One of the biggest trends in music today is that new rhythms, beats and backing vocals are sounding more and more like the old ones. Vintage and retro have defined some of the big hits of the last few years, from Pharrell's 'Get Lucky' and 'Happy' to Meaghan Trainor's 'All About That Bass'. Most of these sounds only call back to the 1970s and maybe the 50s and 60s for their funk and their groove, and for some people that's just not enough. So leave it to Lady GaGa, never one to go halfway on anything, to team up with good old-fashioned showman Tony Bennett to deliver us all the way back to the Roaring 20s and the era of swing with their collaboration album titled 'Cheek To Cheek'.
If you've come into this album thinking that this will be a blend of Lady Gaga's pioneering pop methods and Tony Bennett's timeless style, I regret to inform you that it has missed the opportunity to feature Tony Bennett's cover of 'Bad Romance'. 'Cheek To Cheek' plays it straight, with Lady Gaga ditching her usual brand in favor of a 20s crooner. This is all Bennett's wheelhouse, and she really fits right in. Lady Gaga fits effortlessly into the role of the saucy dame, best seen in 'Goody Goody' where she cops her native New York accent to complain that she is no "goody goody", adopting a sly attitude as Bennett tries to romance her in all the wrong (yet right) ways.
Bennett and Gaga are both at their best in the call-and-reply songs, employing fitting referential metaphors in 'They All Laughed', convincingly affectionate back-and-forth in 'Cheek To Cheek' and, what must be one of the most comical lines, fitting the words "silly gigolos" into the album opener 'Anything Goes'. Gaga and Bennett also deliver two solos each, although Bennett's 'Sophisticated Lady' and Gaga's 'Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye' and 'Lush Life' sound a bit too similar as slow-paced piano ballads in comparison to Bennett's string-dominated 'Don't Wait Too Long'. Other songs pack more instrumental flair, with the manic energy of 'Firefly' and the jazzy overtones of 'I Can't Give You Anything' conjuring images of smoke-filled old boys clubs. And, of course, the duo's rendition of 'It Don't Mean a Thing' closes the album with a bang.
There's little to criticize about the album. The album's songs have a tendency to sound a bit like each other, and while the short length of most of the songs keeps that tendency from getting in the way of the music, it also leads to songs ending right as a listener is getting into them. As a whole, though, the thing that is most striking about this album is its authenticity. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett have great chemistry as performers and both clearly have a passion for the genre and its legacy in popular music. They successfully bring to life an entire style of music that hasn't entered, let alone dominated, the public perception in decades. If you're a big band fan or if you just have an open mind, 'Cheek To Cheek' has that swing you may not have even known you were looking for.
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