Artist: Lana Del Rey
Title: Born To Die
While still relatively new to the music scene, Lana Del Rey has been under intense scrutiny since even before her debut album was released. Since dropping her self-made video for the powerfully enchanting “Video Games”, Del Rey has sent the blogosphere into a frenzy with everything from her name change to her lips to her widely panned appearance on Saturday Night Live. But take all of that away and what you are left with is simply an artist and her debut. The self-described “Gangster Nancy Sinatra” builds on the melancholy nostalgia hinted at in her glorious ballads “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans” on her debut Born To Die and despite all the criticism actually delivers a rather spellbinding album. While there are definitely missteps along the way there is plenty of excellent material that proves that Lana Del Rey is a force to be reckoned with.
Interestingly enough, most of the negative criticism around Del Rey has been around the claim that she is a product of label marketing. But one listen to Born To Die should dispel this idea as this is an album that stands apart from most modern pop. There are no instant club jams or upbeat anthems. Instead the album is an introspective, somber, and nostalgic piece of work that uses obscure references from past eras and combines them with rather dense lyrical storytelling. This is the anti-thesis of what labels are pushing these days and what is so compelling about Del Rey’s success. Everything from Nancy Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, and Andy Warhol to the Divinyls and Madonna are pulled from in Lana’s world. The ballads and their accompanying videos convey an entire world and image for her that has captured the imagination of many, while her gorgeously old-fashioned voice instantly stands out from other pop stars. There are plenty of other moments like “Video Games” throughout the album, the most successful being the smoky “Million Dollar Man” and the beautiful “Lucky Ones”. The album’s best tracks have the feel of stripped down dubstep or trip-hop, all grinding bass, simple percussion, and subtle samples. The best of these is “This Is What Makes Us Girls”, a head-nodding track where Lana reveals her troubled high school days. Both “Dark Paradise” and “Summertime Sadness” utilize this style and combine it with Lana’s lyrics of doomed love. Del Rey is best when embracing her dark side and stumbles when trying to craft more pop-friendly music such as the skippable “Diet Mounatin Dew” and “National Anthem”. However, she hits the sweet spot with “Radio” which seems to make use of the most compelling aspects of tracks like “Video Games” while also delivering a catchy upbeat hook.
While Lana Del Rey may not be everyone’s cup of tea, as a new artist developing her sound this shouldn’t be a problem. The simple truth is, stripped of all the hype and nonsense, Del Rey is a very interesting and compelling artist with a rather unique voice and vibe. Her emergence of the pop scene as a major player is a bright spot in the world of cookie cutter pop ciphers and dance divas. With her debut she has caught our attention and won’t let go.
- Norman Mayers