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Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

on January 31, 2012, 8:00am
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I’d like to start yet another discussion of Lana Del Rey’s debut, Born To Die, with a quotation from model Bradley Soileau, who plays her lover in the video for the title track. When asked if Del Rey’s lips were real, Soileau responded: “People obsess about the wrong things. They should be obsessed with her voice and her music because it’s fucking amazing. But everyone is gonna wanna hate and say whatever it is they wanna say.” Her music is definitely not “fucking amazing,” but he has a point. Everyone and Brian Williams feels compelled to tweet a dead horse to the point where the conversation isn’t even about Del Rey or her music anymore. It’s about who can come up with the most clever teardown of her SNL performance or pithy summation of her “authenticity.”

Born To Die is where the conversation surrounding the artist formerly known as Lizzy Grant should have begun, and, hopefully, where it will end. Del Rey has an impressive range, Kid Cudi’s producer, and bee-stung lips, but her debut is mediocre at best. At worst, it’s as uninspired and repetitive as her internet commentators. Listening to Born To Die is like watching a movie billed as a comedy and discovering that the only funny scenes are in the previews; in this case, the high-definition videos of Del Rey performing a pretty good song. “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games” inextricably link Del Rey’s flaxen locks with starry-eyed classical instruments, providing the aural and visual irresistibility of a good montage.

But if montages are used more than once, they become tedious, and Born To Die is all montage. There’s always a string intro (“Dark Paradise”, which breaks down with the same backbeat as Kanye West’s “Who Will Survive in America?”), trip-hop samples (“Diet Mountain Dew”), and Del Rey’s voice surging like lava from the depths (“Million Dollar Man”). Ironically, this totalitarian formula can be inconsistent. On “National Anthem”, for example, an orchestra sounds out of place alongside a mechanized beat, which in turn never quite syncs up with Del Rey’s mussed enunciation (“Will you buy me lots of di-ah-monds?”).

This lyrical precision, which made “Video Games” tangible, aims to uphold Del Rey’s image; instead, it emphasizes the lack of substance behind her taglines. There’s only so many times that Del Rey can call herself—or “Carmen”’s thinly veiled alter ego—“Queen of Coney Island,” and “Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice” doesn’t sound any better whispered on “This Is What Makes Us Girls” than yelled at a Williamsburg party. Besides using alcohol as a cultural marker, Del Rey toes whatever kind of line exists between Ke$ha and Biggie with choruses like “Now my life is sweet like cinnamon, like a fuckin’ dream I’m livin’ in” on “Radio”, the expletive putting a fine, awkward point on her idea of a “gangster Nancy Sinatra.”

The upshot of being a one-trick pony—or maybe I’m an eternal optimist—is that Del Rey’s shtick does work sometimes. “Summertime Sadness” evokes slower jams on Good Girl Gone Bad, and anyone with a sense of rhythm should bob their heads to the chorus on “Off to the Races” (then again, that might be ‘Ye’s influence). If it counts for anything, indie micro-genre idol Patrick Stickles thinks that “Video Games” is a “GOOD ASS DEPICTION OF A REAL SOCIETAL PROBLEM.” His attempts to hit Del Rey’s high notes on his cover of the song are almost comically strained, but when he screams, “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you,” he sounds more honest than Del Rey ever does.

In a few months, none of this will matter. Lizzy Grant will re-release her album Kill Kill, which was supposedly shelved so Grant could reinvent herself as Lana Del Rey. Now that she’s going down in flames, and there’s no such thing as bad publicity, what better opportunity to resuscitate a “lost album?” Until then, judgment is postponed on whether the real live musician behind both personas actually has talent, or if she’s actually just as disappointing as Born To Die.

Essential Tracks: ”Video Games”, “Blue Jeans”, “Off To The Races”, and “Summertime Sadness”

Feature artwork by Cap Blackard.

18 comments

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Lanksgina4
May 20, 2012 at 11:48 am

I’m sure you just sit at your laptop and write all this shit because you’ve got nothing better to do than hate. You would never say this to Lana’s face, so because you’re a coward you’re gonna write it online, right? What makes you think that you’re some kind of musical genius? I would like to see you try to make an album of music that you wrote that’s half as good as Lana’s. No one asked for your opinion….

jeremyCK
March 2, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Whoah. Harley Brown’s dial seems to be set at the ‘blind rage’ notch, could we take it down a degree or two? To ‘objective assessment’ perhaps?

6thpage
February 9, 2012 at 6:07 am

Pabst Blue Ribbon is a David Lynch reference amongst others. Queen of Coney Island has associations with Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby, Darlin’, Candy Darling, you know White Heat, White Lightning… you reviewers are missing everything, like Radio and Video Games forming a pair…

Nik Marucut
February 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm

I have to say the lyrics on this album are repetitive. She compares her life a lot to ingredients used in baking, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. The production of the music and her voice are appealing to me, but I just don’t find this supposed image real. So in the end i think it’s a worthy listen –but not to be taken seriously. I just don’t watch her videos or live renditions of her singles because I feel like she’s forcing this image that isn’t really her. And that turns me off. I hope she grows from this backlash and actually gets to make a solid soph effort that is indicative of who she REALLY is and not some fabricated character that her record execs thought would work in her favor.

R.D.
February 4, 2012 at 1:13 am

The best comparisons I can come up with are a more sexually driven Lykke Li or a more subtle Lily Allen but neither quite gives her style the justice it should. If nothing else, the persona Lana has created has caused controversy and brought attention to her. I must say even in her SNL performance -which was lackluster- was hard to look away from her swaying nervousness. I don’t know if that’s Lizzy or Lana but it’s certainly sustainable. 

The thing that really stands out at first to me on Born to Die is the compositions themselves. The music is consistently stellar and follows her to an acceptional degree. I would have agreed with your assessment of “National Anthem” upon first listen but after a couple of listens it sounds much more natural and is appropriately…anthemic. That in itself should give this album a 2.5, her voice should be a plus and though the lyrics aren’t the best there’s certainly potential and some quality in them. I don’t understand the CoS or Pitchfork reviewers given Born to Die a review belonging to a complete flop. Don’t agree with it, but enjoyable read.

Bita Bo
February 1, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Its not a bad album at all. All the songs are very catchy. The lyrics might be a bit repetitive but she has a great voice. That says more than most artists now a day. It’s sounds like a mix of Fiona Apple and Stevie Nicks.

Anonymous
February 1, 2012 at 9:11 am

This album just confirms what the more perceptive of us have known for a while – the music critic in the internet age is redundant and irrelevant. The US critics in particular have tried to destroy Lana even before the album dropped, attempting to steer the public away from even considering a purchase. And how does the public react??

http://img402.imageshack.us/img402/4764/15il.jpg 

Oh dear. Like I say, redundant and irrelevant. Serves you right.

J.Christian
February 1, 2012 at 7:40 am

The album while not great, is not terrible either. And over hype does not mean bad all the time. When she finally goes on tour, it will sell out in minutes. But let’s all just listen to Tyler, the instigator and B.S like that, because COS loves that shit.

Estolfi
January 31, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Except she’s not going down in flames. Only people calling this album mediocre are music critics who, for some reason, blame Lana Del Rey for her overhype instead of themselves. Worse albums have gotten better reviews. IMO.

bobbyrisigliano
January 31, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Titus Andronicus can you just stop making music. please. Sincerely, my ears.

Aidan
January 31, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Going down in flames? Yeah, having the #1 album on iTunes in 11 different countries (so far) is sure going down in flames…

Your friend Jeremy
January 31, 2012 at 11:01 am

I never really understood the hype on this chick anyway. From the get-go people wanted her to be way more than she actually ever was. Nice review!

Ksks
January 31, 2012 at 10:21 am

eh its not a bad review, its just that he piles it on like everyone else as she’s such an easy target at this point. 

Kate
January 31, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Harley = she

Ben
January 31, 2012 at 9:33 am

Clearly you should not be writing any sort of album review, because your incompetent

Kate
January 31, 2012 at 10:19 am

What’s that supposed to mean? Based on what I’ve heard so far, there are some good insights in this review. I’m not ready yet to be taken in by Lana Del Rey or equally to dismiss her. Either way I expect she won’t be worried as it will sell zillions. A review is just food for thought and if you can’t take the time to spell ‘you are’ correctly, why bother to comment.

grammarpolice
January 31, 2012 at 10:33 am

it would actually be “you’re” in this case

ben’s totes right
January 31, 2012 at 12:25 pm

yeah, seriously. you’re lacking douchebag jargon and pretense. you make a well-supported argument and slyly mix in some wit to make the review an enjoyable read. you suck. 

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