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Lana Del Rey’s “Born To Die” Album Review

Posted by Christopher Will on 02/02 at 05:06 PM

Grade: B+

Lana Del Rey.  If you’ve heard her music and seen her performances, then you probably have a strong opinion about her.  There really is no middle ground for the pop starlet.  She has been beset by controversy and scorn since she gracefully touched down onto the YouTube music scene last August with her single “Video Games,” which has garnered over 24 million views since.  The song and music video scored her a record deal with Interscope, the scorn and praise of millions of blogs across the Internet, and unfortunately, even lawsuits. Her transition from a bleached-blond, jazz-pop artist with a failed debut album to the retro-pop, brunette seductress surrounded by worldwide hype has also sparked rumors of plastic surgery and selling out.  Her live performance on SNL left many people completely disgusted, and her legitimacy as a musician has been questioned time and time again. Her debut album Born To Die, which dropped January 31st, has been praised as one of the most anticipated albums of 2012.  Scores of critics have been skeptical about this release, wondering if Lana Del Rey’s debut will live up to the hype and attention that’s been amassing the past few months.

The insubordinate amount of viral scorn and skepticism she has dealt with the past 6 months has been anything but deserved.  Born To Die currently sits at the top of the iTunes albums charts, and is predicted to debut at the top of the Billboard charts next week.  Her songs are for the most part slow ballads with swooning, orchestrated instrumentals, so it would be inappropriate for her live performances to be flashy and exciting.  Her songs have heartfelt lyrics and unique composition, and she’s taking a brave leap of faith by trying to bring back a classic era of music with a unique modern twist.  Pop veterans such as Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Lady Gaga get away with throwing over produced, stale, corny pop songs onto the radio and dominate the charts without much problem, but when a new-comer tries to pave her own way as a musician, she is antagonized for it.

While many big name artists have tried to bring back the music of the seventies and the eighties, Del Rey immerses herself in the fifties and sixties, even referring to herself as “gangster Nancy Sinatra.”  She takes on this role both physically and musically. Her striking beauty is timeless, and her music personifies the soft, smoky ballads of the mid 1900’s, sprinkled with modern hip-hop and pop.

Born To Die is everything Lana Del Rey fans have dreamed of, and everything her critics expected it to be.  In other words, if you’ve listened to “Video Games,” “Blue Jeans,” and “Born To Die,” then you pretty much have an idea about what the rest of her album sounds like.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, and this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to the rest of the album.  Born To Die is romantic, twisted, and gorgeous, comparable to none but maybe Adele’s 21 (yes, I said it).  Like 21, Born To Die chronicles a past relationship that failed.  But unlike Adele, Lana Del Rey celebrates the time she spent with her former lover, instead of lyrically damning him to hell.  Track by track, Del Rey shows us the man she loved, the warped dynamic of their love, and her submission and fragility in the relationship.

Born To Die begins with its title track, opening with soaring orchestrated strings and segueing into a foreboding drum beat and a distorted, haunting vocal sample.  Lana Del Rey’s bleak depiction of life and love in the song sets the scene both lyrically and sonically for the rest of the album.  Her vocal range skips around flawlessly throughout the course of the song: deep and sultry in the verses, and high and angelic in the chorus.  The next song, “Off To The Races” is an eerie little piece of R&B, complimented by dissonant guitars and a sample of people screaming and cheering.  The pull for dominance in Del Rey’s relationship is portrayed not only by the lyrics, but also by the lust and frustration she lets slip into her voice,  “my old man is a tough man, but he got a soul as sweet as blood red jam, and he shows me, he knows me, every inch of my tar black soul.”

Blue Jeans” is one of the prettier love songs on the record, touched by a throaty guitar riff and elegant harps. “I will love you till the end of time, I would wait a million years” Lana Del Rey yearns in the chorus.  If Born To Die is a split between the hopelessness of twisted love and a commemoration of the mind numbing need that fuels that love, then “Blue Jeans” is part of the commemoration.  “Video Games,” the song that started it all for Lana Del Rey, is the fourth track on the CD.  Bells, harps, violins, quiet synthesized beeps, and a somber piano carry the song from beginning to end, and Lana’s profession of love makes it the powerhouse anthem that won the hearts of so many of her fans.  If Lana Del Rey really is the “Gangster Nancy Sinatra,” then the track “Diet Mountain Dew” showcases that persona the best.  The song is a sexy, retro splash of hip-hop, and Lana Del Rey confidently seduces her listeners with a smooth, melodic flare.

Out of all of the tracks on the album, “National Anthem” is the most radio-friendly.  It sounds like an attempt by Britney Spears to remix The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” and surprisingly comes across as a strong track.  “National Anthem” is a sugary, fluffy slice of pop music, and features Lana Del Rey rapping in the verses before exploding into an upbeat, singsong chorus.  If Lana Del Rey has any chance for making it to the top of the Billboard charts, then this track will give her that chance.

Dark Paradise” is by far one of the strongest tracks on Born To Die, and stands as the apex of Lana Del Rey’s musical talent, sonically and lyrically.  She bleeds heartache and longing as she floats among the bold drum beats and instruments, and leaves the listener wondering why Del Rey didn’t make “Dark Paradise” the name of the album.

The rest of the album melds together for the most part: slow, brooding, suggestive, and with copious amounts of strings and pianos.  “Radio” is not much more than your typical “look at me now, I’m famous!” pop song, and “Carmen” depicts a charismatic, independent young woman who everyone loves.  “Million Dollar Man” is probably the weakest track on the album, a sluggish song that lacks the emotion or vocal diversity that makes other slow tempo tracks like “Video Games” still gripping.  “Summertime Sadness” is unique mostly for it’s lyrical juxtaposition of summer with depression.  Unfortunately, like “Million Dollar Man,” “Summertime Sadness” seems more like an album filler and less like a standout piece of music.

This Is What Makes Us Girls” serves well as the final track of the album.  It’s a little more up-tempo than the few tracks preceding it, and it’s an effective proclamation of feminism and independence.  The spoken-word in the bridge paints a beautifully tragic picture of the women that Lana Del Rey called her friends, and how they defined an entire generation by their actions.

If you enjoy her music, make sure you pick up Born To Die on iTunes or Amazon, and look for more music by the pop songstress in the near future.  Will Lana Del Rey burn bright and quickly die out like so many pop artists before her?  Or will she secure a place among pop’s kings and queens as one of the defining artists of the 21st century?  Only time will tell, but at the very least, her journey into mainstream music is, and will continue to be, controversial and fascinating.

Buy Born to Die on amazon.com here:

{name} Author: Christopher Will
Bio: Christopher Will is a junior studying Communications and English at Penn State. He enjoys scouring the internet for the latest pop music news and gossip, and loves sharing new music with his friends and peers. Some of his favorite artists include Breathe Carolina, Fun., Childish Gambino, Gotye, Yellowcard, and Robyn.

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