“Paradise EP” – Lana Del Rey

4 stars (out of 5)

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Product DetailsThis collection of mainly new songs is part of the Paradise edition (reissue) of Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” album released earlier this year. When I reviewed this album in January I wrote with disappointment about how, after the initial promise of the incredible “Video Games”, the album was samey and, well, a bit dull. I’m pleased to say that these 8 songs come closer to fulfilling the decaying American dream world aesthetic that she has been flirting with since her invention of Lana Del Rey.

The clunky themes that tended to weigh down “Born To Die” still feature in every track here (the pale moonlight, daddies, diamonds, party dresses, drugs, drinks, Elvis and of course death) but with very subtle shading here and there they become less cumbersome as the massive sweep and power of the music and Del Rey’s performance itself utterly convince and take over. Much of this, I’m guessing, is down to a change in producers; Emile Haynie who was in charge of the majority of the original album only has 2 co-productions here and subsequently the noisy but hollow hip hop influence is less obvious. Two brilliant cases in point are the Rick Rubin-produced first single “Ride” and the Rick Nowels-helmed “American”. Both of these feature impassioned vocals (particularly “Ride” with Lana almost howling the ‘I’m sick and tired of feeling fucking crazy’ line) and a warmth and Americana nostalgia that, although not as other worldly as “Video Games”, signifies a move towards something more substantial and moving. “Bel Air” is a further progression sonically with the piano keeping a waltz time,  Del Rey seeing gargoyles and a sample of a noisy kids playground (a trick used with more subtlety by Fiona Apple a couple of months back); it defines the concept of ‘cinematic’ music and is quite beautiful.

The thundering “Gods and Monsters” is the most self possessed vocal performance here and lyrically either the most irritating or Meta depending on how much the Del Rey mythology/invention convinces you, but it is hard to deny its power; ‘In the land of Gods and Monsters, I was an angel, looking to get fucked hard. Like a groupie incognito, posing as a real singer; life imitates Art’. This may just be Lana getting her own back on her record label after the original lyrics of “Born To Die” were changed from ‘fuck me hard in the pouring rain’ to ‘kiss me hard’; who knows. Maybe she goes a little too far in her revenge with “Cola” though, lyrics like ‘my pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola’ are just embarrassingly and pointlessly attention-seeking (after “Diet Mountain Dew”, her second unsuccessful attempt at a song referencing popular carbonated beverages) and “Body Electric” neatly collects all her key phrases in one song bordering on self-parody and is one of the few mis-steps here.

Yayo” is an oddity, originally featured on Lizzie Grant’s now-withdrawn debut album this has been re-recorded as a seemingly structureless song (it does in fact have a definite structure) with Del Rey amping up her bleary-eyed, drugged-out Monroe persona; it doesn’t really work as well as the original recording, oddly enough, but it is a brave decision to introduce something less obvious. “Blue Velvet” is a great cover and my goodness this could have been disastrous; brilliant retro strings burst in before the whole things plunges into Prince-like slow motion beats and Lana does her best Isabella Rossellini impersonation.  It’s fascinating to think that so many listeners will have never heard the original, this version being their first exposure to this truly iconic song.

So if you cherry pick from the original album (“Radio”, “Without You”, “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games” for starters) and lose 1 or 2 tracks from this new batch you actually do end up with one of the best and most original pop albums of the year. After initially threatening to retire musically and work in the film business, Lana Del Rey has confirmed that a second album (third if you include this) will be released and in describing her vision for it (stacked up a capellas, a full orchestra and lots of space apparently) she appears to be someone who fully understands the artistry (or lack of, depending on your view point!) of what they’re doing. But once she has collaborated with David Lynch, the definitive reference point of all of her work, then I for one will be satisfied and she can then put her Audrey Horne, red saddle shoes away in relative peace.