Given Lana Del Rey’s rapid Internet assisted assent, the three month long promotional onslaught that followed the official release of “Video Games” has been positively tortuous. A seemingly endless string of perfectly posed pictorials and inane media tidbits (she still babysits you know) may have proved grating for the expectant public, but Del Rey herself suffered most. For every stylized shoot there was an embarrassing backstory, a characterless performance, and eventually, a flaccid appearance on Saturday Night Live that suggested the star’s smokey swagger translated more readily in motionless 8 by 10s.
The criticism was brutal and largely hypocritical. The nervous and stoic Cults were given a pass in 2011, but Lana, the pop star in waiting, was expected to arrive fully formed. Of all the post-“Video Games” feeding frenzies the one that gained the most traction centred around the question of authenticity. The world soon discovered that Lana Del Rey was not – shock horror – Lana Del Rey the small down vagabond seductress. She was, in fact, the treacherous Lizzy Grant: rich girl daughter of a domain investor – sacrebleau!
Yes, that’s right, Lana Del Grant in “Pop Star Assumes Persona” scandal. Next you’ll be telling me that Gaga is human after all and that Katy Perry doesn’t really feel like a plastic bag.
“Video Games” was the real red herring, while it’s portentous orchestral swells set the sonic template for Born To Die, its tale of disinterested irreciprocal love is far more earnest and relatable than anything else on display here. Instead, Del Rey fleshes out her passionate and fiercely dependent ecstasy-chasing character, as she falls for a series of dreamy bad boys. At her best Del Rey eerily echoes Ke$ha by taking the role of a morally ambivalent, knowingly intelligent, but shamelessly materialistic sex kitten (think an upmarket “Party At A Rich Dude’s House”).
The brilliant “National Anthem”, despite purring with irony, feels refreshingly honest. It would appear the attention “Video Games’s” languid star craved was less a heartfelt commitment and more a weekend in The Hamptons and a quick fuck on diamond laced, champagne stained sheets. When Lana lays off the clumsy pulp fiction monologues (tar black souls, blood red hearts, bambi eyes) and just gets lost in the heady rush of unrepentant indulgence she proves irresistible.
On “Off To The The Races” she switches between callous calculation and eye batting façade; perfectly capturing the brain dead rush of silencing your subconscious, tearing off your lover’s clothes, and buying everything in sight. Sadly much of Born To Die, fittingly enough, follows the title track’s formula. Employing luscious strings to create a sense of grandeur that the technical proficient but unimaginative compositions and forced lyrics could never hope to mirror.
“Born To Die” ultimately thrives under the sheer force of its own conceited self-importance, but “Diet Mountain Dew”, “Blue Jeans”, and the ungodly tedious “Million Dollar Man” cannot repeat the same trick. “This Is What Makes Us Girls” is the most frustrating of all. The premise is inciting. Del Rey attempts to tackle the female psyche, the bad boy obsession, and sisterly mistrust all at once. Sadly, where Katy B squashed cliché with “Easy Please Me’s” mix of considered rationalism and utter believability, Lana offers the disingenuous philosophy of b-movie screenplays (“A Freshmen Generation Of Degenerate Beauty Queens”) and the heart-warming conclusion that warped solipsist dependency will pay of in the end.
Bizarrely the less Born To Die has to say the better. When Lana embraces shallowness, and the core narrative subsides, this gorgeously produced album triumphs as a soaring surface level delight. The arrangements, rich in drama, swell to a series of cloying crescendos; the touch the sky climaxes of this lustful orgy of wealth and posture. The filler may be turgid but it’s worth enduring to reach those thoughtless moments of carnal abandon. By reveling in the fleeting moment and the pleasure of skin Lana has saved Born To Die from the worst excesses of its own unwarranted pomposity. David Hayter