‘A Star Is Born’ a soundtrack as ‘Shallow’ as the rest of the movie
Jake Winningham | Monday, October 8, 2018
You’ve heard it a thousand times: the caterwaul that launched a thousand memes, the moment that already has Lady Gaga preordained for Oscar glory. The litany of “Ha’s”, “Oh’s” and other assorted noises that was the centerpiece of the viral trailer for “A Star Is Born” comes in the middle of “Shallow,” the film’s bid for radio play. In the actual scene, the song is a true showstopper, a rare moment of vérité in an otherwise overwrought movie. Separated from the screen, however, “Shallow” doesn’t stick the landing. Without a visual aid, Gaga is just screaming into the void.
The film is the fourth version of what is now a Hollywood standard: an aspiring ingenue falls in love with a grizzled burnout star and quickly shoots past him on her way to the top. In actor and director Bradley Cooper’s take on the story, Gaga’s Ally is discovered singing in a drag bar by Cooper’s Jackson Maine and is soon performing on his world tour. As a singer, Cooper is talented enough, but his voice is so obviously intent on being “gritty” that it sometimes travels into the realm of parody: at his worst, he sounds like Eddie Vedder impersonating Johnny Cash on “Saturday Night Live.” Gaga’s singing bona fides need no such introduction, and she continues to be one of the most capable vocalists in pop on “A Star Is Born.” Both Cooper and Gaga can more than handle themselves on this stage, but their performances are let down by the homogeneous and uninspired songwriting displayed throughout almost the entire album.
All but one of the album’s 17 tracks were written by either Cooper — with the help of rock journeyman Lukas Nelson, son of Willie — or Gaga, and each plays to their character’s personalities in penning the songs. Cooper gets the least to do of the two singers, growling over iPhone commercial grooves and self-indulgent guitar noodling. Gaga tackles more than a few genres; her character starts off singing strummy country-rock and then graduates to straightforward pop as her profile grows. The movie takes a noticeable rock-over-pop stance; this position would perhaps be more defensible if the songs she sings in either genre weren’t equally unremarkable.
When listened to outside of the theater, the movie’s songs starts to run together; I had to listen to the version of the soundtrack that includes snippets of dialogue from the film so that I could tell when one track ended and another began. Notably, only a few songs stand out from the fray. Gaga’s “Always Remember Us This Way” is an above-average piano ballad with a galvanizing rock coda, while her uber-pop “Why Did You Do That?” at least takes a few chances even if they don’t exactly pan out.
The aforementioned “Shallow” encapsulates “A Star Is Born.” The track starts off with some pleasant acoustic interplay and palpable chemistry between the two leads before Gaga’s now-famous wail sends the song careening into sub-Meat Loaf histrionics, a disparity which is endemic to the film as well as the album. Too often, “A Star Is Born” interrupts its more tender and effective moments with cacophony; I wouldn’t be surprised if, given the chance, Cooper would put a guitar solo in the middle of “Fur Elise.”
The album’s best song is, perhaps not coincidentally, the only one not written by Gaga or Cooper. Alt-country luminary Jason Isbell is the sole credited writer on “Maybe It’s Time,” which seems beamed in from a wholly different and much better album. With just a simple guitar arpeggio and his voice, Cooper turns in a stunning solo performance on a song that sounds like a modern update of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.” The movie and the soundtrack alike could’ve used plenty more understated moments like this one.
Artist: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
Album: “A Star Is Born” Original Soundtrack
Favorite Track: “Maybe It’s Time”
If You Like: Bruce Springsteen, Eric Church
Shamrocks: 2 out of 5