Album Review Lana Del Rey - Born To Die

Stop analysing too far, and what you end up with is a genuine contender.

If there was a pound for every column inch written about Lana Del Rey, we’d all be very rich indeed. Hell, if there were even a fraction of that sum on offer for every piece that started with that very intro, there’d still be a decent nest egg in it. From the depths of the blogosphere via the covers of the style mags, right through to the inky paper of newsprint, anyone would think we’re dealing with a pop star - but in that case, why would everyone be getting themselves quite so worked up?

What once was sold as an unlikely rise has turned into the blog equivalent of a tabloid affair; accusations of cynicism - a lack of that ever recurring currency of ‘real’ - have chased Lana around the digital realm since the first signs she might actually have a shot of success. As soon as the self proclaimed tastemakers realised that what they once saw as ‘their’ star might actually not be playing by rules quite as new as they’d hoped - that those woozy Instagram photos might actually be clever marketing working in spectacular fashion - things turned nasty.

But that’s to forget what’s at the heart of the Lana Del Rey phenomenon - a truly great song. None of this would be happening without ‘Video Games’. A track that’s so compelling it can do its own talking. Even after being played to within an inch of its life by every radio station and rushed through TV sync it’s still got enough sparkle to seem strangely magical. In a time of Dubstep drops and multiple artist chart orgies, that something so perfectly sparse could make a dent in both the higher reaches of the singles chart and the mainstream consciousness should be celebrated, not derided.

One party trick is great, but before long someone was always going to ask what comes next. Even on its own, ‘Video Games’ is a vindication of LDR as a legitimate pop star, but ‘Born To Die’ is sure to be subjected to almost unprecedented levels of over-analysis. While we’ve already been introduced to its obvious high point, there’s still a lot left to learn.

How fascinating you find the story told within is going to depend on the viewpoint with which you approach it. Those happy to look into the complex psyche of pop through a Lomography filter are likely to find much to celebrate. There’s far more contained in any one song than you’ll find in most other records - from a femme fatale with a painfully self-aware edge to a Daddy’s girl in complete control, the delivery of the character never slips. If anything, it makes the criticism of her live performance almost make sense; if any act was capable of being this compelling on the stage, they’d surely take over the world. Nobody need pretend they were conned into writing about Lana Del Rey - it happened because, bluntly, it would be almost criminal not to.

Of course, she’s not perfect - far from it. Across the twelve tracks of ‘Born To Die’ there’s more than the odd moment where she slips into stylistic autopilot. ‘Dark Paradise’ is possibly the only track you could imagine sitting happily on someone else’s record, but as brilliant as the character of Lana Del Rey may be it can, at times, feel to be repeating the motif more than adding anything new. Lyrically one could almost certainly build a fairly convincing ‘LDR Song Generator’ with a spare half an hour and the script of an episode of The Sopranos to hand, but that matters less than one would expect. Lana could be delivering the phone book, and you’d still find yourself paying attention.

If you’re the kind to get angry about being ‘conned’, if you want your music ‘real’ and ‘authentic’, if you’re not willing to play a bit of make believe, there’s absolutely no doubt ‘Born To Die’ will result in at least one angry Twitter rant. Every effortless side glance is so obviously planned out to precision that an inability to engage in a bit of dress up will kill Lana Del Rey dead. Yes, none of it is real. Yes, it’s pretty obvious too. Like watching Bugsy Malone and complaining that kids shouldn’t have guns, and wouldn’t wear suits without complaining, there might be a point in it but it’s a pretty boring one.

Stop analysing too far, and what you end up with is a genuine contender. She may not be the finished article just yet, but like the best pop stars it was us, not her, who needed to catch up. Take ‘National Anthem’; with its marching beat and rising, soaring strings it’s a legitimate radio friendly unit shifter through the filter of Lana Del Rey - a track that has every chance of showing, like ‘Bad Romance’ did for Gaga, that it’s much more fun to embrace than to fight. That her spectrum was, in part, borrowed from a world that never signed up to be taken to the mainstream matters not - it was always there, some just chose to ignore it. She’s here. Get used to it.


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