Lana Del Rey - Born to Die
Record Label: Interscope, Polydor, Stranger
Release Date: January 27th, 2012
Christ, what a divisive artist! It is now certifiably impossible to mention the name Lana Del Rey without the people you're talking to breaking out into fisticuffs. Is she the refined-sugar product of a team of indie-rock svengalis, or does she make her own molasses? Is she any good live, despite choking on major network performances? Does her music stand up without her own special collogen-injections-and-vintage-dresses image? These questions, I shall not entertain here. I leave that up to you. What I'm concerned with is, is this album, as in, these fifteen songs, any good? The short answer is that this record is worth listening to. It's not great, but it's good, and some of the songs are great.
My biggest beef with the disc isn't anything Del Rey is doing, per se, but with the production. YouTube earlier songs like "Queen of the Gas Station" or "Mississippi South" and you get this toned-down indie pop vibe, somewhere between Liz Phair on Exile in Guyville and Liz Phair on Liz Phair. Born to Die eschews that in lieu of some bizarro trip-hop vibe, like Portishead and Tricky run through a blender and puked out onto numbers that are, at their core, country songs. The writing is Mazzy Star; the sound is the theme song to House, M.D., live with the philharmonic. At first it's awesome. After four or five tracks, it wears on you. In the right hands, it can be okay to have every song on the album sound the same: witness Brand New's The Devil and God, or Alexisonfire's self-titled effort. It sure can backfire spectacularly, though. I guess I'm talking about the consistency versus monotony with regard to atmosphere.
Del Rey avails herself beautifully on the vocals, though. A cursory listen to "Video Games" and "Born to Die" gives the impression that she's a one-trick pony, doing that same low, cabaret-lite croon thing over and over. Not so! She croons, sure, but she also raps, squeals, jumps, jives, wails, you name it. "Off to the Races" and "Lolita" are downright shizophrenic, vocally speaking. It's love that she expresses best. "Born to Die," "Video Games," and "Lucky Ones" are the best songs on the record, and I mean by a wide margin. There's a realness to her lyrics in the Springsteen vein, like "Let's get out of this town, baby we're on fire/Everyone around here want to be going down, down/If you stick with me, I can take your higher, higher." It's low-hanging fruit, but the little American in all of us loves him a bowl of low-hanging fruit.
How could Del Rey have improved this album? A few pointers for next time around. First, vary the production. A big number with strings sounds a lot better sandwiched between, say, a wry, stripped-down folk tune and a more conventional radio pop affair. Second, cut the length! Fifteen songs is too long. If ten was good enough for Led Zeppelin? It's good enough for you, Lana. Third, and maybe most importantly, stop trying to look so packaged. When your wardrobe and your sound and your this and your that are all rigidly preapproved, even if it's by you, people think: product.
As for me, though, I'm off all bandwagons, and I dig this record. It doesn't matter whether you buy the line of the fans or the haters, they're wrong. On a recent track, Tyler, the Creator, urged listeners to listen deeper to his music before putting it in a box. I'll do him one better: listen deeper before trying to put it in a Twitter trend.