Out this week on Interscope, Born to Die neither
justifies the hype nor the hipster “authenticity” backlash. Instead, it’s a
moderately entertaining album with more hits than misses and more solidly
strange fabulously femme fatale interludes than naff ones. (Stay tuned to BLURT
later this week when we publish our Del Rey interview/feature.)
By A.D. Amorosi
Joan of Arc. Lana Del Rey. That’s
two women I can think of off the top of my head who’ve been burned at the stake
before they got a flying chance to get their point across. Seriously, has
anybody really taken Saturday Night Live appearances so seriously that a bum one signaled total meltdown and career
immolation? (The Replacements’ lousy performance comes to mind.) Have you never
been taken down by Brian Williams as a has-been unprepared for your moment of
Such an hermetically sealed audience you are.
The early criticisms weighed upon
Ms. Del Rey are based upon hype – the supposition that she should jump bolt
upright from the cold, gray but entrancing “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” vibe of last
year’s “Video Games” to become a hyperactive Katy Perry sort. Or worse, a
soberer Lady Gaga. That’s the internet’s fault, this hot hype. It left
audiences unprepared for the possibility that Del Rey, like Mabel Mercer,
Marlene Dietrich, Grace Jones and Beth Gibbons was downright languid; that the
“dead-behind-the-eyes” critique, while a barb to some, is a blessing to others
in love with the louche.
Then again, I’m the one man in America who
loved David Lynch (with whom Del Rey shares a cultural coolness) when he
slurred through Lost Highway (read if
you dare: http://archives.citypaper.net/articles/022797/article005.shtml).
Like the Slow Club-singing heroine of Lynch’s Blue Velvet, “Dorothy Vallens,” Del Rey presents a Terpsichore vision
of death and troubles-she’s-seen. It’s a plastic pose as pumped up (or down) as
those full new lips of hers – but a good act none-the-less.
Produced with weirdly atmospheric
hip hop warmth by Emile Haynie (of Kid Cudi fame), Del Rey can play the role of
R&B floozy (“Off to the Races”) with a moll’s aplomb and prove that
cowgirls really do get the blahs on the tortured “Blue Jeans.” There’s even the
delectable summer’s shine of “Diet Mountain Dew” where being a pretty
girl in New York City seems as op-to-Pop-timistic as Edie Sedgwick driving with
the top down.
But mostly this Bryan Ferry in a
smart dress sticks to a deathly lounge lizard display of emotionalism and
musicality, a smoky girl with a smoking gun’s lyrical flourish fond of lines
like “he loves me with every beat of his cocaine heart.” The title tune
features her chilled martini snarl atop a spy’s guitar lines and a gurgled trip
hop feel. “National Anthem” and its military drum riff is all
drugs-in-da-Hamptons but it’s the
kind of diamonds-are-a-girl’s-best-friend contagion that’s a pleasure to live
with. Her jewels get heavy and the gems dry up a bit after this: “Million
Dollar Man,” “Without You” and “This is What Makes Us Girls” are trite and
precious despite occasional edgy production flips. The line about drinking
“Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice” will annoy her hipster legion. Good.
By my count, Born to Die has more hits than misses and more solidly strange
fabulously femme fatale interludes than naff ones. It might not be the perfect
album that those heaped-upon-with-hype hoped for. Maybe if they traded in their
warm PBRs for a cold bracing vodka martini, they’d get it.
Photo Credit: Nicole Nodland