Release Date: Sep 23, 2014
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Vocal, Standards, Pop/Rock, American Popular Song, Vocal Pop, Traditional Pop
These two Italian-Americans have more in common than you would think. Both have been immersed in jazz from childhood – Gaga, many will be surprised to learn, won a jazz competition at school – and share a reverence for the Great American Songbook. But it’s Gaga who will benefit most from this album, which has the pair finding joyous common ground as they swing through 11 standards.
Opposites attract, or at least that’s the old saying. Pairing an oft-restrained jazz veteran in Tony Bennett with an over-the-top dance-pop star in Lady Gaga seems crazy. Strike the “seems”, it is crazy. That said, the jazz album that results from the partnership, Cheek to Cheek, works for the most part.
Lady Gaga's classical training has always been key to her origin story, so this album with 88-year-old crooner Tony Bennett is no big surprise. Gaga has real chemistry with Bennett (whom she befriended after they performed together at a benefit in 2011) on breezily swinging tunes like Cole Porter's "Anything Goes." Befitting a singer who harnessed vocal firepower on huge club tracks, she sometimes blasts away at these songs rather than relaxing into them. But on challenges like the subtle Billy Strayhorn ballad "Lush Life," the queen of the little monsters more than proves she can be a sophisticated lady too.
In the earliest years of this decade, it could be hard to remember that Stefani Germanotta was a person at all. I say Lady Gaga, you think: Alexander McQueen hoof shoes. Raw meat dress. The SXSW performance with a “vomit artist.” Born This Way. A collection of concepts, a string of ….
It's the oldest trick in the book: Past-prime pop singer attempts to boost his or her relevance in the face of dwindling sales and hastily changing trends by commissioning the help of a hotter, more bankable artist. Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga's Cheek to Cheek is the latest product of such a collaboration—except I'm not referring to the octogenarian Bennett, who, after 60-plus years in the business, is selling more albums than ever before, but to Gaga, whose free-fall from the upper echelons of pop has been as precipitous as her rise was meteoric. Despite her claims that she grew up listening to the jazz greats, Gaga comes off more as a dilettante than an aficionado on Cheek to Cheek, a collection of duets with the seasoned Bennett.
Despite their differences — he’s an 88-year-old jazz-vocals titan, she’s the outlandish pop star with a penchant to provoke — there is nothing odd about the coupling of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. No matter how much you might think Gaga isn’t worthy of Bennett, “Cheek to Cheek” is the album they were meant to make. Gaga is, at heart, an old-fashioned entertainer much like Bennett, and she’s also Stefani Germanotta, an Italian girl who grew in New York in a home where Bennett’s music was played.
Welcome to the music industry’s Super Tuesday. Today marks the start of the fall rush, when record companies open the floodgates, setting a pace of releases that won't cease until the last leaves drop. This year’s crop offers a veritable autumnal cornucopia, including Lady Gaga’s tete-a-tete ….
Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett sang before 2014's Cheek to Cheek -- she popped up on his 2011 collection Duets II -- so this standards album isn't exactly out of the blue. Furthermore, the two aren't such an odd pair. Bennett naturally has a long track record not just in regards to the Great American Songbook, but in presenting it to modern audiences, freshening it up for an MTV Unplugged in 1994 and cutting a full album with k.d.
It’s hard to decide who needs more protection from Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s unbearable new duets album. On one hand, you want to shield older traditionalists familiar with the material -- well-worn standards out of the Great American Songbook -- from the shallow, deeply unimaginative renditions here. On the other, it seems a shame to expose younger pop fans -- those who’ve taken heart in Lady Gaga’s once-powerful message of self-affirmation -- to the full breadth of her new-found cynicism.