Various Artists, “A Star Is Born — Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (Interscope Records)
The soundtrack to “A Star Is Born” is no slim thing, thank goodness. It contains a whopping 34 tracks, mostly due to the inclusion of brief snatches of songs, dialogues or interludes. It will put fans back into the film in a visceral way. Haven’t seen it yet? With this album, you may not need to.
The latest film incarnation of the doomed love affair between two singer-songwriters — one on the way up, the other down — has plenty of buzz thanks to its stars, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. But the soundtrack is proof that it deserves it. From bluesy rock to country to bubble gum pop, the 19 original songs are varied and addictive. We knew Lady Gaga was capable of great things, but Cooper’s musicality is a wonder. We often make fun of actors who long to be rock stars, but Cooper shows real skill in front of the microphone.
The soundtrack is chronological and, of course, includes Gaga’s performance of Edith Piaf’s classic “La Vie En Rose,” which is her star turn moment when Cooper’s character discovers her in a cabaret. And it naturally has the huge tearful finale, “I’ll Never Love Again” — actually it has an extended cut of that as well, if you have enough hankies at home.
But a film about the power of music needs to have lots of it and the soundtrack includes virtually every note heard onscreen, including blistering guitar instrumentals (“Out of Time”), duets (including the bluesy “Alibi,” the country “Music to My Eyes” and the soft rocker “I Don’t Know What Love Is”), and even dialogue about music (the minute-long “Twelve Notes” speech delivered by Sam Elliott).
In many ways, the film’s trajectory can be boiled down to its first breakout hit, “Shallow,” cowritten by Mark Ronson. It starts in a folky vein with Cooper alone, then becomes a duet with Cooper and Gaga before ending with her taking it over, belting out the lyrics in a glam-rock style. (Gaga first singing it to Cooper in a parking lot is nicely included on the CD in an earlier snippet.) Like that song, the whole soundtrack starts with Cooper’s blues and rock and ends with Gaga going full Gaga.
Other highlights include the searing rock cut “Black Eyes,” the country ballad “Always Remember Us This Way,” the burning “Diggin’ My Grave,” the Britney Spears-ish “Hair Body Face,” the moody club banger “Heal Me” and the simple, beautiful “Too Far Gone.”
In addition to Cooper and Gaga, who also co-wrote most of the tunes, some other names jump out on the album, including Lukas Nelson (son of Willie Nelson), who is credited with co-writing a slew of songs for both stars. Diane Warren co-wrote “Why Did You Do That?” while frequent Gaga collaborator DJ White Shadow co-wrote and co-produced six of her new songs.
And for those of you with not enough Alec Baldwin in your lives, rejoice — he’s there, in a tiny audio excerpt as a “Saturday Night Live” host. There’s a good chance he could win a Grammy for uttering four words. There’s no way this album won’t be in contention.