Lana Del Rey. If ever there were a more divisive music-industry entity, then surely he or she was swept under the rug far too quickly for recollection. What was it then, following this 25-year-old’s viral breakout video for “Video Games” – a smoky encapsulation of noir pastiche; a melancholy mind-warp that, for a fleeting moment, allowed us to envision a vintageHollywoodworld where fame was taken at face-value – that ignited such a blog-fueled shitstorm? Was it those lips? Or that Del Rey was once Lizzie Grant, a pop-star wannabe with a punk dye? Regardless, we got too invested. And far too quickly.
This, then, is the climax of the saga: Born To Die, Del Rey’s major-label debut. Don’t be confused, however: This 12-song justification-of-sorts is a pop album, and perhaps a too-quickly-crafted one at that. But it’s also a demonstration of talent that, without preconceived evaluation, might have been left to flower.
Thanks to producer Emile Haynie (Kid Cudi), everything here has a trip-hop wooziness – orchestral elegance pinned down by hip-hop grit. But it’s when Del Rey speaks up (“Diet Mountain Dew”) over constructed static that a pristine vocal snarl emerges. Going for forthright pop (“Dark Paradise”) suits her well. And while the storyline rarely wavers – “Off to the Races” and “National Anthem” feel like peppy, campier anecdotes to the lusty, confused female personas of standouts “Blue Jeans” and “Born To Die” – audible nuance generally takes precedent over developed narrative. Sure, simple torch songs (“Million Dollar Man”) collide with attempts at feminism (“This is What Makes Us Girls”). But a through-line simply couldn’t be expected: Our back-and-forth banter fueled Lana’s indecision. It’s nice to think otherwise, but we made this album as much as she did.