Lana Del Rey
Born to Die


4.0
excellent

Review

by Nick Butler EMERITUS
January 27th, 2012 | 418 replies | 59,798 views


Release Date: 2012 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Utterly brilliant.

"Always leave them wanting more."

It will no doubt delight the army of Lana Del Rey haters that somebody who loves her as much as I do has chosen to open a review of her debut album with a quote that's been attributed to both Phineas Taylor Barnum, the infamous scam artist, and Walt Disney, the noted creator of two-dimensional cartoon characters. Go ahead, lap up the irony and hate away; the reality is that, whoever said it, it's a statement of great value to anybody with an audience, and it's one that Lana Del Rey has obviously taken to heart.

"Video Games", the song that got the ball rolling, seems to have been around forever despite only being leaked last June, and it seems like that's exactly the point. Six months in nothing in real life, but in pop music in the hyperactive 21st century it's an eternity, long enough for trends to first appear in the mainstream, peak in popularity, and be smacked back down by the backlash (remember UK Funky?), and long enough for domestic abuse charges to be conveniently written out of history (unfortunately, you probably do remember Chris Brown). Leaving it that long without handing out any more morsels to the fans is a risky strategy in this day and age, but it worked because Del Rey is such a magnetic figure, because the song itself is fucking incredible, and because it's the kind of track that sounds timeless the second you hear it. Actually, 'timeless' isn't quite right; it's more out of time entirely (the song's title notwithstanding). There isn't a period in pop's history where "Video Games" wouldn't have sounded out of step with everything else that was going on - no, not even the '50s and early '60s, despite Del Rey's obvious affection for that era.

The funny thing about "Video Games", and the long wait for anything new after it, is that I don't think I would have bothered listening to it if she'd released another single that summer. The title put me off, if I'm being honest; whether it was ignorance, snobbery, or something else, I couldn't imagine how a good song could have a name like "Video Games", especially with a pretty girl singing it. I just assumed it would be another instance of a Zooey Deschanel-esque character desperately pandering to the geek market because they're an easy sell. It was only three months later, when people were still taking about it (and we're talking about real people here, not people who may or may not have been paid to talk about it), that I caved and listened to it, and was blown away by how tragic it was. That's the word that sums up "Video Games" better than anything; it's a sweet, innocent love story ruined by a guy who loves Call of Duty more than he loves human contact and affection. It's not pandering to the geek market so much as viciously skewering it; if the 'Forever Alone' meme has a soundtrack, it's this song.

And then, with nothing to keep us going but hastily-made YouTube videos of other songs that we weren't sure would make the album (or, for that matter, were even sung by Lana at all), we waited. Even I, at the relatively tender age of 25, can remember a time when this used to be normal, but in 2011 it's positively bizarre; weirdly, there was a sense of nostalgia about the whole thing (one ramped up by the nostalgic value of "Video Games" itself). There was also a sense of dread as well - what if she was taking so long because she just didn't have any other songs?

And then the epic "Born to Die" leaked, and was arguably even better. Crucially, it felt more like the product of Lana Del Rey specifically, rather than the kind of song anybody could have sung convincingly - admittedly, that's not strictly true of "Video Games" either, but "Born to Die" ramped up our insight into Rey's persona. There was danger here ('do you like your girls insane?'), and there was sex appeal ('let me *** you hard in the pouring rain'), but the most important moment comes in the lavish video, where amidst all the fire and tigers and in-car sex and general opulence, the camera pans in on Rey's face as she sings the lines 'sometimes love is not enough and the road gets tough, I don't know why', and she looks genuinely scared and lost. You can hear it in her voice too, even though it takes the video to make it obvious - it's another song that, in its own way, is a little tragic too. And then came "Off to the Races", dropped a matter of days before the album; an about-face from both "Video Games" and "Born to Die", with an insidious melody, a hard beat, and a dark atmosphere, it's a drug ballad disguised as a love song, with a sound pitched between the soundtracks to The Matrix and Pulp Fiction. It's also clumsy in its intro, and even that feels like a strength, a quirk that sets her aside from her peers - not only does it suit the cocaine-themed lyric, but in the hyper-clinical world of pop, when was the last time a single by an artist with this much publicity could be described as 'clumsy'? Hype be damned, backlash be damned, this is the best run of pop singles in living memory. Add "Blue Jeans", another song that's been around for a while (and another one that's reminiscent of Tarantino), to that list and it starts to look frightening. If Lana Del Rey is the manufactured puppet her naysayers are so keen to tell everybody she is (and I really could not give less of a shit whether she is), then it just makes me wish everybody else was this manufactured too. An amazing song written by twenty men in a think-tank is an amazing song regardless.

These four songs line up in this album's first four slots, which feels like a bad decision - people who've never heard her before will be blown away, but I suspect that most of the people that get this will have heard at least two of these songs, and anybody that's heard all four will be tempted to skip them to hear the eight new songs that make up the rest of the album. Even if they don't, they're still the best four songs on the album, and rattling them all off so early opens the album up to accusations of blowing its load early. The transition to "Video Games" into the quasi-boom bap "Diet Mountain Dew" is pretty jarring too, creating another cut-off point between the singles and the rest of the songs.

Yet, after creating a situation where it would be easier to fail than succeed, Born to Die succeeds anyway. There are highlights strewn through these eight tracks; the gorgeous "Radio" stands out instantly, another gentle hip-hop beat tied to a classy atmosphere that almost ascends into Cocteau Twins territory at times, while the melody of "National Anthem" is pretty hard not to get carried away on, and the spooked "Summertime Sadness" is a deliciously doomy way to wind the album down, with some great vocal harmonies. (I also like that it reminds me of "Sweet Harmony" by The Beloved, but that's probably a link nobody else will make.)

There are flaws, naturally. "National Anthem" re-uses the 'take your body downtown' lyric from "Video Games", which feels a little lazy, and the lyrics of "Dark Paradise" are constructed completely from obvious platitudes about dying and the afterlife. That track in particular sees Rey lose grip of the personality she puts into her other songs, making it an odd fit for an album otherwise preoccupied with the emotional complexities of disintegrating relationships. "This Is What Makes Us Girls" is a tricky one too; it's got a good chorus but the verses are largely a re-hash of ideas from earlier in the album, and it's not made clear whether or not that's intentional. Having said that, these are flaws that are both easily overlooked and not all that damaging to the album anyway - truthfully, they run off after a few listens, once you've accepted that there's a step down in quality after "Video Games". There's no certainly no shame in that, though; if "Million Dollar Man" and "Diet Mountain Dew" are what constitutes 'filler' in Lana Del Rey's world, then the Rihannas and Perrys of the world might as well give up on making albums altogether.

And yet, the heights it reaches at its best still leave you wanting more. Born to Die is a brilliant album, but it's one that leaves room for a few improvements, and inspires confidence that they'll happen. Like the characters at the heart of her best songs, I'm torn - between being delighted that Born to Die is every bit as good as I'd hoped it would be, and imagining where the next few steps will take her. Then again, if her recent history is anything to go by, we probably won't find out for another few years. Better to happy with what we've already got - a classy, charismatic, beautifully sung pop album that gets better with each listen, and that can stand up to any other in the past ten years.



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user ratings (639)
Chart.
3.2
good
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Electric City
Staff Reviewer
January 27th 2012



15727 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

omg i think were going overboard here guys

Digging: Alvvays - Alvvays

Iai
Emeritus
January 27th 2012



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

tl;dr version: f*ck you guys

theacademy
January 27th 2012



28258 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

#DOWNERPWND

Tyrael
January 27th 2012



20740 Comments


Wait

I thought this was a conrad tao review

Iai
Emeritus
January 27th 2012



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

We're not going overboard enough imo, have you heard this album?!? leftarrow3leftarrow3leftarrow3

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
January 27th 2012



15727 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

review's tl;dr and great, but I obviously disagree with it. the singles are great but most everything
else save for Radio is just awful, rushed, sexist, and hollow

i can see the line in the "critical reception" section of this album's wikipedia page reading "and
sputnikmusic lost its fucking mind over this"

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
January 27th 2012



15727 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

doesnt mean it doesnt suck

Romulus
January 27th 2012



8413 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

aight the more i listen to this i'm surprised how much hate it's getting

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
January 27th 2012



15341 Comments


Does this mean I shouldn't drop my review? ; )

Digging: Astronauts - Hollow Ponds

theacademy
January 27th 2012



28258 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

album is pretty decent, she's moved up to being my 5th favorite member of odd future

TooLateToGoBack
January 27th 2012



1755 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

loving these staff reviews. you guys are hopping on this shit like crazy.

Eko
January 27th 2012



2119 Comments


lol wow guys

so fitting that Lana Del Rey of all people would get such polar reviews

AggravatedYeti
January 27th 2012



7684 Comments


respectfully disagree.

I understand your appreciation for the up-start nostalgia of an emerging artist but I just do not see it with this girl.

The marionette strings just seem so visible.

that being said I was engaged as hell reading this review, as usual top notch work.

Tyrael
January 27th 2012



20740 Comments


album is pretty decent, she's moved up to being my 5th favorite member of odd future

ahahahahahaha

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
January 27th 2012



30893 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Six months in nothing in real life


*is nothing

Digging: FaltyDL - In The Wild

conradtao
Emeritus
January 27th 2012



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Wait

I thought this was a conrad tao review


WHY

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
January 27th 2012



17920 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

obviously a great review as are all of yours but one of the lines you cite (let me fuck you hard in the pouring rain) was actually changed (PANDERING) to 'let me kiss you hard' so that sort of negates that point

i mean the whole thing just seems calculated

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
January 27th 2012



49801 Comments


born to have one hit

Digging: Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) - You Will Eventually Be Forgotten

joshuatree
Emeritus
January 27th 2012



3743 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

video games and born to die are both great but the rest of this is so blah

AtavanHalen
January 27th 2012



17927 Comments


it's poo it's poo it's all for poo



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