T(F)IC #3: "Born to Die"

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13. Feb. 2012, 3:28

Lana Del Rey - Born to Die
Label: Interscope Records

Grade: C

Full disclosure: I really don't care what Lizzy Grant's backstory is. I don't really care about how she might have been a failure and was reinvented. I don't care if she was really a talented guitarist and is just being misunderstood by the mass "indie" audiences. The reality of the fact is that we now have an album in our hands that is one of the most hyped albums I can remember this side of Nevermind, and I can't help but listen to it with the slight perverse desire to HATE it beyond all words. With that in mind, I have listened to the album several times and come to the extremely dissatisfying conclusion: the album is NOT bad, but it definitely is NOT great. This is just another case of the sad truth that the ALBUM is dead, and that SINGLES are all that matters.

To combat all the BS reviews that have accompanied the album, I'm actually going to review the SONGS and not the crap that is behind it. (A novel idea, right?)

The lead single and first song, title track Born to Die is a simple song with rather heavy-handed and up front string arrangements. It also introduces the key elements of this album: heavy (AND I MEAN HEAVY) strings, vague lyrics about first world excesses and access to lots of expensive alcohol, and odd samples with 808 drumbeats. Also, it should be noted that Grant has the odd (and sometimes really annoying) gift of sounding like 15 different singers at any given time in the song, which makes the listen through the entire album slightly disjoint and confusing. She freely goes from smoky nightclub to power-pop to atmospheric head voice; which clearly displays that she has talent, whether you're willing to grant it to her or not. Let it be stated, however, that this talent does not always translate to success in terms of a good record.

Let me now take a meaningful tangent: Look, if pop songs were to be judged solely by lyrics, everyone could find MANY things to complain about concerning beloved artists, like the Beatles, for example. Although I'm a purist and a stickler for terrible lyrics like the ones that accompany the next song, Off to the Races, (example: "light of my life / fire of my loins / gimme them gold coins / gimme them coins"), it is unfair to completely resign pop music as a whole for having terrible lyrics. Yes, there are lazy personifiers, "tar black soul", "puttin' on my cognac make-up", "bright red nail polish", etc., but again, the goal of this album, at least as far as I am concerned, is not to write the next Dylan record. It is a highly danceable and singable album, for sure, but that does not a solid album make, in my eyes. She has succeeded in making the album she wants to, but that doesn't mean it is for everyone, nor that I am particularly taken to it.

The next single, Blue Jeans, features a genuinely GREAT melody, and is one of the most enjoyable songs on the record. The real drums that accompany the drum machine make it sound more urgent, and it makes lines like "I wanna love you 'til the end of time" actually feel like she MEANS it. The sincerity of the presentation continues onto the next song, ANOTHER single released from the album, Video Games. Admittedly, Grant sounds like she's suspended in a room that is literally unreachable by the listener, so when I say "sincerity", it is only "sincerity" in the most liberal sense of the word. Grant has said that Video Games is a very sad song, and that she apparently gets choked up singing it sometimes on stage; which I have a hard time believing, but it definitely has the feel of extreme melancholy. This time around, the string arrangements fit the feel and contour of the song, and don't stand in direct opposition to EVERYTHING ELSE that is happening; meaning that the single/b-side combo of Blue Jeans and Video Games comes off as a major success of the record.

The strength of the record, to me, is on the song Diet Mountain Dew Although the lyrics are slightly inane ("Diet Mountain Dew, baby / New York City / Do you think we'll be in love forever?") and the central hook of "You're no good for me!" is a tired, well-worn cliché, the lyrical comparison of this unrequited love to taking a drag from a cigarette and feeling the ashes fall on your hand is a goofy, yet genuine line about just how it feels to be out of love. The song is EASILY the strongest on the record, with live drums and another instantly catchy melody and a great piano line supporting the bridge.

Then, out of nowhere, things start to fall apart a bit. National Anthem is a pastiche of 60's (surprise) with hip-hop, and Grant's delivery is successful, but the lyrics about wanting to be taken downtown, to the Hamptons, and how "Money is the anthem of success" fall on deaf ears. Comparing yourself to a failed political statement of how the national anthem is all about money while singing about how you want to be sipping cognac with the stars and be swept away by a successful man (Read: has MONEY) is painful and not well-thoughtout AT ALL. Dark Paradise continues this theme, except this time Grant is saying that "every time she closes [her] eyes / it's a dark paradise". The song is catchy, and features a nice little trip-hop beat, but it also features the SAME melody/sample from Video Games, only sped up, which means this must be the dreaded filler.

Radio features a rather gratuitous F-word in the chorus that is unneeded, (after a "sweet like cinnamon" personifer...) and also features an oddly meta lyric about how she's playing on the radio. The "how do you like me now?" hook is also nice, but again repeats the statement above about how she is portrayed as trying to be extremely relatable, yet sounds more cold and distant than anything I've ever heard. On Carmen, this theme again continues, with lyrics about how the liquor is "top shelf" and how she is "dying" because of failed love. This song has all of the potential to be great, as the embellishments musically are tight and cohesive, yet it fails because of the sterile delivery of the otherwise fine lyrics.

Million Dollar Man is a more bluesy song than any of the others, and features the smoky vocal stylings of Video Games. The "one for the money / and two for the show / I love you honey / I'm ready / I'm ready to go" hook in the chorus is gut-wrenchingly bad, but the chord progression on this part is the most unique and pleasant presentation on the entire album. Summertime Sadness is more of the same; "kiss me hard before you go / summertime sadness / I just wanted you to know / that baby you the best" is pretty much a painful lyrical summation of the entire album, and the drum beat is an 808 pattern from just about every single song you hear at your local brotasticular bar around, which takes a song that could be great, and throws into the category of trying to hard to be the next big single. Album closer This Is What Makes Us Girls starts off pleasantly, and then the hipster-hook conspiracy nerds can take off and run, as Grant namedrops PBR (on ice?!). The song is tired and forced, as well as the generalization that "this is what makes us girls / we are looking around for heaven", while "skipping school / and drinking on the job / dancing in the local dive" and "drinking cherry schnapps / c'mon take a shot", etc., etc., etc.

As I completed the album for the fourth time, I realize that I am okay, in theory, with this record. For all the terrible and lazy lyrics, there is a nice melody to counteract them. For all the filler songs, there are very good singles. I would give the Blue Jeans/Video Games single an A+, as it is an effective single for many purposes, and contains genuinely good songwriting... but as far as the record is concerned, it is rocky, inconsistent, and a very difficult listen for its supposed accessibility. The thing that perturbs me the most about this record is not the blacklash it has received, nor "who" this Lizzy Grant is... but rather the fact that this is but more proof for the fact that the album is a dying format. Which I will lament until the end of my days.

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