By Lana Del Rey
Since late June of last year, Lana Del Rey has become the most talked about pop star to emerge from obscurity in years. This was no fluke. June 29th was the date she introduced the single 'Video Games' to the unsuspecting world. Teamed with the elegant video, it was a rich, goose-bump inducing song - a piece of pure avant-garde pop. It became a word of mouth viral sensation. Bearing in mind this was all from a woman who had bombed only a year previous with an album under her original name, Lizzy Grant.
Since then, expectations have been, inevitably, ridiculously high for the release of her debut record under the Lana Del Rey pseudonym . Therein lies the initial problem - anticipation has the habit of setting you up for disappointment. Lana Del Rey could have released the most brilliant, era-defining pop album of the past decade and you would still be able to find a small section of the record-buying public underwhelmed by what they had heard. Realistically speaking, a solid, well made, imaginative record with a killer to filler ratio of around 70/30 would have been more than enough to keep the wolves at bay, appease the masses and place her on a few end of year lists. Which brings us to the real issue here: Born To Die, more often than not, doesn't even come close to any of the above. At its best it sounds like, well, 'Video Games'; but at its worst it brings to mind some of the vacuous, generic pop that someone like Jessie J has been peddling for the past couple of years. An artist who releases something as special as 'Video Games' should not have to suffer the indignity of being lumped in with that crowd, but the fact remains a killer first single will only carry you for so long and enable a limited amount of goodwill. The proof has to be in the pudding.
This particular pudding doesn't actually start off too badly. The titular track opens with sweeping, orchestral strings (you're going to have to get used to them) and proceeds to exude the trashy, romantic aesthetic that made 'Video Games' so compelling. Precisely one song later, 'Off To The Races' attempts a similar theme and manages to fall flat on its face. This is how fine the margins are on Born To Die. Hell, it could be a complete masterpiece for all I know. What I do know is that if after two songs in the shtick is already starting to wear a bit thin then you're in big trouble. 'Off To The Races' is a perfect lesson in style over substance. "He loves me with every beat of his cocaine heart" being one of the particularly choice lyrics. 'Born To Die', 'Video Games', even 'Blue Jeans' to a certain extent, do deal with similar themes, yes, but it's the subtleness in which they're carried out which sets them apart. They don't scream 'Hey, I'm Lana Del Rey, I'm into my bad boys, drinking and a combination of sex and regret!' like the rest of the songs on this album seem to. Had she developed and spent as much time on her songs as she has clearly attempted on her persona then we may not have had such a problem here.
The production is a big issue too. It's overwhelming. The sweeping strings I mentioned before? Yep, they're there on every single song, along with pounding Spector-esque drums. It's as though the record company were too scared to veer away from the magic formula found on 'Video Games', the result being an album that sounds samey and ends up becoming a bit of a slog - it's at least two or three songs too long. It all adds up to a crying shame, because there are snippets and moments on the album, other than the aforementioned tracks, where you think it could have been something really special. 'Dark Paradise' details the not uncommon topic of mourning a lost love, but it at least dares to stray from the pack with some interesting, stuttering electronics and a pulsating middle eight. Similarly, 'Million Dollar Man' has an impressive air surrounding it; all sultry and cinematic. Unfortunately these moments are too few and far between.
Perhaps the record's biggest problem is also its most incredible moment: 'Video Games'. I've already mentioned it seven times in this review alone, such is its presence over the album. It looms large - maybe a little too large. Firstly, it proves Del Rey does indeed have talent - bags of it. But upon listening to the rest of the album and hearing how far the quality has decreased since that initial single, the only emotion evoked is one of disappointment. Secondly, let's make no mistake here, the success of 'Video Games' was probably a surprise to everyone; to Lana Del Rey, and certainly to her record company. The urge is to then ride upon the crest of Video Games' popularity and quickly release a follow-up full-length. It's completely natural in today's climate - people want to strike whilst the iron's hot - but it's resulted in an album that above all else feels rushed. A missed opportunity, leaving people scratching their heads thinking what could have been.
I don't strongly hate this album, but then again, I certainly don't love it. I guess the overriding feeling I have is one of complete apathy - and that's the biggest shame - for when I first heard Lana Del Rey back in the summer, that was the last thing I thought I would be saying about this woman.