Born to Try, but Sometimes Trying isn’t Good Enough

A review of Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
Release Date:  January 27, 2012
Top Tracks: “Born To Die”, “Video Games”, “Million-Dollar Man”, “Summertime Sadness”
Top Lyric: “My old man is a tough man / But he’s got a soul as sweet as blood-red jam / And he shows me he knows me / Every inch of my tar-black soul” – “Off To The Races”

After what seemed like an unstoppable 2011 for singer-songwriter Elizabeth Grant – aka Lana Del Rey – who saw countless critical acclaim for her surprise hit “Video Games,” 2012 has revealed itself to be the immovable object.  January began with a whimper when, on the night of the 12th, Del Rey performed on Saturday Night Live to highly polarizing, if not disastrous, reviews.  Two weeks later came the release of her major-label debut album, Born To Die, which is receiving similarly mixed responses. Add my name to that list.  While the album does have its moments, to me it’s the sound of a new artist trying to stretch her hype a little too far.  Born To Die, as a whole, is the sound of the elastic breaking.

Lana Del Rey has described herself as the “gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” This classic-meets-modern title seeps into every orifice of the production on Born To Die. The album’s overall sound is quite unique and enticing – mixing emotional orchestration and Del Rey’s contralto chops (the “Nancy Sinatra”) with electronic hip-hop beats (the “gangsta”).  It’s a refreshing take on indie-pop that does work exceptionally well on some tracks (i.e. “Video Games,” the title track, “Million-Dollar Man”).  I say “some” because, at times, the production can feel a little too heavy and melancholic. Often to the point where it becomes extremely repetitive and just plain exhausting over the course of an entire album.

Beyond the immaculate and deliciously sarcastic “Video Games,” Del Rey’s lyrics leave much to be desired.  Just like the album’s production, it can get extremely tiresome listening to song after song about Del Rey’s clichéd (and, dare I say, anti-feminist) views on love.  Look no further than the chorus of the album finale: “This is what makes us girls: / We all look for heaven and we put love first / Something that we’d die for – it’s a curse / Don’t cry about it.” Now I’m not an expert on girls (what guy really is?), but something about that doesn’t sound right to me. I want to believe that Del Rey wrote these lines in a sardonic or tongue-in-cheek manner à la “Video Games,” but I just can’t.

What Del Rey does have going for her is her unique and captivating voice.  There aren’t many female singers out there that can switch from high, girlish yelps to a low, jazzy croon within the span of a few bars or notes.  In songs such as “Born To Die” and “Off To The Races,” this vocal contrast is a notable and striking one – as if there’s some sort of struggle between the two voices. It shows us the two distinctive personalities of Del Rey – the sultry and worn-out seductress versus the star- (and love-) struck party girl.  I’m sure you can figure which one grabs my attention more.
I definitely see the potential. But it also feels as if Ms. Grant rushed herself in making a full album to capitalize on her newfound fame and profound hype.  A short-length EP would’ve served her much better, I believe, and could’ve stood as a much more cohesive and less conceited introduction.

Better luck next time, Lana. Let’s just hope that, for your sake, “born to die” doesn’t become the punchline if your music career is short-lived.

Tom da Silva

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Comments (2)

  1. Q Thursday - 23 / 02 / 2012
    I disagree :) Sorry.
    • Anonymous Sunday - 20 / 05 / 2012
      I also disagree with this writer. Primarily, with the anti-feminist comment. This artist is still fairly young and is describing attitudes reflective primarily of young love. Most men and women find they are less conditional and more self-sacrificing in first love situations. I think back to who I was and how I felt about myself and love in earlier years and cringe, but it was what it was. Now in my 30's (not that much older but world's apart from my former emotional head space), I must admit I'm far more conditional in relationships. Perhaps that's the place from whence this writer is speaking, from the adult love perspective as opposed to the hormone and naïveté driven drama of young love.

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