Born to Die – Lana Del Rey

3 stars (out of 5)


The problem with Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die is not whether she’s indie or pop, it’s not if she’s an ‘authentic’ artist or focus-grouped, the daughter of multi-millionaire pretending she’s been evicted from Dale Farm or that she was previously known as plain ole Lizzie Grant whose debut album has mysteriously disappeared from all on-line stores.

These things shouldn’t matter, great music is just that and where it derives from shouldn’t be that important. No, it’s that song you probably already know that’s causing all the problems; Video Games. I’d seen a picture of LDR, only one and probably on Pitchfork, and she looked like a wispy, pre-Raphaelite indie princess and I wasn’t really that interested in how she sounded, I’d already drawn my conclusions, made a judgement. I was surprised that the song beneath the picture was called Video Games as it didn’t fit with this girl’s aesthetic; she looked so other-worldly to be singing about something so last century. So I clicked play and fell down the rabbit hole.

The brilliance of this song is not matched in this collection and that’s fine, most artists don’t even come close to making a record of this magnitude in the whole of their careers. This song will be covered by countless artists over the next 20, 30 years and remembered for a lot longer. But LDR, or maybe her ‘team’ as so many of her critics like to presume she has,  has decided that she needs to try and rewrite this song time and again over the course of  this album, and it’s exhausting. Part of the beauty of Video Games is that has a sadness and beauty that somehow really connects with our time right now. Like David Lynch, who Del Rey’s aesthetic and sound is often compared to (look at the album cover) , it’s hard to figure out which decade if any her view belongs to but also, like Lynch, a chord is struck and you’re transported somewhere familiar but unidentifiable . It’s the only song on the album that’s produced by Robopop who have been replaced by hip hop uber producer Emile Haynie. They produce the entire remaining album and subtle it isn’t. Strings are still here, they open almost every track and they’re thrilling, hip hop loops and samples of  party-girl yelps and screams have also been added and big trip hop beats invade almost every single song after the first verse so instead of replicating the mood of Video Games which would appear to be the intention, it kills it dead. Every song has been polished to a high sheen, each a facsimile of the one that preceded it. Lyrical themes are established early on; the Hamptons, self-destructing prom queens, red dresses, high heeled shoes, perfume and bad, very bad older men. It’s very self conscious and just becomes gimmicky and shallow the longer it plays.

That’s not to say that the songs themselves aren’t good, some of them are indeed brilliant. Radio is the kind of self-celebrating song that Britney Spears in one of more post modern moments (rare I know) would kill for; the partially rapped, uplifting, National Anthem will become just that and the chiming Lucky Ones could soundtrack an early Doris Day vehicle but doesn’t sound ironic. Born to Die, the follow-up to Video Games is big and blousy and drama queen dark; it works perfectly. Once these songs in particular, and one or two others, are heard in isolation they begin to make sense and really do pack a punch but included as part of this album, they only help to show up the flaws of this collection as a whole.

This is not a bad album, but it seems to have been made as quickly as possible to capitalise on that song we spoke of earlier and does succeed it presenting a concept of a Pop Star. But LDR seems like the kind of artist who the word ‘muse’ was made for. I imagine that there will be a long queue of predominately male song-writers and producers who would love to see Lana interpret their vision of her and she should pick and choose carefully as this could really suit her and will guarantee that she fulfils her potential as fascinating new star.

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