Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die

So many artists in today's industry come and go without leaving any sign that they were ever here.  Despite hard work, plans go awry.  Bands crash and burn.  Pop stars build images and personas that never take off.  Occasionally, we run into an artist that skyrockets to success faster than they could've ever dreamed.  Before you know it, they've booked primetime television and sold out venues.  Their debut record is one of the most anticipated releases since your last major label name.  It all happens so fast.

So which type of musician is Lana Del Rey?  Both.  Her former self, Lizzy Grant, is the artist that never was and Lana Del Rey is the artist that we can't stop talking about.  It's all the same girl, but only one version became a sensation.  Same music, different package.

There's no such thing as bad publicity.  It just doesn't exist.  If anyone knows this, it's Lana Del Rey.  From her looks to her voice, the world has become a critic.  "She's a manufactured puppet with no talent!"  "Her lips are fake!"  "Worst Saturday Night Live performance ever!"  Blogs who once worshipped the ground she walked on turned against her.  Cue the mediocre album reviews.

Real lips or not, I anticipated the release of her debut album, Born To Die.  On January 31, I searched the empty shelves trying to find a copy after others had snatched every disc in sight.  Despite all of the naysayers, Lana has an incredible following.  As I placed her album into the stereo, I thought to myself, "Will this live up to the hype?".

The short answer is yes.  The long answer is much more complicated.  Born To Die is packed front to back with that Jessica Rabbit aura, that "gangsta Nancy Sinatra" image.  It's orchestral strings on top of hip-hop beats.  Lana's voice morphs with every song.  A deep purr one moment, school girl whispers the next.  She has this deadly mystique about her, which is only enhanced by the mystery surrounding her rise to fame.

Lyrically, the record is focused on the subject of lost love.  The theme can be summarized by key words and phrases scattered throughout the songs.  Love.  American Dreams.  Money.  Coney Island.  Cherry Schnapps. Die.  The blood splattered lyric sheets tell all.  Her ideas are consistent the entire time.  It never lets up, and this determination proves successful.  The content of Born To Die truly feels like Lana Del Rey.

Many of the tracks on Born To Die had been heard in demo form prior to the album's release.  Everyone and their hipster neighbor knows "Video Games", the song that started it all.  However, there's only one "Video Games" on the record.  It's the most stripped and vulnerable ballad, bare of any hidden tricks.  Every other song on the record contains some kind of beat or radio friendly production move.

Born To Die is a goldmine of melodic treasures.  A large majority of the tracks have choruses to kill for. There are verses that contain such an immense amount of attitude that you'll be repeating them with no sign of relief.  "National Anthem" is one of the biggest culprits.  "I'm your national anthem / God, you're so handsome / Take me to the Hamptons / Bugatti Veyron".  The pouty delivery seals the deal.  Its twin, "Off To The Races", continues this mesmerizing pseudo-rap method.

In terms of bonus content, the US received an expanded edition of the physical album with two extra tracks, "Lolita" and "Without You".  It's a crime that "Lolita" isn't included on the standard issue of the album, but Lana could most definitely pull a "Super Bass" with the song.  It's one of the finer "orchestral hip-hop" moments.

I would definitely classify Born To Die as a pop record.  Despite various influences, it's full of traditional pop song structures and comes in a glossy package.  Listeners who discovered Lana on the alternative blogs may be disappointed with this direction, but if you enjoy an album full of hooks, then this one is for you.

The album reaches a slight stall at "Carmen", which probably should've been switched out for the previously mentioned "Lolita".  Both "Carmen" and "Million Dollar Man" slow down the pace more than I would prefer.  There's also a noticeable skip in vocal production between "Carmen" and "Million Dollar Man".  Lana's vocals seem rather quiet on the former, until the latter starts with a boost in volume.  The two tracks don't outright taint the record, but they lack the power found in songs such as "This Is What Makes Us Girls" and "Radio".

Finding the next pop star is a vicious game of roulette.  You never know who will win and who will go back to the drawing board.  We may not know if Lana Del Rey will still be the it-girl by next year, or if she's even a pop star at all, but Born To Die is a fantastic album filled with so many gems.  It really is a shame that some people will jump to conclusions and judge based on how she looks, or which rumors they deem true, rather than the music.  After every ounce of criticism and praise, listen to "Radio" for Lana's response.  "Not even they can stop me now... their heavy words can't bring me down".

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