Album review: Lana Del Rey
For months bloggers and reviewers have been debating if Lana del Rey is an amazing talent or the most overrated pop sensation. Now her debut album is finally out.
The self-modelled "gangster Nancy Sinatra" faced a big backlash when her 'authentic image' clashed with her real upbringing
While her back-story is that of a struggling artist who "lived in a New Jersey trailer park and decked her homestead in flags, streamers and seasonally inappropriate Christmas lights" she is also 25-year-old Lizzy Grant, a millionaire's daughter who grew up in Lake Placid and went to boarding school in Connecticut.
Dreamed-up personas have been used before and it shouldn't come as a surprise that some pop stars' images are created: Rapper Vanilla Ice was a good boy from a middle class family, The White Stripes' Jack and Meg weren't brother and sister, Britney Spears might not have been a virgin until she married, and - believe it or not - David Bowie is not from space.
Del Rey's Saturday Night Live performance a couple of weeks back was less than ideal and she was overwhelmed with criticism and taunting commentaries. But she is, after all, a young singer with not a lot experience at performing live. So let's cut her some slack and listen to her debut album Born to Die before we judge.
The album's title track Born To Die is haunting and well-produced, reminiscent of Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. It's a good start and captures what whoever created her public images had clearly intended.
It's followed by Off to the Races, not that haunting, more a bit of a yippy pop-diddy about a dysfunctional relationship with ''her old man'' and comprises lyrics like "I'm crazy, baby, I need you to save me, I am your little scarlet starlet".
Blue Jeans, is one of her songs that has been released before. It is a bit cliche and bears the air of the del Rey who says things like "the American Dream and American Psycho are starting to represent the same thing", followed by "the wholesome dream is dead". Maybe all valid observations of society, but just a bit thick coming from a 25-year-old millionaire's daughter.
Video Games is the song that shot her to blogger and YouTube fame. It is a good song full of angst and beauty and the feeling of mystery and being lost. There's a reason why the song has clocked up more than 26 million views on YouTube and hit on release the iTunes No1 position in nine countries.
Maybe she should better had stuck to her guns, of being a chanteuse of mysterious beauty dipping into the darkness of life.
But in Diet Mountain Dew she sounds like a very poor take on Amy Winehouse, with a shallow soul-pop beat. Every time she moves her voice out of that dark, sultry range, it ends up sounding squeaky and flat.
Same thing with National Anthem: It starts with a trip-hoppy beat and then looses itself in hip hop, making del Rey loose her point of difference and copying something she's not particularly good at. Adding provocative lyrics for the generation Occupy. "Money is the reason we exist," isn't enough to make her stand out.
On Dark Paradise she returns to the stronger end of her voice range and the lyrics "every time I close my eyes/it's like a dark paradise/no one compares to you/I'm scared that you won't be waiting on the other side", are again angst-driven and should make every goth-kid out there happy (in their very own, very unhappy way).
The next one, Radio, is so-so. Perfectly unremarkable but not painful. And for somebody's debut album, the lyrics are already two steps further. "You love me cos I'm playing on the radio."
On Carmen, she sticks to her strength. It tells the story of a teenage girl, selling her body - surely not the most innovative story-line, but sonically good. A bit dark, a bit sweetish pop and overall pleasant.
On Million Dollar Man she's where her voice works best. Again, the lyrics a bit cliche, but the song is carried by a chanteuse-vibe, that works well.
So all up: Video Games is a great song. She may be a product created for the pop market, but that doesn't mean that she's not a product worth buying. She shot to fame because she did sound like no other singer who's out there at the moment.
When she sticks to the recipe - sultry voice, slow and heavy beats, it's still good. When she tries to be more pop or hop hop not so much.
So is Lana Del Rey a one-trick-pony? Maybe. In many ways her pop personality works, it struck a nerve with a generation that lost the hope in economical well-doing and when not mourning the decay of our society will take refuge in the idea of love that will conquer everything. But every time she tries to step out of the formula, it just doesn't sound right.
- Born to Die is out now.