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Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga - Love For Sale (Album Review)

Monday, 11 October 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

With charm and pizazz to burn, this album of spirited jazz standards from the unlikely, but perfectly matched, pairing of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga joyfully pays tribute to one of the greatest songwriters and composers of all time: Cole Porter. Going out on a suitable high, Bennett couldn’t have punctuated his glorious, near 80 year, career with a more fitting swan song than this heart-warming collaboration.

Following their highly acclaimed 2014 effort ‘Cheek To Cheek’, Bennett and Gaga immediately hatched a plan to honour Porter’s iconic songbook together. With recording beginning in 2018, two years after Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, this bright and breezy affair seems certain, courtesy of Gaga’s massive reach, to introduce the songsmith’s inimitable brand of wit, wisdom and humanity to a younger generation.

Whether it’s the poetically dexterous De-Lovely (a cheeky slice of meta songwriting, before meta existed), Love For Sale’s blend of uptempo swing and smitten storytelling or Night and Day’s devout romanticism, he was a wonderful wordsmith who married evocative lyrics to sublime compositions.  

Thanks to some tasteful tweaking of their arrangements, and a sparkling production job, 10 of his classiest cuts have been rebooted here with a playful and contagious exuberance.  From walking double bass bursts and snaking saxophone cries to twinkle-toed piano passages, glorious string flourishes and wailing horns, the synergy between words and music, as well as emotion and imagery, is watertight.

Everything and everyone feeds off Bennett’s ageless, impossibly cool persona to create a delectable dance. Gaga shines as his foil, with her technically flawless performance and passion obviously inspiring Bennett as much as his presence inspires her.    

From big band romp Kick Out Of You to an innocently flirtatious Under My Skin, the pair produce a sound that dishes up the genre's organic sensibilities with a reverent modern energy. Performed live, their chemistry is palpable as they trade lines, dispense wink-wink ad libs and lock together in soaring vocal unison.  

The only fly in the ointment arrives when Gaga is guilty of over-singing at the expense of subtlety, and the odd line is expressed with unbridled glee where yearning and wistfulness might feel more appropriate. That said, her vintage solo turn on Do I Love You is a thing of slow-burning, hypnotic beauty that couldn’t be better realised. 

It’s not exactly revelatory, and some listeners might find the aesthetic too anachronistic and corny, but this album is a wonderful celebration of Porter’s genius, Bennett’s legendary career, the importance of smooth jazz and Lady Gaga’s desire to keep its fire burning. Conjuring memories of a more simple time before cynicism and information overload took hold, sometimes a little blissful regression is good for the soul. 

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