Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek

Cheek to Cheek is a sound pairing between Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, though not without flaws.

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

Cheek to Cheek

Label: Streamline/Interscope / Columbia
US Release Date: 2014-09-23
UK Release Date: 2014-09-22

Opposites attract, or at least that’s the old saying. Pairing an oft-restrained jazz veteran in Tony Bennett with an over-the-top dance-pop star in Lady Gaga seems crazy. Strike the "seems", it is crazy. That said, the jazz album that results from the partnership, Cheek to Cheek, works for the most part. Audiences were first given a preview of the "chemmie" between Bennett and Gaga on standard "The Lady Is a Tramp" from Bennett’s duets album, Duets II. Interestingly enough, it was one of the brighter, most elite moments of that album, giving a potential duets album between the two a legitimate shot. Cheek to Cheek isn’t perfect -- at times it’s a bit blasé -- but certainly has its moments.

Opener Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" ranks among the strongest moments of Cheek to Cheek, kick starting the set energetically. As is the case throughout the album, Lady Gaga has the tendency to ‘cut’ more vocally than Bennett, at times overpowering him. That said, Bennett rises soundly to the occasion enough here, with Gaga’s dynamic voice suiting the given record. Follow up Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" is pleasant, swinging hard if a smidge less compelling than the triumphant opener. "Nature Boy" slackens the tempo, with Gaga taking charge initially. While Gaga lacks the smoothness of many jazz singers, her ability to show tenderness, reining herself in is admirable. Bennett’s subtlety is best suited here, but the blend between the two is harmonious. Musically, the flute solo is incredibly tasteful, representing the refined nature of the style.

Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields' "I Can’t Give You Anything But Love" proves to be the crown jewel of the set. Perhaps it’s the bluesy organ comping, the mean instrumental solos, or even Gaga’s growling. Regardless, it’s a special record. Again, Bennett contrasts Gaga with his reserved, selective vocal touches. Like "Anything Goes", here the opposites thing works once more. "I Won’t Dance" keeps things swinging, intact with its tight backing big band, and Bennett striking first. As fun as "not dancing" is, the quicker paced "Firefly" is more alluring. Definitely ranking among the more challenging songs tackled by the duo given the tempo and the angularity of the song itself, the upper register of Gaga’s voice, not to mention her power is a pro here. Though it’s brief at just under two minutes, "Firefly" packs a knockout punch.

The duo takes a break from one another, giving Gaga a solo spot on "Lush Life". An incredibly ambitious choice for anyone, Gaga performs the Billy Strayhorn classic relatively well. Don’t crown it as the go-to interpretation, but considering the complex harmonic progression and melody, Gaga deserves her props. The performance is a bit indulgent, but would anyone expect any less from Gaga? Bennett opts for the stripped interpretation of "Sophisticated Lady", accompanied only by piano.

After two ballads, Bennett and Gaga reconvene for a lightening quick take on Berlin's "Let’s Face the Music and Dance", another brief number clocking at just over two minutes. It could be argued that slowing the classic might’ve given it more character and perhaps left more of a lasting impression. Penultimate ballad "But Beautiful" certainly gives off that lush, heartwarming vibe, with strings accentuating. If a bit too slow, Duke Ellington's "It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)" closes as excitingly as the album opened. Bennett and Gaga even manage to take some ‘liberties’ at the end. The deluxe edition of the album adds four more songs, incorporated throughout: "Don’t Wait Too Long", "Goody Goody", "Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye", and "They All Laughed".

Ultimately, Cheek to Cheek is pleasant through and through. It’s not the greatest standards duets album ever recorded, but nor is it a dud. Ultimately it falls somewhere in the middle. It’s quite admirable that Gaga tackles jazz given its requirement of immense vocal skill to nail. Additionally, given his advanced age, it’s also admirable that Bennett sounds as strong vocally as he does here. Cheek to Cheek, hence, has enough enjoyable moments to make it worthwhile.





Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.


Folk's Jason Wilber Examines the World Through a Futurist Lens in 'Time Traveler' (album stream)

John Prine's former guitarist and musical director, Jason Wilber steps out with a new album, Time Traveler, featuring irreverent, pensive, and worldly folk music.


Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.


Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers Head "Underwater" in New Video (premiere)

Celebrating the first anniversary of Paper Castles, folksy poppers Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers release an uplifting new video for opening track, "Underwater".


Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.


Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.


Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.


Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.