There was a lot to be uncertain about regarding A Star is Born: the film’s relevance and resonance with millennial moviegoers, Bradley Cooper’s ability as a full-fledged auteur, Gaga’s ability as a film actress. If there was one sure bet about the project, it was that the soundtrack, with Gaga’s inevitable input, would be a (mother) monster.
In perfect step with the film, the A Star is Born soundtrack exceeds expectations. The album is an excellent compliment to the film, and it is arguably the most satisfying body of work Lady Gaga has released in years, a staggering distillation of her singular talent. Gaga has always been more versatile than she was given credit for, and A Star is Born’s cinematic context gives her the freedom to explore her range. Only this record could offer the French torch song that is “La vie en rose”, the electro R&B of “Heal Me”, the folk-gospel influences in “Look What You Found” and the 90’s power ballad of “I’ll Never Love Again” on one tracklist. As disparate in tone as they may be, they work wonderfully as vessels for Gaga’s full-throated commitment to the role of Ally and the songs she crafted for it.
Whatever inspiration she drew from Bradley Cooper’s screenplay and direction paid off massive dividends for her musical output. A Star is Born houses some of the best songs of her ten-year career, and nearly all of hers are essential listening. Through Ally’s mainstream transformation, Gaga returns to full-blown pop for the first time since 2013’s ARTPOP (minus a quick detour with “The Cure”, coincidentally born from these sessions), and even though the film implies these songs are inferior, they play like legitimate Top 40 smashes. “Hair Body Face” is a breezy, effortless throwback to The Fame, with a punchy ear worm of a chorus; “Heal Me”, with its hazy, red light special production, is Gaga as slinky, effective seductress. Even the intentionally, objectively bad “Why Did You That” has an irresistibly killer hook.
Great as those songs are, the ballads are the album’s true revelation. Gaga has struggled with past records to deliver a low tempo that matches her vocal range, so her delivery of at least three excellent ones is extraordinary. The arrangements of “Is That Alright” and “Always Remember Us This Way” are simple and straightforward, serving as beautiful conduits for deeply emotional lyrics and stunning vocals. “I’ll Never Love Again”, the film’s finale, is a devastating, triumphant powerhouse that deserves to stand alongside “I Will Always Love You” and “My Heart Will Go On” as soundtrack masterpieces. It is easily the greatest vocal performance of Gaga’s career and may possibly win her two Oscars (for Best Original Song and Best Actress). The only song that could stand in its way is “Shallow”, her show-stopping duet with co-star Bradley Cooper that has captivated audiences since its release in the movie’s trailer. It’s a rousing barnstormer of a track, with gentle, conversational verses that give way to a full-throttle chorus that is both inevitable and thrilling. You’re sold before that big Gaga money note hits; when it does, the raw passion will knock you over.
Even with all of the deserved Gaga praise, Bradley Cooper’s role in this soundtrack isn’t insignificant. Cooper contributes four solo songs to the album, and they are all impressive. “Black Eyes”, the film’s opener, is searing, old-fashioned rock, with a killer guitar solo and Cooper’s gritty, emotive vocal. Cooper is a surprisingly emotive and versatile singer, capable of gentle resignation (on the standout “Maybe It’s Time”) and gruff romanticism (on the duet “Music to My Eyes”) without sounding inauthentic. His chemistry with Gaga is just as palpable on record as on screen; they sound like magic together.
But Cooper understands, like listeners will as they stream their way through this phenomenal album, that this is Lady Gaga’s time to shine. She is deep in her element, and the experience of filming A Star is Born has clearly revitalized her. She has never sounded better, and these songs rank amongst the best in her catalog. More than any of her records since 2009’s The Fame Monster, A Star is Born is an affirmation of Lady Gaga as one of the most vital presences in entertainment.
Oh, and it also happens to be an all-time great soundtrack.
Stream These Immediately: I’ll Never Love Again, Shallow, Hair Body Face, Is That Alright?, Always Remember Us This Way, Maybe It’s Time
Skip These: The dialogue tracks (if you haven’t seen the movie)