Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Pop Corner: Lana Del Rey - Born To Die

So, you guys hear about this Lana Del Rey girl?
I guess between being questioned for her authenticity, totally bombing on Saturday Night Live, starting a career allegedly fueled by a rich daddy with connections, being a "gangsta Nancy Sinatra", serving as a victim to hype overload and backlash, and seemingly ripping off old Greek songs, she released an album somewhere in the midst of it all.

The title opener begins with a dramatic string instrumentation, low-key hip hop-esque beats, faded shouting samples, and Lana's breathy vocaliza--okay, well...that's just about every song. Just to get it out of the way: if ones seeking variation, Born to Die will underdeliver spectacularly. Emile Haynie's production is lush, nostalgic, and darkly atmospheric, but ultimately makes this a little too homogeneous, all the more exacerbated by mediocre vocals and repetitive lyrical content wobbling between being bad and loving bad boys--the latter ad nauseum--resulting in an album that is (much like Lana's lips) uneven and bloated beyond natural limits. That's the only lip joke, I promise.

Demos like "Diet Mountain Dew" and "This Is What Makes Us Girls" are revamped with production quality to match the of the rest of the album's style; the beveragely-named track suffers from this moreso, mutating from a light-hearted, easy romp to a heavy, over-glitzed affair. "Girls", however, benefits from the dramatic boost, becoming a sassier, yet grounded, doomed anthem for youthful reckless abandon.

And the drama. OH, the drama. Where it hurts, it hurts. Nearly every line, regardless of its kitsch or idiocy (Fame-era Gaga-isms like "Money is the anthem...of success"), is delivered without a hint of irony or self-awareness--its ridiculousness only amplified by swelling, histrionic arrangements. But, at its core, it's just pop music, right? If it's catchy enough, bad lyrics shouldn't be weighed too harshly--"the way I roll like a rolling stone." Oh, Jesus Christ, Lana!! The worst aspects of Born to Die snowball in the bonus addition "Lolita," a hot mess with its creepy kiddie chorus, chants and heaped-on, dizzying beat. Basically, it's everything already accomplished in the image-heavy, strutter "Off to the Races," but way sloppier.

And with 'Deluxe Editions' of anything, there's generally a likelihood that previous ground will be retread, but--with everything else that's already happened here--it's already expected. The premature victory lap "Radio" would be better off replaced by the more intimate bonus track "Without You".

But wait, it isn't ALL awful. Sure, Golden Age Hollywood aesthetics and Lana's frequent wavering between deep-voiced vamp and cooing Marilyn clone (painfully executed on her SNL debut) can be tiresome, but sometimes she and her team manage to make it work in all the right ways. "Dark Paradise" is certainly bombastic camp, yes, but manages its melodrama gracefully. "Carmen" dazzles hypnotically as a call girl swan song. Oh yeah, and then there's a little ditty known as "Video Games". Glossy and quick to grow old, but free from the overdrive that assaults a majority of Born to Die, it actually serves as a respite between "Blue Jeans" and "Diet Mountain Dew".

But all these elements are handled at their greatest potential in the smokey slowburner "Million Dollar Man". Lana's vocals may be cabaret and unrefined, but, with its delicateness, the track unveils a promise of improvement; more direction and less gimmick. As a persona, Lana Del Rey has little option of where to go or how to develop from here. But the former Lizzy Grant has a pretty good chance of mastering her "Hollywood sadcore" niche if a little more restraint and a little less "vintage" were thrown into her formula.


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