Review Summary: Bougie dreams, silent screams.
At this point, Born To Die
has been received so poorly that to jump into the fray and defend it seems purely reactionary. But while there is plenty about Lana Del Rey that merits skepticism, a great deal of the conversation surrounding this album strikes me as, well, weird. The countless claims of inauthenticity ring painfully hollow, the accusations of antifeminism ironically set feminism back at least thirty years, and the criticism of its aesthetic singularity seems reductive. In fact, where Born To Die
is most unequivocally successful is in its commitment to a very specific sound; while poor sequencing renders the album an exhausting listen, these songs, on their own, are admirably constructed and skillfully toe the line between the old and new. The title track is still the most successful fusion of those lush strings Del Rey is so fond of with the weightily loping beats of hip-hop; the combination gives "choose your last words, this is the last time" a palpable pathos that is conspicuously absent from the lyric sheet alone.
This is, unquestionably, Del Rey's weakest spot. Her melodic instincts are consistently good - if at times frustratingly predictable - but her words often read as empty masquerading. Lindsay Zoladz put it best when she wrote that they were the equivalent of "a faked orgasm". That being said, I'm convinced that there is something worth exploring here; the whole "American dream gone awry" current running throughout Born To Die
presents countless opportunities for insightful provocation. When these are acted upon, the effect is devastating. The Lolita
-quoting "Off To The Races" is deliciously sinister, not least because of the Betty Boop timbre Del Rey adopts in the song's chorus, which stops just short of caricature enough to make her nonsensical spouting of smoky mid-century imagery profoundly disturbing: "I can see your faces, shameless, Cipriani's basement, love you but I'm going down." Almost as excellent is "Dark Paradise", a gorgeous piece of cinematic sadcore that wears its suicidal heart proudly on its sleeve.
Of course, the presence of these successes makes the album's numerous missteps all the more infuriating; the Madonna-aping "National Anthem" and teary karaoke of "Million Dollar Man" are particularly egregious. But for every failed attempt to assert the sleaziness of Del Rey's companions of choice there's a stunning stab at earnestness like "Born To Die" or "Radio". So Lana Del Rey the character is given an actual heart - one that doesn't simply exist to be marred by cocaine and Bacardi chasers - and as a result, the cigarette stains that permeate the album's every crevice feel more tragic and consequential. The doe-eyed trophy wife persona being explored here feels straight-up icky
, and the insinuation that Del Rey might be deriving pleasure from the abuse she's experiencing exacerbates that discomfort. Which forces listeners to actively engage with the album, since to do otherwise would be to unjustly dismiss a distinctly new perspective on femininity and sexuality. And so Lana Del Rey is impossible to ignore, which makes her apparent reluctance to be as committed to her character's rough edges as she is to her music's ostensibly luxurious production all the more disappointing. But the fact remains that nobody is making records that sound or feel like this, and that tepid as they may currently be, the sentiments Del Rey is willing to explore are still daring enough to suggest that Born To Die
is only the tip of the stony, pouty-lipped, hurting iceberg.