Some Stars Are ‘Born,’ Some ‘Die’
Lana Del Rey’s first album, “Born to Die,” is less a debut album than it is a culmination of hype, months of radio rotation and long steeped opinions. After being deemed the next big thing and being humiliated by critics after an ill-fated “Saturday Night Live” performance, Lana Del Rey marks her first chance to either save face or affirm all the haters with her album’s release.
Well, from the first third of the album, Del Rey certainly makes a compelling argument against the backlash. In the title song, she moans over a moody, rhythmic instrumental track that calls to mind the more commercial sounds of Massive Attack. Her voice, monotone and nearly unfeeling, contrasts against impassioned lyrics (“All my heart, it breaks every step that I take / But I’m hoping that at the gates, they’ll tell me that you’re mine”) in a way that sets a dark but sexy tone that carries on throughout the rest of the album.
“Off to the Races” shows some musical chops and features a hint of jazz-like back phrasing. If the first song on the album sets the tone, this track cements it and acts as a thesis: “Born to Die” is an exploration of sex, luxury and all of the great and terrible consequences.
With perhaps the best writing on the album, listeners will find themselves wrapped up in Del Rey’s provocative train wreck of a world: “He doesn’t mind I have a Las Vegas past / He doesn’t mind I have an LA crass way about me / He loves me with every beat of his cocaine heart.” Why is it that cocaine sounds so erotic?
Luckily for Del Rey, the first third of the album is practically impressionistic: it fools you into looking past her vapid lyrics to soak in the overall dark and salacious world of excess. Lost in the near rumble of her voice, words tumble past and make you feel like you would actually quite like to be a scandalous socialite stalking the streets of the Upper East Side. “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games” (her first big hit) are smooth, well-produced and catchy.
The tide turns with the insipid “Diet Mountain Dew.” What kind of lyric is “Diet Mountain Dew, baby, New York City / Can we get it now low, down and gritty / Do you think we’ll be in love forever” — honestly? The song is incredibly listenable, which is a shame. No one should ever celebrate such awful writing.
And suddenly, the hazy dream world of decadence and sex is destroyed. Following “Diet Mountain Dew,” the album is in a bonafide slump. “National Anthem” is dreadful (“Tell me I’m your National Anthem / Ooh, yeah, baby, bow down, / Making me so wow, wow. / Tell me I’m your National Anthem.”).
Though everything is beautifully produced, her voice starts to grate and her lyrics become more and more impossible to ignore. What exactly does “She gives them butterflies but too coconize / She laughs like God, her mind’s like a diamond” mean?
What starts on such a high note, ends with “Lucky Ones,” the weakest song on the album both musically and lyrically. Examine: “Everybody told me love was blind / Then I saw your face and you blew my mind / Finally, you and me are the lucky ones this time.”
With her hazy voice and inane lyrics, Lana Del Rey is maybe best described by the phrase “cocaine chic.” “Born to Die” is perfect for “Gossip Girl” fans, girls teetering atop high heels outside Fashion Week events and the drones of high school girls who prowl the Spectrum. Though the album is beautifully produced, it is vapid and it will make you feel vapid too.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5