Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut and Lady Gaga’s acting debut shine in A Star Is Born (2018), a masterfully put-together film which successfully retells an iconic love story in perhaps a more timeless way than previous incarnations.
However, what really makes this film a year-round standout is the music. An array of stunningly crafted and effortlessly written tracks make up this hour-long musical experience, tracing the heartwarming—and heartbreaking—journey of Jackson Maine and Ally, just as well as the movie does.
Here is a track-by-track breakdown of this stunningly illustrative album.
Black Eyes: The single-noted electric guitar intro screeches with reverb as a combination of accelerating drums, bluesy piano, and roaring Jackson Maine fans swinging it into a riff that would make even Eric Clapton envious. This is a perfectly brassy opener to the album and is a brilliant manifestation of Bradley Cooper’s fading rock star status that just won’t let up.
La Vie en Rose: Lady Gaga has performed this Edith Piaf track live numerous times since her 2014 duet jazz album with Tony Bennett; in fact, it was her rendition of La Vie en Rose in 2016 at a Sean Parker fundraiser that inspired director Bradley Cooper to cast the Million Reasons singer in his film. This live-recorded rendition is beautifully articulated, and the loose jazz arrangement whisks listeners into a 1920’s Parisian cafe—or a drag bar in 21st Century Los Angeles.
Maybe It’s Time: Bradley Cooper’s voice cuts through this guitar-led track, as his character sings a remorseful hymn to himself. The retrospective nature of this song reminds listeners of the inner-battle addicts suffer.
Out of Time: This track is a roots-y tension-building instrumental. Initially exhibiting restraint, the instrumentalists inject humour and wit into the interlude-like song, as cheeky anecdotes whisk in and out of the grimy guitar’s improvisation. Finally, the bubbling pressure explodes in an orgasmic release before a rolling drum kit satiates the thumping crowd.
Alibi: The angst of the ’70s continues with this next track. The slide guitar is incorporated effortlessly, and by now it becomes a motif for Jackson himself. Cooper’s vocal ability reaches a peak on this track—from short instances of vibrato to classic rocker growls and vocal slides that show off his new-found resonance control.
Alibi is a smoothly arranged hard rock track with some of the best instrumental work on the album—check out that guitar solo!
Shallow: The lead single from the album initially seemed like a strange choice. However, with the context of the film it wouldn’t have made sense to have chosen any other in its place.
As the first duet between Jack and Ally, the story between the two characters’ verses are told beautifully, and juxtapose their two roles that will inevitably unfold and clash in the film. This track becomes the Evergreen of the 2018 adaptation, and in less than four-minutes manages to explore both characters’ backgrounds and motives, as well as foreshadowing the rest of the film.
The highlight of this track, however, is Lady Gaga’ undeniable vocal performance. Her breathing technique and tonal control is of a level rarely exhibited by other world-dominating artists; Rolling Stone even stated that “scholars will be studying (the song) for generations”.
Music To My Eyes: A personal favourite, this track ignites the love story between the two characters. A seductively swaying, Van Morrison-esque-tinged wedding song, the rawness of their vocals sweetly harmonises, as Jackson and Ally devote their sincerity to one another in a breathtaking act of fully-requited love.
Diggin’ My Grave: Perhaps the most surprising track in the entire album, Diggin’ My Grave exhibits the tightness of the instrumentalists. Combined with Lady Gaga’s high-octave rocking vocals that emulates Janis Joplin (wait for that angry growl at the 3:10 mark), Cooper perfects his slides and country-boy swagger over the track, steered by his jagged guitar.
Always Remember Us This Way: Performing well on charts around the world is the most “safe” song on the soundtrack—and a stunningly essential part of the love story. The seamless shifts between Gaga’s chest voice and head voice, and the charming vocal flutter at the end, is reminiscent of the great rockers of the ’70s.
Look What I Found: One scene in the film shows a Carole King Tapestry record hanging on Ally’s bedroom wall, and this song most clearly exhibits that musical influence. Maintained by an attitude-filled piano accompaniment, the vocals are complimented by an array of quick injects of horns.
Heal Me: A luscious synth-driven electro pop track that could have been written in the same session as Lady Gaga’s 2016 hit The Cure, Heal Me shows Ally’s transition into commercial music. Regardless, the song is an alluring beg for passion and shows off Lady Gaga’s high register with a tantalisingly produced beat that could be heard in clubs today.
I Don’t Know What Love Is: Enchanting and sentimental, a return to the pop-rock sound shows just how Ally rose to stardom in the first place. The way the two sing, “I swear I’ve seen an angel”, and the ensuing suite of layered strings, makes the listener feel like they’re in love for the first time again.
Is That Alright?: Unsurprisingly, there are already videos online of people doing their wedding dances to this song. On this Lady Gaga solo track, she anticipates the perfect future with Jackson. Affectionate and delicate, this song is another standout vocal performance and, being played during the credits after the film, is a sure tear-jerker.
Why Did You Do That: Is this song supposed to be “generic bubblegum pop” to highlight Ally’s newfound commercial focus, or is it simply a fun song to dance to? We’re not entirely sure. The repetitive chorus seems to have divided listeners, but, once again, the production value can’t be understated.
Hair Body Face: 2008 Gaga is back with a vengeance on this song. A nostalgic nod to her album The Fame, Ally sings, “’Cause baby when I look at you, I just don’t know what to do with you, a man loves a triple threat, did the party room just see that?” A club-ready banger, grab your disco stick and “just dance!”
Before I Cry: An anthem-like power-ballad escorted by a strong bass pulse and echoing classic Gaga vocals: Before I Cry is a future breakup essential.
Too Far Gone: Jackson Maine is back again for one last solo track. This is a short swan song of an addict reaching out for help. Is he too far gone?
I’ll Never Love Again: An instant classic. What a finale to a film. My Heart Will Go On and I Will Always Love You now has another huge heartbreaking ballad to rub shoulders with. Emotionally tackled by Lady Gaga, the soundtrack ends on a beautifully arranged, standing-ovation worthy performance. While the extended version will be revered as the “proper version”, and though the final minute is breathtakingly poignant, the film version of this track will drive everyone to tears. Just go and see the movie and you’ll understand why this track will remain one of the greatest music-film moments of all time.
A Star Is Born is a musical masterpiece that will inevitably become a historical favourite among cinema fans. With numerous weeks at number one both in Australia and around the world, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga have proved themselves an unlikely, but totally fantastical duo that have set the precedent for upcoming awards season.