ALBUM: Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
Divisive, talented and manufactured, Lana Del Rey is the most hyped (over-hyped?) artist of her generation. The superlative ‘Video Games’ has racked up 24 million hits on youtube, and press attention has reached unprecedented levels, rivalling that of a royal hip-replacemnt. Everyone is expecting big things from the 25-year-old New Yorker.
For someone whose debut album has only been out for a day it seems odd that she has already attracted as many enemies as admirers. For too many people the credibility of the artist overshines the quality of the music. True, Del Rey is manufactured both physically and musically. Her ballooning, botoxed lips are an easy target for ridicule, but it’s the fact her music and image have been sculpted, manipulated and transformed by music industry insiders that really riles fans of ‘real’ music. But in reality, these people are pretentious morons, for as every Michael Jackson fan will testify it’s the finshed product that counts not the ghoulish Frankenstein behind. A great song is a great song and the story behind it ranges from being a minor curiosity at best to outright irrelevant.
But still, the battle lines are drawn, the knives are out and the smell of blood is in the air. Who shall win, the real fans or the fans of real music? Well, after the dust settles there is no clear winner, and it turns out that Del Rey herself encapsulated her plight perfectly many moons ago when she described herself as a “Gangsta Nancy Sinatra”. Nancy Sinatra works, ‘Gangsta’ does not, and together they are a blatant attemt to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, pleasing to both but appeasing neither. On tracks like ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘Born To Die’ the gangsta elements feel misplaced and distract from the obvious quality of the tracks underneath – nonetheless they are both still very good. ‘Video Games’ encapsulates all her best aspects – the Nancy Sinatra vocals, the sadness and nostalgia, the supreme songwriting, and her quirkiness manifesting itself in those harps – and songs like ‘Off To The Races’ and ‘National Anthem’ all her worst, where it’s more Ke$ha than Sinatra, stupid, meaningless lyrics enclosed: “Money is the reason we exist, everybody knows it, it’s fact, kiss kiss” (vomit! vomit!).
The second half of the album is stronger, overall, than the first. ‘Carmen’ and ‘Million Dollar Man’ are solid, Bond-esque, ballads that put more meat on the album’s bones. ‘Summertime Sadness’ and ‘This Is What Makes Us Girls’ are up there with the quality of ‘Born To Die’ – though again the lyrics range from dull to meaningless. This reverses the massive inequality in quality of the first half of the album, giving the album a more even feel.
Still, Born To Die leads to the feeling that, though Del Rey can turn out a good tune, sing brilliantly (though her Saturday Night Live performance calls that into question) she’s also vacuous. It’s in the way she name-checks drugs (cocaine in ‘Off To The Races’ and ritalin in ‘Radio’) probably just because she thinks it’s cool, and the consistent over-production and under-emotion. People love ‘Video Games’, because it sounds so natural and heartfelt, which is the exact opposite of the cold calculation of ‘Born To Die’ as a whole, which sadly sounds like a record exec’s wet dream. None of which detracts from the sheer quality of ‘Video Games’, ‘Born To Die’ and ‘Summertime Sadness’. These remain undimmed by the lack of variety and emotion in her debut album.
So which is she? The synthetic replicant disappointment of some record industry factory, or a superlative musician? Sadly, she’s too much of the former and not enough of the latter. It’s not that Born To Die is a bad album, it’s actually pretty good, it’s just not as good as it could have been. But then, did she ever stand a chance of living up to the hype?
Release Date 30/01/2012 (Polydor)