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. lang in 2002, while Gaga is grounded in music theater and cabaret, a background that is perhaps too apparent on Cheek to Cheek even when it serves her well. She has the chops to sing these warhorses but she sometimes seems unsure of her skills, relying on sheer power when she'd be better off easing into a lyric. Gaga also is occasionally betrayed by her taste for camp -- it's fetching when she's re-creating the splendor of 1976 within the album art but when she begins throwing out flirty asides on "Goody Goody" ("I'm no goodie, I'm a baddie"), she slips on the thin ice she's skating upon. Comparatively, Bennett takes things perhaps a shade too casually, relying on charm as much as skill. This isn't entirely a bad thing. His ease provides a welcome tonic to Gaga's eager glee club theatrics and there are some sparks that arise from this contrast. Also, Cheek to Cheek benefits from sharp arrangements and production that draw upon anything from boisterous, full-bore big bands to swinging, intimate cabaret. Such variety helps spice up a pretty predictable set of songs -- it's a familiar parade of Porter, Berlin, Ellington, Kern, with Cy Coleman & Carolyn Leigh's "Firefly" being the least-familiar tune (although Bennett has recorded it numerous times since the late '50s) -- but Cheek to Cheek is a record where the music and even the songs take a backseat to the personalities. Gaga and Bennett intended to put on a razzle-dazzle show here and that's exactly what they did. Whether you like it or not depends entirely on how much you dig the way they swing.
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