Album of the week : Born To Die - Lana Del Rey

In recent months  Lana Del Rey has been alternately lauded as the best thing ever and dismissed as a cynically manufactured fraud who can’t even sing. The truth, as you might expect, is somewhere in between.The charges of inauthenticity are puzzling. Yes, Lana (real name Elizabeth Grant) comes from a relatively wealthy background but Lady Gaga went to the same private school as Paris Hilton and nobody holds that against her.

Oh, and Lady Gaga isn’t her real name either.

Born To Die is undeniably one of the most anticipated debut albums in recent memory. You probably know the history, but in a nutshell after ‘Video Games a’nd ‘Blue Jeans’ were huge viral hits, she was quickly signed to Interscope, then came a ferocious backlash where many bloggers swiftly did a total 180 based on revelations about her past attempts at success as plain old Lizzy Grant. Since then, there have been countless other snipes at her character and appearance; it seems like everyone has a deep-seated aversion to the size of her lips! Discussions about her music have been limited, because until last week there were only a handful of singles and a few live clips floating around. Now finally we have the album…

Turn your back on those endless discussions regarding surgical escapades and stereotypical film-style childhood – Del Rey was sent off to boarding school after getting involved with drugs at the age of 15. Ignore those appalling live performances and just listen. Forget the hype and vitriol, the only pertinent question is whether the songs are any good, and the answer’s an emphatic yes

Born To Die is a delightful mix of tracks, all of which boast gorgeous production that perfectly compliments Lana’s deep soulful voice. There are endless beautiful string sections that lend a cinematic feel,  creating a wonderful contrast when paired with Lana’s often gloriously trashy lyrics (Coney Island &  Pabst Blue Ribbon anyone?) that tackle everything from love, fame, beauty and the overarching theme of the American Dream.

Money, sex, drugs and booze exist in spades on this album. It’s as if Born to Die is where the crew go to relax after shooting one of Lil Wayne’s music videos. It’s the behind the scenes of a party lifestyle. It’s the hangover the next morning. It’s the bitter side of expressiveness, all wrapped up in a pretty voice. ‘Carmen’ is about a girl wanted by many, walking dark streets, getting high and hating everything about herself. ‘Off to the Races’ is about a glamour girl at the whim of her cokehead boyfriend who probably killed someone over a sour deal. Songs like ‘Million Dollar Man’ are framed like train wrecks, then slowed down to the speed of the burning cigarettes so that every detail is savoured.

Born to Die is a collection of pictures, painted in the tradition of hip-hop beats and jazz technique. The far edges of each song are dripping with horrible conclusions, hidden away behind the frame, but decisively allude to. Lana Del Rey croons about glamour and fame, but the tone of her voices directs the listener toward those moments when this lifestyle turns ugly

Title track ‘Born to Die’ is stately, blood-stained and still cleverly conceives a Kate Bush/Nancy Sinatra vocal love child. Del Rey’s lusciously imperious voice charms its way through otherwise uncomfortably lyricised tracks such as ‘Blue Jeans

Other highlights includ the flawless soulful jam Video Games‘, ‘National Anthem‘, another gem that is screaming to be a summer single “I’m your national anthem, god you’re so handsome” she purrs while singing about her lover, and the powerful ‘Summer Sadness

Her voice is a multipurpose tool with settings for cute, haunting, and sexy. Slow steady beats wrap up Del Rey’s lyrics and accent her style, which switches between big band jazz to tight hip-hop multies (noticed on the track ‘Blue Jeans’). The tone of her voice is equally sporadic as it has multiple personalities; Betty Boop, Cruella de Ville and Marilyn Monroe. Del Rey uses her tones to portray everything from sadness, satire, and vulnerability. It’s awesome

‘Video Games’ is the single that put Del Rey on the map. It opens with an eloquent harp, a simple hook that burns its way into your memory. This song is a heartbreaking soliloquy on a doomed love affair. “I heard that you like the bad girls/ Honey, is that true?” she asks over a score of swathing strings David Lynch wouldn’t cock a snook at as she desperately clings on to her lover

Born To Die isn’t flawless, but when a debut has 15 tracks, there’s always going to be something to disagree with. Nevertheless, Del Rey successfully ranges the album. We’re listening to the same voice, but most definitely not the same track. From the sentimental anthem of ‘This Is What Makes Us Girls’ to gothic melodramas of ‘Dark Paradise’, all bases are covered, just like they should be on a debut pop album

Forget what you used to think about Lana Del Rey, Born To Die provides more than anything you could ever expect from an Internet sensation. It conjures an old-school sense of glamour and escapism which, cynically manufactured or not, is the perfect tonic for these austere times

Buy it here

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February 03, 2012

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