'Born to Die' and to play 'Video Games'

Lana Del Rey is the self-proclaimed “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” with overly pouty lips that spout soulful ballads on stage and snarky comments offstage.

Born Elizabeth (Lizzy) Grant, Lana Del Rey has erupted into the music scene with her debut album Born to Die, released on Jan. 31, 2012. An album mostly comprised of ballads, Del Rey’s sultry voice is not easy to define.

There are solid moments of Gwen Stefani-esque vocals rocking an R&B style before smoothly transitioning to mournful tones that might have made Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughn stand up and take note.

Much of this album has a direct focus on current American culture. Fireworks open “National Anthem” and the attack launched in this track make it a multifaceted piece. At first listen it seems petty. It is poppy with a hint of rap and at times she seems to be nearly mimicking Gwen Stefani in softer tones.

Breaking down the lyrics though, one realizes that this song clearly mocks America and its current culture. She raps, “drinking and driving excessive buying overdosing, dying on our drugs and our love,” mocking American society and its wanton spending and waste.

I cannot help but wonder if the near mimic of Stefani in this song was not intentional. Stefani’s most recent album was heavily commercialized to the point that her clothing line L.A.M.B. was mentioned within her songs. Del Rey seems to be coming out of the gates on the attack.

The gothic sounds of church bells and harps open the track “Video Games” before Del Rey cocoons us in her honeyed vocals. Easily one of the best tracks on this album, we hear more passion infused with this song than with any other. This is the ballad of an album of ballads. If you have no interest in any of her music, still look up this song. It was originally released first online and then as a single for “Born to Die.”

A remix of “Video Games” is included at the end of the album. Don’t waste your time. It’s garbage. The remix contains odd techno beats and an electronic pulse that completely overwhelms the vocals and forces them into the background. Spend your time on the original recording.

The tracks blend together well, but that is partially due to the fact that it is fairly repetitive in its tempo from song to song. It is the sort of album you listens to while driving through a desert in the middle of the night with the flash of white lines passing in a blur, the moon as your only company, and residual heat rising off of the sand. It’s soulful, riddled with passion, and completely captivating.

Existentialism pervades much of this album. Excluding the title, the most obvious instance of this is in one of the more simple tracks titled “Dark Paradise.” The introduction to this track momentarily provides the sweeping tones of string instruments reminiscent of ballrooms and sweeping skirts before picking up a mild R&B beat.

In “Dark Paradise,” we hear the line “I’m scared that you won’t be waiting on the other side” repeated in the chorus. Take a few listens; it is a catchy, if bittersweet, track. “Dark Paradise” mourns a dead lover. Its bittersweet lyrics tug at all the right heartstrings by capturing the sorrow wrapped in remembrance, an inability to let go and a touch of fear of the great unanswerable question.

Reports on Del Rey’s attitude and live performance contrast heavily with the solid musical talent presented in her album. Lana is foul-mouthed and unapologetic in person. Perhaps this is the “gangsta” persona that she has adopted pushing to the forefront.

Her live performances are, at best, wooden. She appeared on “Saturday Night Live” on Jan. 14 and nearly destroyed her album opus “Video Games.”

While her opening was spot on the rest of her performance was less than stellar. The gorgeous low vocals we hear on the album sounded more like a she had a cold. Del Rey occasionally moved her hands but, otherwise barely moved on stage and almost never had any facial expression. The airbrushed, plastic glow of too much makeup combined with her lack of movement made her seem more like a mannequin than a musician.

She slightly redeemed herself weeks later on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Del Rey clearly has a difficult time infusing any real soul into her music during a live performance, but on Letterman’s show she at least sang mostly in key and acted like she wanted to be on stage.
Even with the hit or miss live performances Del Rey’s album has made it to the top of the Billboard 200 list at No 2. She has a tour in the works for fall 2012.

The clever lyrics and sultry voice presented in the album are probably enough to hold her in the industry for at least another album; however, her personality and performances could end her career. At the very least, she has attracted enough media attention with her antics that she will continue to hold the spotlight for a little while longer, even if it isn’t the kind of attention that she is hoping for.

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