Monday 30 January 2012

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die (album)

Is her music as manufactured as her apparently fake lips? Was Video Games just a one-off? Can 'Born To Die' live up to expectations?

Three big questions that fans and critics alike are demanding answers for from Lana Del Rey's debut album.

The answer to the first, at least, is who cares? Del Rey (born Lizzy Grant) may be a carefully molded pop construct that has sent critics into a frenzy, eager to endorse or diminish her authenticity. Yet she's hardly the first to do so. Is Lady GaGa really that bizarre in reality? And artists from Nicki Minaj to Bat For Lashes have released plenty of material from the point of view of an alter ego. Even if Grant is playing a character, the focus should be on the music. Sure, cynics may say it diminishes the emotional impact of her lyrics and her persona as the constant victim is hard to swallow. But the sweeping orchestration and inventive, hip-hop inspired production more than make up for this. Her jazz-tinged vocal delivery is naturally imbued with heartache, even if her lyrics aren't.

As for Video Games, it's been a huge success, catapulting Del Rey into the limelight. As such, many of the tracks do follow the same blueprint, though it's an understandable choice. That irresistible mix of old and new, lush orchestration and contemporary beats, Hollywood glamour and cool sex appeal, is what most characterises 'Born To Die' and each track is just varied enough to keep our attention.

Off To The Races and Diet Mountain Dew do offer something a little different, living up to her own "gangsta-Nancy Sinatra" moniker. But even these drug-fuelled romps, despite their weird sex appeal, are swamped in sadness. National Anthem begins with a grandiose string introduction, though Video Games remains Del Rey's true anthem. The dark, trip-hop feel of Dark Paradise and Summertime Sadness meanwhile continue to epitomise her noir-pop with their themes of death. Lyrically, This Is What Makes Us Girls is the most believable, the lines "we don't look for heaven and we put our love first / Don't you know we'd die for it? It's a curse" reaching the essence of her music, ending the album on a feminist high. It also proves a contrast to Radio, with its chorus of "No one even knows how hard life was" and "Baby love me cause I'm playing on the radio" being difficult to take in Del Rey's manufactured pop world.

So ultimately, is 'Born To Die' worthy of your time? It doesn't quite live up to the hype and there's not enough here to negate naysayers and negative critics, those that feel her morbid music has percolated into an emptiness behind her eyes that presented itself during her Saturday Night Live performance. Those who have fallen in love with Del Rey's sad, sexy and sumptuous sonic landscape, however, will find plenty of enjoyment here. At the least, 'Born To Die' is the most talked about album of the moment. At its best, it's the seminal pop album of the year.


Gizzle's Choice:

* Born To Die
* Video Games
* Dark Paradise

Listen: 'Born To Die' is available now in standard and deluxe forms.