Lady Gaga’s music often cleverly adapts 1980s pop conventions, but A Star Is Born reaches back a bit further into the hedonism of the late 1970s with echoes of ABBA and Donna Summer.
The album, of course, would be a great soundtrack to A Star Is Born. But it’s not a stretch to say that it brings up memories of Almost Famous. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s film is all about the thrill of a backstage pass, about rocketing from obscurity to a fantasy island. It has a weaker cast than Almost Famous, yes, but Frances McDormand can’t be in every good movie. Or can she?
The fifth A Star Is Born film stars Bradley Cooper as a fading country singer and Lady Gaga as the rising star. It was a triumph with critics and audiences, finally erasing memories of the cheesy version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.
That said, as much as I detest the Streisand-Kristofferson edition, at least both lead actors are bona fide singers. How would Bradley Cooper stack up? As the film’s director, Cooper sought a real musician to play the role. But the studio insisted it needed his onscreen presence to provide star power. Cooper is neither a singer nor a musician, but Lady Gaga did not want to act opposite someone lip-synching. The solution: Cooper spent time taking vocal lessons. The efforts paid off, and his singing isn’t half bad.
The soundtrack includes 18 songs from the movie and an extended version of “I’ll Never Love Again,” all interspersed with 15 tracks of film dialog. Except for Lady Gaga’s rendition of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose,” songs are credited to Lady Gaga and Cooper as well as Lukas Nelson, Jason Isbell, and a handful of other collaborators. The music begins with Cooper’s country rock and, as his star falls, the soundtrack focuses more on Lady Gaga’s jazzy disco-infused diva pop. Her turns are the reason for repeat listening. Cooper’s singing exceeds expectations, but Lady Gaga’s songs make it all worthwhile. The dialog tracks—comprising a sum total of seven minutes—serve as an irritant.
A Star Is Born was recorded at a variety of locations, including the Greek Theatre, Coachella Valley, Shrine Auditorium, Glastonbury Festival UK, a couple of nightclubs, and several recording studios. Hence, the sound varies from track to track, but by and large, fares well—especially given the fact stadium sound always proves difficult to record. The studio cuts are highly processed and frequently drenched in reverb, but since this is a soundtrack, they feel perfectly appropriate. In other words, the staging of the instruments is arranged for good sound in the theater, which is not the same as great fidelity in your home. It’s made to sound really big and spread out, not to come across like a band set up shop in your living room. You are supposed to identify with the singer up on the stage, which is where the sonic spotlight remains focused. The approach works very well.
Visually, the two-LP set features plenty of swag—studio photos of the stars spread across the foldout cover, the record inner sleeves, and one side of the lyric sheet along with ten 7.5” x 10” photo cards—including one shot of Cooper’s bare chest. Yet it also falls flat in a few areas. The half-inch spine and LP slipcase seems far too large for a two-LP set, taking up unnecessary shelf space and creating room for the vinyl to slide around in the package. Second, quality control at the pressing plant went awry. VInylreviews.com obtained two copies. One is clean and the other looks like an ice rink after a hockey game. The clean copy is flat and fairly quiet, the other unlistenable. A Star Is Born makes for a fun album, especially if you get a clean copy the first time out!
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