as a truly remarkable album.
I’ve been intrigued by A Star Is Born for the past few months. The trailers had peaked my interest and having witnessed Bradley Cooper appear on stage to film the Glastonbury scene at the festival last year, I was certainly interested to see the movie that had managed to get a place on music's biggest stage. However, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I was particularly excited to watch the film as I walked into the cinema, or even to hear the music in fact. Especially considering I have quite a critical opinion on Lady Gaga’s recent output (aside from The Cure, a pure pop masterpiece).
Despite this, something quite unexpected happened after I left the movie theatre and returned home. I found myself inexplicably desperate to hear the songs once more. The film itself was fantastic, but the real emotional kick came from it’s accompanying soundtrack. The aforementioned soundtrack consists of 34 tracks, including a majority of key dialogue moments from the film itself. This review, however, is going to be aimed at critiquing the proper full-length original songs on the record, for which there are an impressive 19. These all range across multiple genres from pure instrumentals, to rock, country and even synth-pop. It’s an eclectic bunch but they are all bound together by some beautiful compositions and great, albeit cliche songwriting.
The record runs concurrently with that of the film. As we watch and now also listen to Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine, an ageing country rock star who cherishes traditional music before meeting Ally, a nobody with an incredible voice who has to contend with an industry desperate to make her a pop-star, it’s a bit on the nose but it’s played and sung wonderfully by Gaga. This also means there are a narrative and theme transition that runs throughout. Even if it may not be very clear if you going into the soundtrack without seeing the movie beforehand.
The first series of tracks plants an emphasis on Bradley Cooper and his country-rock sound, and damn! he can rock. Opening track ‘Black Eyes’ embodies the essence of legendary rockers such as The Who and Creedence Clearwater Revival with its high-octane intensity and fiery guitar riffs all laid underneath Cooper’s gritty vocals. I’ll admit I was sceptical on just how suitable Cooper’s vocals would be, but he’s got an effortless talent and he has an appreciation for the art that becomes immediately apparent from the first note. This is not a simple, tacky soundtrack, there’s real emotion, love and thought poured into the songs that comprise the record.
Cooper has a natural grit which works perfectly when performing the hard rock tracks. He's also not just vocally impressive but also instrumentally talented as he takes the lead on foot-stomping instrumental track ‘Out Of Time’, in which he's accompanied by Lukas Nelson (son of Willie). Who just like his father, has more than perfected the craft of his instrument and whose backing group acts as Cooper’s band for the movie and record. Cooper’s talent comes most however when he strips it back to just him and a guitar. Notably when performing acoustically with a delicate and gentle tone such as on his standout solo performance ‘Maybe It’s Time’. A traditional, bare-boned country song which standouts out due to its stellar lyricism and Cooper’s weary and well-travelled delivery. He sounds like he truly means what he sings, painting a picture of an artist whose certainly faced challenges to be in his position.
The second segment of the soundtrack highlights the chemistry between both Cooper, Gaga and their respective characters. It’s at this point where the pair performs a selection of duets. These are some of the best, albeit corniest moments on the collection. ‘Music To My Eyes’ is the sort of incredible cheesy duet you would have imagined, yet it has a sweet kind of sincerity due to the way Cooper and Gaga deliver the lines. ‘Diggin My Grave’ turns Gaga into a full-on rockstar and shows she can more than handle herself when going toe to toe with Cooper, who once again is in his element as he mirrors genre icons like Eric Church.
The highlight, however, is the impassioned and astonishing ‘Shallow’, a track many will know from the trailer and its crescendo, the jaw-dropping note performed by Gaga leading to the climax of the song. Despite that awe-inspiring moment which threatens to steal the limelight, the song itself is a stellar duet. A clever use of echo especially gives a little bit of extra heft and emotional weight to each lyric, notably Cooper’s verses. What it truly does though, is it places a spotlight on the pair's vocals, without heavy instrumentation and visuals there’s truly nowhere to hide, Cooper may impress but Gaga finally pitches herself as one of modern music's greatest vocalists.
This brings us to Gaga’s segment of the album. Starting with the graceful and strikingly powerful ballad ‘Always Remember Us This Way’. There are certain echoes of Gaga’s fluctuating and lengthy pop career fluttering throughout the record, the former track feels like an extension of her previous album ‘Joanne’. Whereas the more full on pop tracks reflect Ally’s rise to the top of the charts and departure of traditional music in the film, feel like they’ve been ripped straight out of ‘The Fame’ or ‘Born This Way’, especially the tropical dance infused ‘Why Did You Do That’,
Unfortunately, in some of the more artificial, industrial pop moments, the songwriting suffers. This is maybe a consequence of the way the film tries to undermine its authenticity as a genre. Most notably with cliche lyrics such as “Why'd you come around me with an ass like that” and “Boy could you please stop being so fine, When I stare at you I wish I were blind.”
Saying that however, some of the pop tracks are strokes of pure genius, ‘Heal Me’ for example is a synth-pop smash hit that manages to refresh the genre whilst feeling like a spiritual successor to her phenomenal 2017 single ‘The Cure’. Gaga even evokes early era Madonna with ‘Hair, Body, Face’. There’s also time for a few lighthearted moments ‘Look What I Found’ see’s Gaga just having fun with a playful beat (cheesy finger snaps included) as she truly flexes her vocals, just letting go, and it's joyful just to go with her flow.
Finally, the concluding segment of the record focuses on providing an emotional punch, with the aim of giving Gaga that big soundtrack moment. In this case, it takes the form of ‘I Will Never Love Again’. An almighty power ballad that manages to provide the heart-wrenching impact you’d expect from such a title. Backed by an orchestra which plays an incredible composition, especially as the ante ramps up. This though is Gaga’s standout moment, and she’s simply sublime especially in the extended version. The real, surprising, knockout blow, however, comes from the film version of the track and co-star Cooper’s abrupt inclusion late on which is simply tear wrenching.
I find it hard now to separate the film from its musical accompaniment. Both are created with such care that they both deserve your attention. The musical aspect is some of Gaga’s finest work in years. Less about all of the theatrics, instead focused on technique and well-crafted songs. Cooper is the ace in the pack. And just how like when you watch the movie you'll forget Lady Gaga isn’t a professional actor, when you hear this record you’ll completely forget Cooper isn’t a professional singer especially with his superb made-for country vocals. A Star Is Born isn’t just one of my favourite soundtracks, it’s one of my favourite albums released this year.