Album Review: Lana Del Rey - 'Born to Die'

9 February 2012 | 11:41 pm | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

Voice of a lyrical angel heard over backbeats.

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Is all the hype over American singer/songwriter Lana Del Rey justified? Some rate her, others hate her but if nothing else, her sophomore album ‘Born to Die has triggered waves that are crashing in all directions.

Once one scrubs aside the amalgamation of scepticism and admiration surrounding this record, what is revealed beneath is a damn good album with an intriguing mix of unique production and dark-edged lyrics, all brought together with Del Rey’s minimalist yet ever-haunting voice.

The track ‘Off To The Races’ begins sparingly, with Del Rey’s sinister appraisal of her father: “My old man is a bad man but I can’t deny the way he holds my hand.” This wariness of her father in this song is craftily underlined by the insistence that he still loves her “with every beat of his cocaine heart.” Even from the beginning of the album Del Rey makes us aware of her own weaknesses, the darkness in her life that she turns a blind eye to. The song showcases Del Rey’s deftness in changing from her low voice to falsetto and is matched by an uplifting drum track in the chorus that would easily fit in an R & B tune.

If there is another testament to this self-styled gangster element of Del Rey’s music, it must certainly be ‘Diet Mountain Dew’. The backbeat is contagious and runs alongside Del Rey’s lilting admission: “You’re no good for me but baby I want you.” Del Rey is not this era’s Lauryn Hill, far from it, but ‘Diet Mountain Dew’ has a definite hip-hop/pop sensibility in its production and a feminine awareness in its lyrics.

The single, ‘Video Games’, is Del Rey’s attempt at a standard ballad with all the predictable production of introductory church bells and melancholic strings throughout. Thus, if it weren’t for her lyrics in this song it would be resigned to the not-quite-Adele column but her persistent imagery asks the listener to think. She weaves a narrative of man and woman in a something-like-love situation but also nothing like it. There is something sinister and even voyeuristic in the union she speaks of that makes it cruelly appealing: “Watching all our friends fall in and out of Old Paul’s, this is my idea of fun.”

The second half of the album continues with Del Rey’s air of sinisterness but her experimentation with backbeats and samples allows the songs to remain unique and never quite slip into an un-remarkable ballad territory. Her confidence is refreshing and comes from her fearlessness to admit to her sadness, as in the appropriately titled ‘Summertime Sadness’ or the ‘have I made it?’ moment in the track ‘Radio’.

Million Dollar Man’ has a an air of slow jazz to it and Del Rey’s voice doesn’t get any smoother than it does on this track. It sounds like she is crooning to us, like you should fall in love with her right there on the spot but when you actually listen, Del Rey is hurting and we didn’t even notice: “So why is my heart broke?” Some will hear her lyrics, others will only hear her tone but either way, she doesn’t mind.

‘Born to Die’ is a very good album and while Del Rey’s voice is more than appealing, the record’s real charm comes from its unique lyrics and production. The strong yet somewhat ambiguous imagery interlaced over defining beats is extremely refreshing. Throughout the duration of ‘Born to Die’, we are never allowed to ignore Del Rey’s self-doubt and importantly, her self-awareness.

1. Born to Die
2. Off to the Races
3. Blue Jeans
4. Video Games
5. Diet Mountain Dew
6. National Anthem
7. Dark Paradise
8. Radio
9. Carmen
10. Million Dollar Man
11. Summertime Sadness
12. This Is What Makes Us Girls