Lana Del Rey – Born to Die – Album Review

Lana Del Rey  – Born To Die

The potency of the Lana Del Rey  phenomena is about to gently unfold. You will not be able to stop it. Like it or not, those hypnotic arrangements, and her drunken cabaret-style voice, flitting abruptly between adult maiden Aunt and perky teen cheer-leader,  will eventually devour you and leave you either ecstatic or enraged.  Most likely,  you will become drowned within the sounds long before you become distracted by the whys and wherefores of this unusual artist. Is she the real deal? Yes, probably. Is this an epic record?  It is.

‘Born to Die’ – The haunted orchestral elements are all here in this Sixties sounding tribute to the John Barry period and that special new-world-order glint of the age of Aquarius. But it is also worth remembering that the Sixties were days of dread for many- living with the bomb and with Vietnam around the corner. So this tragic ballad contains high hopes as well as a sense of caution and fragmentary loss. Written and composed by Del Rey and Justin Parker, it is performed with a certain arrogant knowing at times, but nervously dipping into introspection at others. Yet it also opens up to an uncertain sexual frisson throughout.

‘Blue Jeans’ – This evokes feelings of Southern Californian scum-bag route 66 ta-wang, sun glare in your glasses on a cool bright December day. Vocals are marshmallow cushions offering the softest guiltiest depth. Then Lana Del Rey puts a silver ladder to the highest point of the loftiest sound before the chuka-chuka percussion rattles on and the juddering rhythms back into the verse. Stepping stones of notes lead to a gentle baying in the background, and carefully drafted drop-scone keys lead up to some soaring highs on the main chorus. Exquisite.

‘Video Games’ has a nest of delicate harps that tenderly stagger and fall like gentle petals falling.  Then the sumptuous vocals plushly fill up the heavens.The lyrics are satisfyingly romantic without being cloying or unnecessarily sentimental. ‘Off To The Races’ has junk bed spring bounce and broken car-door clunk – there are slices of crystallized fragmentary vocals to be found here,  smooth choco-spread words mingled with slippery soft veils of sound. Lyrics are boppin’ hoppin’ and fast, creating their own percussive qualities together with the more operatic ‘Kate Bush’ style highs.

Then ‘Diet Mountain Dew’ has the lyric “Baby you’re no good to me….but baby I want you….”  These words are decorated by sugary sprinkles of somnolent keyboard sounds, and this crystal castle is built loftily and tenderly, spun out gingerly like a giant spider silk on a trembling vine. Simple lines of sound drop gently down, while the lyrical content becomes increasingly desperate.

‘National Anthem’ –  With echoing verve and foley clopping, the blistering bass barges into sight to take over formalities. Like a big bad moody and uninvited guest, the bass note creeps in, knocking things over and causing anxious moments. The quasi-rap in this song tends to work, even if it is decorated with chandeliers, tapestries and filigree fittings. ‘Dark Paradise’  starts with a door shutting. Or is it a knock?  Lana’s voice creates clumps of unworldly matted sounds, but the words are clear enough. This is as gloomy as any Goth-metal track. The constant panting breath, the ponderous heart, the increasing sense of pressure and the claustrophobic closing in.  Darkness is coming. And there is nowhere to go.

‘Radio’ – This melodramatic song starts with a discordant sound and the yelp or yell of a night-hawk in the distance. This pastiche of dreamy sounds – built upon layers of other sounds-  reminds me of “#9 Dream” (John Lennon.) But the vocals are grown up and worldly – think Nancy Sinatra.  The rhythm is like toy soldiers marching to a clockwork band. And icing sugar mice are scurrying in the unkempt gutters.   ‘Carmen’ is a Franco-sounding torch song about a young streetwalking heroine. It is a sad song of loss. You can smell the Gauloises long before the garter straps start tightening. And the overall effect is one of tension and desperation.

‘Million Dollar Man’ –  Weird shrieks writhe about, and then the chang of stick against bin-lid is heard. Butterfat sweet ‘n sour vocals glisten and gloop. There is nothing new in the tune, but the assorted noises and the  hypnotic atmosphere of this song creates something extraordinarily innovative, even if, basically, this is a run of-the-mill blues song or a smoky-lounge standard .

‘Summertime Sadness’  – This song continues the eerie, whispering motifs identified in ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘Born To Die’, and so creates a cohesive theme to the entire album. Shuffling drums and misty layers of sound surround Lana’s vocals that are, at times,  babyish and cutey-pie, and at other times,  grown up and matronly. In fact you will start wondering whether this dual personality disorder is in your own brain or in the artist’s. All the while that rasping, faltering breath saps your energy. And that is hard to ignore. Those poisonous sounds will weevil their way into your brain and grip your heart like a foe. For ever. Never letting go. That enchanting yet suffocating feeling will grip you … and the sickness is summertime madness.

© Neil_Mach February 2012

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