Wednesday, February 8, 2012

CD Review: Lana Del Rey - Born to Die

With everything that's been said about Lana Del Rey, it's worth noting that her major label debut album has been out for all of one week. We've heard all about the woman's image, her constantly morphing videos, her lips (especially the lips), and how calculating it all is. All of that chatter has two sizable disadvantages. First, it has a shelf life that expires, it would seem, about two weeks before the album itself drops (publications that adored the idea of getting 'firstsies' when 'Video Games' came out are falling all over themselves to distance themselves from the finished product). Second, it really has nothing to do with the only thing I'm even remotely interested in.

Is the damn album any good??

Well, yeah. It is. I mean, to a certain extent, it was bound to be. Anyone with an open mind loved 'Video Games' and 'Blue Jeans' (I certainly did), and the title track is excellent, as well. That's three good-to-great songs - already more than to you're likely get out of a vast majority of pop albums. The only question was whether or not the rest of the album was going to live up to those songs. On that count, how could it possibly do that? Anyone who was going to enjoy Lana Del Rey at all was going to have heard their favorite song by the time they pop in the disc for the first time (and truthfully, if you hated "Video Games" or "Blue Jeans", then you really don't need to give this a try... nothing here is going to convince you if you didn't like those songs). The track listing doesn't do Born to Die any favors, the three songs people have heard are loaded at the front of the album, giving people a glut of lesser songs to close it out.

The music itself is darkly poppy, with a hint of hip-hop beat to go with the string flourishes that Born to Die is absolutely full of. Lana's better with the solemn stuff, her voice sounds a little frail for the more upbeat stuff (though I will cop to enjoying the 'harlot scarlet' bit in "Off to the Races"). She's clearly meant to evoke a sultry nightclub singer, but there's always a weird "innocence corrupted" angle that pops up. The allusions to Lolita obviously aren't by accident. They are a recurring theme throughout the entire album ("Off to the Races" directly appropriates a line from it, and several other songs allude to it). This could come off as heavy-handed, or even a little creepy if the music wasn't so damned catchy - and make no mistake, the songs are catchy. Even if they sometimes have obvious flaws (would it have killed them to do a take where she takes an extra half pause between "let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain" and "you like your girls insane"?? I may have to make an edit that adds it in. It will never stop bothering me), they are well built.

Born to Die is interesting to me, not because of the weird controversy that hovers around it, but because it's a well built, if flawed, album. The flaws seem so correctable in spots, but they give the whole thing a character that overcomes what could have been a connect-the-dots affair. At the same time, it leaves a lot of room for Lana to improve. I think there's every chance that she will. This might be truly great, but if she can capture that dark, haunted, yet cynical vibe that makes her best music jump, there's no reason to think her next one might not be. I'm a lot more interested to see that than I am to hear another heavy-handed dissertation on how her lips make her a sellout.

7 / 10

* Born to Die
* Blue Jeans
* Video Games
* Diet Mountain Dew

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