Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
She may have released some underground material under her given name, Lizzy Grant, but for all intents and purposes, Born To Die is Lana Del Rey’s debut record. And it arrives with an unfair amount of pressure. After all, Del Rey received little to no attention before 2011, releasing “Video Games” on the Internet just as she would any of her earlier work, in no way assuming it would catapult her to stardom. However, this particular song caught the attention of both the press and the public, spawning a startling, deafening amount of hype and buzz. It’s not hard to see why: “Video Games” is a stirring song, emotional, well-written and smartly produced, never going for obvious catharsis. A good song, sure, but the indie blog circuit put it on something of a pedestal, and suddenly every move that Del Rey made was treated as a genuine news event. Thing is, all this attention took Del Rey by surprise, and she seemed unprepared to deal with her surprise success—success that culminated in a gig on Saturday Night Live, a rare feat for someone who had only a few songs to her name. And it’s that same unpreparedness that makes Born To Die feel like an underdeveloped mess.
Whether or not you bought into Del Rey’s hype will determine how much this album will disappoint you, but it is a disappointment, no matter how you slice it. “Video Games” is still the best thing on the record, and previously released songs like the dramatic title track and the sultry, cool “Blue Jeans” are nearly as successful. But what about the new material? Well, unfortunately, this is where the album flounders. Instead of offering different sides to her personality, Born To Die largely offers retreads of “Video Games” that fail more often than they succeed. Each of these songs are mainly variations on the same theme—the theme of course being her fantasies about men and fancy, booze-fueled parties. If cleverly written, this wouldn’t be a problem (after all, much of pop music history revolves around similar concerns), but her lyrics are hit or miss, and when they miss, they just seem ham-fisted (Take “I’m your national anthem/God, you’re so handsome” from “National Anthem”). Musically, the record has a woozily attractive sound—grandly theatrical strings and pianos meet menacing R&B rhythms—but it’s played out on nearly every track and begins to wear quickly, even if there are some fetching tunes here and there. Also, other than her occasional awkward stabs at rapping and whispered asides, Del Rey’s smoky vocal performances sound appealing but lack the personality or energy to truly sell her sensuality. The largest issue with Born To Die, though, is the songs themselves. Aside from those three aforementioned singles, not much here really works. Sure, it’s always listenable but many of the songs meander about, leaving little impact before settling on a rather weak hook and fading out. Surprisingly, only the nostalgic closer “This Is What Makes Us Girls” injects some life into the album, and not coincidentally, it’s one of the few tracks to mix things up a bit. Even if the hype following the release of her early singles was excessive, it was fair to expect that the songs on this album would measure up at least halfway to the glory of those tracks. For anyone else, Born To Die would just be another decent, if unremarkable, debut, one that would hopefully lay the foundation for a more successful sophomore album. That could still be the case, but for Lana Del Rey, it’s bound to be seen as a letdown.