Just when I thought this week’s picking for new music was thin (it never is, but my preference seems to dictate it so), I come across an album that I think is one of the best in 2018.
“A Star Is Born” features music written and sung by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper for the movie of the same title. Brief backgrounder: “A Star Is Born” has been adapted several times already since the original 1937 story. Before the 2018 re-telling that featured Cooper and Lady Gaga, it was remade more than 40 years ago with the same title, and starred Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand. The premise of that 1976 story – that of a rockstar (Kristofferson) meeting/falling in love with a promising talent (Streisand) and seeing her star and fame rise as his career goes on the decline – is not far from the 2018 plot, only by subtle differences.
Both lead actors have been thrusted in a situation where it is their first time (Cooper as singer, Gaga as actor). But to quote an Apple Music description of the OST where it said “Cooper is just as impressive a singer as Gaga is an actress” meaning they did well in their role reversals.
As Jackson Maine, country music rock star, Bradley certainly has the tunes here to paint him as such. First is “Black Eyes” with that “Helter Skelter” bite in it. Then there are the sad cowboy songs in “Too Far Gone” and another pensive ballad in “Maybe It’s Time.” Both songs are sung in a way that reflects what Copper’s character is going through.
Then there’s Lady Gaga. As “fresh faced, big voiced” Ally, she is a revelation. “Is That Alright?” is a tour de force in its soulful simplicity. “Look What I Found” brings Carole King-like tastiness on a memorable rhythmic motif on piano and some remarkable vocal work from LG. “Always Remember Us This Way” is an epic ballad that starts out simple with just Gaga’s voice and piano, then builds up to a crescendo that gives us goosebumps.
And the duets kick some behind as well. “I’ll Never Love Again” would be schmaltzy stuff in the hands of a lesser being, but it is epic in Lady Gaga and Cooper’s hands. “Diggin’ My Grave” shows Bradley’s rasp as he harmonized below Gaga’s lines in this rockin’ acoustic number worthy of Eric Clapton.
Country music-singer-finds-redemption angle in movies have been tried before. Jeff Bridges did it a couple of years back in “Crazy Heart” for which he won an Oscar.
Now comes Bradley Cooper with his own version of the “beat up country star singer.” But he upped the ante by directing, and writing parts of the story and starring on the film. Now if that doesn’t get him his Oscar. I don’t know what will.
And Lady Gaga? Well, let’s just say this star is reborn.