Born To Die
REVIEW BY: Melanie Love
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/08/2012
Most likely, you’ve heard of Lana Del Ray. She burst to fame and notoriety recently after a weirdly lethargic performance on Saturday Night Live, and now the artist formerly known as Lizzy Grant has released her debut album (at least, if you don’t count her 2010 release under her former name, which Del Ray has sought to bury).
The hardest task of listening to Born To Die is removing yourself from its hype, since it seems everyone’s got an opinion on the odd, ethereal, lip-injected singer. And Del Ray herself is so far removed from the powerhouse vocals of Adele or the goth girl power of Florence Welch. At its best, Del Ray’s voice is lilting and airy, but it’s easy to see how that style can be construed as affectless and offputtingly empty. As such, it’s no wonder that this release has been so polarizing.
Where the album shines best is on its singles: “Born To Die,” “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans.” The title track is hypnotically gorgeous, contrasting swirling synths with measured electronic beats, and though the lyrics are simple and direct, they hit their mark. And “Video Games” builds on a similar combination of lush instrumentation and captivatingly spare lyrics (“Kissing in the blue dark / Playing pool and wild darts / Video games”); it feels modern yet eternal in some way as well, a love ballad for the 21 st century. Meanwhile, “Diet Mountain Dew” is weirdly catchy and easily the most energetic of the songs on offer here, and “Radio” seems to encapsulate where the album is coming from: “Now my life is sweet like cinnamon / Like a fucking dream I’m living in / Baby, love me ‘cause I’m playing on the radio (How do you like me now?”. She is endearing in her self-consciousness, in these moments where she lets the listener into her world.
But for the most part, this disc is hit or miss. Every track is well produced and initially catchy, but there’s just not enough to cling to. Del Ray’s lyrical bent is love, but by the time you hit “Dark Paradise” and she’s “lying in the ocean, singing your song” and proclaiming “I wish I was dead” over another nonspecific lost lover, it makes you long for just an ounce of the spark and vigor that Adele has. And when she misses the mark, it’s actually rough to listen to: her sultry/baby vocals on “Off To The Races” are cringe inducing, and the lyrics of “National Anthem” are a crime to Americana (“God, you’re so handsome / Take me to the Hamptons” and “Money is the reason we exist” are two gems).
It’s clear that Lana Del Ray is talented, particularly in her vocals, which can move from elegant to enticing to vulnerable in the shape of one song. And the songs themselves are gorgeously lush (thanks to Emile Haynie’s production, who has also worked with Kid Cudi, Eminem, and Kanye West). The fault, then, seems to be with the fact that there’s not nearly enough variety here, and not enough passion. A pop album shouldn’t feel overlong at nearly an hour, and it’s a shame that the singles are so excellent while the rest of Born To Die runs out of steam. Pitchfork’s review says it best: it’s a “collection of torch songs with no fire.”