Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga – ‘Love For Sale’ review: oldies covers with a playful wink
The veteran crooner and art-pop legend team up again, this time to pay tribute to Cole Porter’s big band classics, adding a touch of spice
At first glance, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga seem like polar opposites. Immaculately dressed in a procession of smart suits, Bennett is as classic as it gets; the 95-year-old bringing timeless big band tunes to life with his effortlessly smooth pipes since the late 1940s. Lady Gaga, meanwhile, has long been a master of exploring the many facets of boundary-pushing pop, drawing on everything from Eurotrash (second album ’Born This Way) and country-tinged soft-rock (2016’s ‘Joanne’) to the futuristic cyberpunk of her most recent studio album 2020’s ‘Chromatica’.
Despite their obvious differences, the two originally clicked a decade ago, when Bennett watched Lady Gaga performing Nat King Cole’s ‘Orange Colored Sky’ at a charity do. After recording a cover of ‘The Lady Is The Tramp’ for Bennett’s album ‘Duets II’ they joined forces for the collaborative ‘Cheek to Cheek’ in 2014. It could’ve easily been a schmaltz-fest in lesser hands, but the pairing seemed to invigorate both artists instead, tapping into the jazz clubs Gaga sang in as a teenager in New York, and re-contextualising Bennett’s crooning cool for a new generation.
Seven years later, the unlikely pals have teamed up a second time for ‘Love For Sale’. A celebration of Cole Porter’s parping Broadway tunes, the album is also something of a swan song for Bennett, who recently announced that he’s retiring.
Spanning some of Porter’s best-known classics, the tracklist also includes Frank Sinatra’s Porter-penned signature songs ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’. At times, it all feels very jazz-hands; singing solo on ‘Let’s Do It’, Gaga goes full musical theatre, humming appreciatively as trumpeter Brian Newman lets rip with a solo. On ‘Love For Sale’, she channels the arm-swinging enthusiasm of a milkmaid dancing through an Oliver! show tune: “Who will buy?” she hollers. And though Bennett’s voice has become rougher and raspier with age, it lends the record a pleasing rawness.
‘Love For Sale’ is best when Bennett and Gaga playfully trade lines and sing in unison, with the veteran singer countering his collaborator’s belting vocal with artful restraint. In Gaga’s hands, certain lyrics take on a tongue in cheek contemporary meaning: “But baby, if I’m the bottom, you’re the top” she sings with a smirk on the album closer. These subtle touches liven up what might otherwise be a fairly wholesome covers record. Though they’re vastly different icons, from entirely different generations, it’s testament to their power that both artists find their own voices in such timeless classics.