jason stives reviews one of the most talked-about albums released so far this year …
Years from now, there will be courses discussing the plight of Lana Del Rey’s debut album, Born To Die, a farce of hype and how manic street-preaching record execs can kill a commodity that’s different from the norm. In the six months, since the former Lizzy Grant graced the YouTube circuit with her haunting debut single “Video Games,” the music world has anticipated a full-length album, mixing her Nancy Sinatra and David Lynch-like tendencies. But then came a critically disastrous performance on Saturday Night Live, leaving many music critics to expect her immediate downfall. Now comes Born To Die, which measures up poorly to what everyone wanted it to be.
Her sound is admirable upon first listen, and I don’t believe the final result stems from a lack of actual talent. The songs that sparked her initial internet frenzy — “Video Games,” and “Blue Jeans” — are as something remarkably different for the Adele generation and were reminiscent of things past. It’s a sound that isn’t completely original — it draws comparisons to Nancy Sinatra and New Jersey’s own Nicole Atkins. But we aren’t here to nitpick. The album starts out very well: Both the title track and “Off To The Races” are delectable pop tunes that maintain a Top 40 standard for the 21st century. But sadly, this doesn’t last too long.
Del Rey has said in interviews that she grew up suffering through what some dub the Woody Allen complex — the belief of “why is life worth living when we are all going to eventually die?” In a way, this instantly creates Ms. Grant’s character (although a failed first album may have done the same as well). And so we get a woman looking for a slice of Americana that doesn’t exist in a sex-charged world, and this is what ultimately splits her creativity. Her look is classical, with full-pouting lips, but her sound rings to a typical dance track, as shown on songs like “National Anthem” and “Radio.” Del Rey wants to be wanted for who she is but settles for being the girl chased for flashing a bra strap and sitting on a gentleman’s lap for attention. On the album’s closer, “This Is What Makes Us Girls”, our suffering narrator believes her faults in life revolve around “putting love first” and that sex and misadventure is what makes a girl a woman in the 21st century. It sounds degrading, but it’s clearly a representation of how she feels she will be projected. The trouble is: Her work shows it.
Not all the tracks are throwaway. “Dark Paradise” and “Carmen” invoke her potential for luminary beliefs and imagery, but the novelties that made her unique are worn off by this point with the over-saturation of strings and her trademark trembling voice. Part of me wants to defend her, as she clearly allows herself to be toyed with in a rich man’s world, but that doesn’t justify a poor product. Born To Die could be great, but it’s not and only adds to Del Rey’s persistent detractors. It’s possible that the pressures of living up to the hype of her influences like Britney Spears and Kurt Cobain created something that was factory-ready that even the artist herself couldn’t anticipate. It’s not all bad (some of it is clearly quite good), and I refuse to write her off just yet. But what was sacrificed may result in just another 15 minutes of fame that this generation so frequently produces.
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Disappointing)