Movie soundtracks are big business in 2018. Wolverine went to the circus last Christmas and he’s still clawing away with staggering sales that threaten to dwarf almost everything else in the charts. But almost a year on, it looks like A Star Is Born could finally be the album to pull away the ropes from the ever powerful Big Top.
As Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga head for awards glory on the big screen, they’ve crafted a soundtrack that is equally impressive; it’s a collection of emotionally charged songs that feel entirely appropriate for this heartfelt tale of doomed romance. It starts with ‘Black Eyes’, our first offering of Bradley Cooper’s grizzled pipes on a slice of whiskey-stained southern rock written by US country star Lukas Nelson.
“By the wayside. I’m by the wayside”, Cooper croons. As opening tracks go, it’s a perfect fit, subtly hinting at the personal demons that become entirely too clear as his character, singer Jackson Maine, progressed throughout the film. Nelson’s involvement also elevates the track from being standard soundtrack fare – it sounds refreshingly believable on screen and goes far in ensuring that Cooper’s transformation into a boozy troubadour doesn’t feel too contrived.
The same can be said for ‘Maybe It’s Time’, which sees Cooper delivering a slow guitar confessional that wouldn’t sound out of place at a Kris Kristofferson show. Again, that professional involvement goes far; thanks to a writing credit from US star Jason Isbell, this provides the moment at which Cooper appears most like a genuine rock star.
But if Cooper’s moments are dour confessionals, Gaga’s efforts as Ally are even more emotional, with soaring choruses that reflect her upward trajectory throughout the film. For her part, it begins with a stripped back cover of Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie En Rose’, which reminds us of why she’s been rightly lauded as one the greatest voices of her generation. Crucially though, it’s a masterstroke for the character of Ally – there’s a certain magical quality to Gaga’s singing that establishes the intimacy of her character with Cooper from the start.
While several duets for Cooper soon follow, it’s ‘Shallow’ that sees the pair at their very best – it’s the kind of track that feels intimate and epic at the same time. After starting with Cooper’s restrained vocals, the track soon builds to an epic chorus that’s entirely befitting of her titular ‘star’ at her very peak. “I’m off the deep end / Watch as I dive in”, Gaga offers on a chorus that is packed with emotional heft.
Things get similarly deep at the end on ‘I’ll Never Love Again’, even if it comes dangerously close to dropping the accomplished emotional edge that came before.
Overall though, A Star is Born is one of the best Hollywood soundtracks of recent years. Far from being Oscar bait, these are songs that could feasibly shine on their own – and ones that feel entirely believable. Along with Best Actor gongs for Gaga and Cooper, a musical gong might just be in order too…