Move over Beyoncé/Jay-Z, cialis there’s a new musical power couple in town. Yes, it’s the 28 year-old pop megastar Lady Gaga, and the ever-elegant 88 year-old Tony Bennett. This week the two released their highly anticipated album Cheek to Cheek on Columbia Records. Simply put, it’s fabulous.
Admittedly, the sixty-year age gap is a little strange when the two are singing songs such as I Can’t Give You Anything But Love to each other – but, they do it so well. The songs on the album are all staples of the Great American Songbook, and Tony Bennett has been singing these songs in the recording studio and on tour for the past six decades. Indeed, if there is one criticism to be made of this album is that these interpretations rarely deviate from past recordings, and, moreover, there is no room for any new material.
Yet, and as Gaga has pointed out in interviews, that’s not really the point of this album. The point is, rather, to introduce our generation to jazz – the genre of music which, arguably, has influenced every other genre since. Lady Gaga is in fine voice on this album, there’s no hint of auto-tune unlike her previous works, and at 88 Tony Bennett is still in his prime. One might even go so far to suggest that now he sounds better than ever: some of his earlier recordings and live recordings tended to be a bit, well, shouty. Clearly, his voice has aged but he has accepted it, and this album finds him still sounding incredible.
The album comes in two editions: either ‘Standard’ or ‘Deluxe’. The ‘Deluxe’ edition has a few more tracks, including one solo by each Gaga and Bennett. For Bennett’s take on take on Don’t Wait Too Long alone is worth spending the extra few quid for the ‘Deluxe’ edition.
Overall, the sound is brilliant. The instrumentation is provided by, in part, Tony Bennett’s long-time quartet, Gaga’s friends and on some tracks a full orchestra. On occasion Gaga tends to overpower Bennett vocally, as if to assert herself as a newfound jazz diva, rather than an auto-tuned pop-star. That said, Gaga proves she is more than an auto-tuned pop-star, but perhaps does need to tone down the vocal theatrics somewhat. She has all the talent, just – perhaps – needs a little refinement; and she knows a man who can help her with that.
A particular highlight on the album is their take on But Beautiful, one of the greatest jazz standards ever written. The lush guitar playing during the introduction weaves majestically with Bennett’s crooning, and when Gaga joins in they both sound incredible together. They All Laughed is a staple of Bennett’s live shows, and the trade-off between Gaga and Bennett works well, despite the track only lasting for one minute, fifty seconds. Here, the orchestra really shines.
As I’ve already written elsewhere, this album is not much of a risk at all for Bennett, for Gaga however, it’s quite a substantial gamble. Yet, it is refreshing to see an artist of her calibre and fame deciding their own musical fate, instead of pandering to management and record label demands. Having Tony Bennett on board, of course helps. At 88, if I’m still around, I expect to spend my days in a recliner in front of Dad’s Army repeats on BBC Two, with my Stanner stair-lift in the corner waiting to take me to the toilet. Despite all Bennett’s been through, including a crippling drug addiction, he remains on top of his game. Indeed, I was fortunate enough to see Bennett perform on consecutive nights on his recent UK Tour – once at the Royal Festival Hall, then at the iTunes Festival in Camden the night after – and I hold these memories to be very special. It’s not everyday you see such a legend twice in two days.
In summary, this is a highly enjoyable album. Sure, there are a few issues with it, but it’s an ambitious record nonetheless, one which seeks to introduce jazz to an audience hooked on synthesisers, bass, and computer-generated sounds. For that alone, Gaga and Bennett need to be applauded.
Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga’s new album Cheek to Cheek is available on Columbia Records, with ‘Standard’ and ‘Deluxe’ albums being both available.