That pouting face is becoming as universally recognised as the Macca’s logo but I’ll bet there’s still a bunch of you asking, “Who the f**k is Lana Del Rey?” Is she Lizzie Grant the dumpy duckling that became a sultry swan? Is she her millionaire Daddy’s little princess or another label dolly and manufactured pop singer? Or is there something more to be found beyond this sassy girl’s head and in her heart and music?
Everyone’s got an opinion and these will differ as much as most people’s clothes. So perhaps the best way of looking at her major-label debut, Born To Die, is that you’ll find precisely what you’re looking for. If you go looking for validation of fake artistry that’s what you’ll get. But if you’re a little more open-minded, then you may even find yourself enjoying every minute of this quote, “Hollywood sadcore music,” as odd as that may seem.
Lana Del Rey is by her own admission a “Self-styled gangsta Nancy Sinatra”. Like any tall poppy, the industry machine built her up with hype very quickly, only to cut her down for all manner of reasons. These included: a substandard Saturday Night Live performance, allegations of plastic surgery, claims her Daddy bankrolled her career and the fact that she bought the rights to her 2010 debut record – one released under her real name, Lizzie Grant – that is being reworked for a later re-release.
Across the dozen songs on Born To Die this husky vixen reveals an ongoing penchant for bad boys and love that is occasionally good but mostly bad. This sounds like it could at times be a recipe for Divinyls’ Chrissy Amphlett. But this music is rather dark and dreary so for the most part it plays like it’s 12 solid days of rain. So it’s little wonder that another common thread here is death or apocalyptic 2012 revelations about the end being nigh.
The song that kick-started her career, “Video Games” is a tale of melancholy about two outsiders who bond with each other. It boasts a distinctive sound but unfortunately this also proves to be an often-used blueprint for the remainder of the album’s tracks. They all seem to share similar tones, vibes and feelings of melodrama, because you only need look at songs named “Summer Sadness” and “Dark Paradise” to know they’re all one colour and that’s blue.
The title track is another pinnacle of the album. It features pop music with a slight orchestral tinge and some electronic bleeps and blops- think like Nick Drake-meets-Ladytron. This is all love, hedonism, craziness and sadness wrapped up into one round stress ball. Unfortunately the subsequent, “Off To The Races” misfires as it boasts some of the worst lyrics of this record. Consider a bouncy Del Rey annoyingly rapping and purring: “Light of my life, fire of my loins/Give me them gold coins, give me them coins”.
And while “Million Dollar Man” contains some clichés, the horrid wording of the former is perhaps only equaled by “National Anthem” with:
“Money is the reason we exist/
Everybody knows it, it’s a fact, kiss kiss”
It’s a shame because musically the song boasts some of the same dramatic strings found in the score of Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of Romeo & Juliet. This is then coupled with the excellent kind of atmospherics synonymous with Martin Hannett’s work, no doubt an influence of producer, Emile Haynie, who has achieved similar results through work with Kid Cudi, among others.
For the majority of the album, Aussie listeners will wonder if Lana Del Rey wants to be Missy Elliott or Missy Higgins. On the one hand Del Rey raps and could be emulating the former while at other moments the songs are more like listenable pop numbers about tortured souls and their equally troubled relationships. At its core, Born To Die is twisted and cohesive-sounding, as the listener journeys through wide-open spaces and rather opulent settings. This femme fatal knows how to look good and produce something pretty, even if you may find things are a tad hollow beneath the surface.
Ultimately, Born To Die shares a few things in common with Soko’s recent debut effort as they both have a real sense of melancholy dotting every song. Plus, what once sounded like rather distinctive music can get repetitive when the other cuts draw one too many elements from the better tracks. The record is therefore a bittersweet one that will tease and titillate with its alluring menace and should please thanks to its cinematic swirls, even though it leaves much room for future improvement.
Whether you find this all to be fake or fabulous, there’s no denying that this doomed damsel’s effort could be renamed “Born To Run”. If you love it you’ll run with these haunting songs, lapping up every bit of their luscious pop melodies and the sensitive sentimentality. But for every one of them there’ll be countless others who’ll find that the glamour and chic imagery is just a front for a derivative and vapid set of sorry stories that will make you want to run for the hills. On your mark…
Originally published on 2 April 2012 at the following website: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/nd/albumreviews/born_to_die_lana_del_rey
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