Born To Die - Lana Del Ray (2012)
Lana Del Ray, after her rather odd first album, reinvented herself into the image of 50s Americana. Since then, her first album was hyped to buggery and back, and thus it came as something of a shock when her album didn't really live up to expectations in the quality department. Sure, Born To Die isn't terrible, but it does harbour some horriffic problems with its themes and it's main concept. This grandiose image of being the naughty seductress who bathes in the hedonistic American Dream doesn't just fall down, it cascades when it even touches reality. Soon, Del Ray's blatant product placement reads more like bad American rappers than high-quality ballads.
It's paradoxical that the album's greatest folly is also it's greatest strength, steeped in a thick atmosphere of Americana indulgence. In certain areas this works absolutely fine; the lead song Video Games is by far the best on the album, with it lax, floating lyrics sounding absolutely heavenly. It's where the newly invented Lana tries to boast about other things that it does get a tad irritating. She was born in New York and attended a boarding school; her college degree was in Metaphysics. For this reason, I find it very difficult to get behind this image of a girl living on the edges of society. At the same time, without that, the album wouldn't be as unique and/or powerful as it can be.
What can be said is that even though most of the lyrics and themes are total hogwash, the songs themselves are infective. Of note are the aforementioned Video Games, the sultry Blue Jeans and the satirical National Anthem. This is mainly due to a collaboration between Del Ray's enchanting coltralto vocals and some decent songwriting, which manages to get across this potent Americana theme while still producing great hooks. The only true duds are Off To The Races, which is just annoying with its disjointed lyrics, and Summertime Sadness, whose chorus is repetitive and irritating.
Something about Born To Die just rubs me the wrong way, but I don't know what it is. It could be overplay, it could be the silly arrogance of the lyrics, presenting a character that affects my suspension of disbelief. Or it could be sheer disappointment at the sheer cynicism of the whole exercise. We're living in terrible economic times, we don't want musical movements returning to times in which, funnily enough, everyone's quality of life was even worse. I'd still recommend it for the simple fact that it's become such a movement, but it's not something that I'll be revisiting with ease.
What am I talking about? I love this album! Or, rather, I have a much more love/hate relationship with it than I previously claimed. So what if the lyrics make me cringe, and every little mention of her "edgy" lifestyle makes me want to tune out? Fundamentally, this is some very, very well made music. It's seriously catchy, and there's a lot of satire in some places, especially in National Anthem, which mocks America's preoccupation with wealth as much as the rest of the album glorifies it. At times I can't appreciate this; there's too much cynicism in the album for me to totally love it all the time, but while I do like it, I have to defend it from my own harsh words.
Born To Die is a fun album, and it certainly tears me based on what's going on in the moment. The lyrics are total and utter bullshit half the time, but the musical underlay is both incredibly catchy and richly atmospheric. There's so much to love, and so much to hate, but in the right mindset this album is perfect. It's just that kind of album; she's just that kind of performer.
P.S. This is why I don't do music reviews as often as I used to...