If you frequent any other music blogs or the internet in general, you know that New York singer Lizzy Grant aka. Lana Del Rey's presence has been unavoidable. A fair amount of that hype is thankfully due to her music. She first came to prominence with the touching ballad "Video Games," which I first heard in the tv show Ringer. The vocals and melody give it an older, almost 1960's presence which I liked. "Blue Jeans" is another song with a very haunting melody, and Del Rey's signature "gangster Nancy Sinatra" lyrics. Her other popular single and title track, "Born To Die" is a mesmerizing song with a gorgeous chorus. The video only enhanced the drama, with Lana as the lonely queen on her throne beside two tigers, ending in her death. "Off to the Races" didn't get as much hype as the other singles, probably because the vibe is different from those. It almost has a faster, hip-hop vibe to it but remains somewhat spastic throughout. Born To Die was released yesterday in the UK and today here in the states. My first reaction to the album was that it is just as immaculately and meticulously produced as the singles suggest. It manages to pull off mixing ballad arrangements with trip hop beats, similar to Portishead. It's all very film soundtrack. Another plus would be Del Rey's melodies- she really has an ear for choruses that are engaging. Almost every single one has gotten stuck in my head at one point or another. "Dark Paradise" is an example of her voice and melody at its best. It's the most melodramatic song on the album, and makes the best use of the sweeping orchestral arrangement. "Radio" features a peppy chorus of Lana declaring that her life is now "sweet like cinnamon." "Million Dollar Man" starts as a slow burner, but then catches on during the 1950's jazz sounding chorus. "This Is What Makes Us Girls" has a great chorus as well. The only song that didn't stick at all, even after repeated listens, is "Carmen." The whole mood is too drab, the melody goes nowhere for four minutes and is definitely a track to skip.
Del Rey's voice shifts from a higher pitched girly voice to a drunken drawl throughout most of the songs. Sometimes she gives off a detached feeling in her singing, but there are also plenty of moments when she really shines as a vocalist. What she lacks in range she can make up for in emotion. Her voice comes off as bittersweet in "Summertime Sadness" as Lana proclaims that she'll "die happy tonight" with her "bad baby by [her] heavenly side." My favorite part of "Video Games" is when she sings, "I know that you like the bad girls, honey, is that true?" It's so perfect. And you can clearly hear her melancholy when she sings, "Then why is my heart broke?" in "Million Dollar Man."
Lyrically, Del Rey never gets too ambitious, staying in the shallow end covering themes of love, lost love, fame and the "dark side of the American Dream" in all of the songs. She really doesn't need to be, though as that fits perfectly with her image (say of it what you will) and steers away from sounding too generic.
There have been a few songs that were previously floating around the web as demos that appear here. The new version of "National Anthem" takes out all of the fun the demo had and ruins any potential for a summer hit with a lifeless orchestral arrangement. It's only catchy on the strength of the melody. "Diet Mountain Dew"'s reworking with a hip-hop beat is poorly mixed and just doesn't work. However, the new version of "This Is What Makes Us Girls" is overall better than the demo (especially vocally), although I like the old chorus better with the band backing it up. And bonus track "Lolita" is another more upbeat tune like "Off to the Races" and is more of a fun poppy side of Lana.
As the trend seems to be, the other bonus tracks are also great. "Without You" is another song that stands out. Del Rey delicately and aptly sings a chorus of "Hello, hello, c-can you hear me? I can be your china doll if you wanna see me fall." The last track, "Lucky Ones" is a beautiful ending and changes the production up a bit favoring bells in the chorus.
One of the downfalls of the album would also be the production. It can really get a bit too similar at times. Almost all of the songs have the same elements in them- orchestral arrangements, plucky guitars, and heavy drumbeats. You would think that would make it sound cohesive, but it doesn't. Some of the songs also sound too produced. The second half of the album really starts to drag, but I don't think it's because the songs toward the end are weaker. If you only listen to the second half you would actually find that the songs are just as strong as the first. It does feel as though the two halves should actually be split.
On the strength of its singles and original material, Born To Die gets high marks from me. I'm not sure how much longevity she'll have if any, but this is a really good album.
Recommended tracks (besides the singles): "Radio," "Dark Paradise," "Summertime Sadness," "This is What Makes Us Girls," bonus tracks "Without You," & "Lolita"
Check out the video for "Born To Die" after the cut.