Thursday, February 02, 2012

Born to Die (Lana del Rey)

Celebrity. It’s a fickle business. When Lana del Rey’s “Video Games” first made its way onto the airwaves last year, people instantly fell in love with her. The song was beautiful, as was she. She was dubbed the “gangster Nancy Sinatra” and could do no wrong. An unsuccessful appearance on SNL that was torn apart by the twittersphere and the bombshell that she already had a past as failed singer and wealthy New York girl Lizzy Grant, however, contributed to all the haters crawling out of the woodwork and slating her, insulting every aspect of her music as well as speculating over whether or not she had had plastic surgery. Going into the release of her album, Lana del Rey was shrouded in negative publicity.

No publicity is really bad press though, and in the end, the joke was on her detractors but Lizzy/Lana shot to number 1 in eleven countries with “Born to Die”, a 15-track album with some true gems. The title track is a beautiful elegy with haunting vocals and of course, “Video Games” is unforgettable. Looking past these two obvious choices, however, there are some other contenders of gems of the year, “Summertime Sadness” captures the poetic side to the end of a summer fling that Grease can only dream of, and “Blue Jeans” is fantastic satire on the American dream. “National Anthem” is her ode to sex, drugs and rock and roll, and “Carmen” is fantastically sensual (Lana has a rare talent of making even the sleaziest lyric -
"While I'm standing over your body / Hold you like a python / And you can't keep your hands off me / Or your pants on" sound fabulous).

There are two songs on “Born to Die” that absolutely blow all of these out of the water, however. The first is “This is what Makes us Girls”, in which she sings of her past as a bit of a good girl gone bad. Lolita imagery is rife in her tale of sexual awakening and growing up as well as some cliches which she makes gorgeous, "Oh she starts to cry, mascara running down her little Bambi eyes." The icing on the musical cake is when she whispers sultrily “Pabst blue ribbon on ice” – it sounds like a joke (especially as Pabst blue Ribbon is always a beverage I associate with Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet), but somehow, she pulls it off. Her lines about the hopeful delusion of young love, "We all look for heaven and we put love first" are spot-on.

Even better than that, however, is “Off to the Races”, which yet again features Lolita imagery (interestingly enough, “Lolita” is also a song on her album, but it is probably the weakest one of the fifteen). Indeed, opening lines to Lolita, “light of my life, fire of my loins” are repeated as a bridge throughout the song, which is a bizarre story of a destructive love affair with a man who’s clearly wrong for her and vice versa, but she loves anyway. Musically, it is aurgasmic (the welling strings and RnB beat hit perfect notes), her voice is sensational (especially when it goes falsetto at the “I’m your little Scarlett, Harlot”). The lyrics are much, much cleverer than they initially seem, with allusions to Leaving las Vegas, and various pulp noir in jokes throughout. All that being said, there's just an effortless swagger in her voice and delivery, so much so that even listening to her recite names of wine sounds like poetry to me. I rarely get this excited about a song; one of my top 10 of all time now.

Thus, verily I say, Lana del Rey’s album is an unqualified success. I genuinely couldn’t give two hoots who she was in the past or whether she’s had collagen. To me, she is a sublimely talented singer-songwriter. There are some images that she seems to love and thus re-uses (eg, that of a red dress), but to be honest, I'm hardly one to talk about reptition, now am I? Take a bow, goddess.
Grade: A


Anonymous said...

"We all look for heaven and we put love first" is a line.

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