Review Summary: Impressively, coming only 10 months after her album, this doesn't feel rushed.
So I guess this faux-EP, faux-album follow up to a big pop album is a trend now, huh.
, it looks like Lana Del Rey is very deliberately following on from Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster
- and why not, when it worked so well for her? Plenty of reasons, that's why - before I even heard a note of it, I was expecting Paradise
to be a flop, because it seemed like such a counter-intuitive move for her at this point. The key difference between her and Gaga is that Gaga had already convinced the world (or at least the people that were relevant to her) of her star potential, and Lana, as much as I love her, quite simply hasn't; both the critics and the casual fans of pop have been decidedly lukewarm towards her since Born to Die
dropped, and anything that can invite any sort of cynicism will, because at this mainstream level of music, just as it is with the popular discourse of most sports, you're either awful or you're brilliant. There's not really any in-between. Maybe that explains why she's made such a defensive move here.
I mean, really, that's what this whole not-really-an-album deal is, isn't it? If we overlook the cynical commercial aspect of it, the apparent desire to make people pay for the same album twice (while it's technically possible to buy this as a separate EP, you'll notice that all the advertizing for it presents it as 'Lana's new double album' with clips of "Born to Die" and "Video Games" included), it's an in-built way of deflecting criticism. If it's bad, then no worries, it's just an EP. Who judges an artist on their bonus tracks, anyway? That's what it would be very easy to write off everything on Paradise
as if it didn't come up to scratch. For an artist that's been built from day one to be a critical darling (and I don't say that as a criticism), that feels significant, as it does for a person like Lizzy Grant, who has always come across as a very sweet, genuine, sensitive person in interviews. That can all be acted, sure, but she also seems a little naive, and that's harder to fake - and seeing that makes it easy to believe that she was stung pretty badly on a personal level by the way some people reacted to her album and - perhaps more pertinently - her performance on Saturday Night Live
. Releasing these songs the way she has feels like a way of defending herself from any further attacks to me; yet while it makes a kind of sense on that level, I can't help but think that she would have been better off holding back for a while, allowing all the attacks to fade away and giving her single more time to linger, so that when she returns, people are more receptive.
Given these reservations about the timing of Paradise
and the way it's been released, I - somebody who thinks Born to Die
is an album of the year contender, remember - actually found myself a little surprised that it's so good. That can't be right, can it? Either way, taken at face value as a standard EP coming after an album as good as Born to Die
, it leaves next to nothing to be desired; it's got some clear signs of development for her as an artist and packs a couple of tracks that rank as career highlights, and I don't think anybody could realistically have expected any more than that.
follows on from Born to Die
by front-loading itself with its best tracks. The blissful, effortless "Ride" opens with a structure that bears a similarity in structure to the opening track of that album too, kicking into a chorus before kicking into another chorus afterwards where she intones the song title, but this time it's more drawn out and the structure is better for it. It introduces a new man issue too - the second verse starts with the words 'Dying young and I'm playing hard/That's the way my father made his life an art', which is simple enough in itself, but adds a considerable amount of meat onto the bones of Lana's persona, adding a back story to the constant tales of being attracted to bad men and addicted to bad drugs (there's a line in the chorus - 'I've got a war in my mind' - that does something similar to lesser effect). It's carefully written in the best possible way, as so much of her best work is. The next two songs, meanwhile, add to her sound rather than her personality, with the frankly brilliant "American" carrying a hint of Band of Horses' "No-One's Gonna Love You More" about it, and "Cola" being buoyed by strings that I'm certain are sampled from "Orinoco Flow", even if Enya goes uncredited. "Cola" is an interesting case in general, actually - those who hated the lyrics on "National Anthem" (among others) are sure to be downright apoplectic at the hilariously classless opening line of 'my pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola', but the rest of the song is little short of fantastic. I suspect that the "The Great Gig in the Sky"-esque vocals that appear at one point are the work of a session singer, but if they're by Lana herself, then it's another trick that we didn't know she had in her book.
I can hear other odd little links on the remaining tracks too - the unexpectedly heavy "Gods & Monsters" has a drum track that's pretty much identical to the one that appears halfway through "Pioneer to the Falls" by Interpol, for example, though I seriously doubt that's intentional. This is good, though; this is generally what happens with me when I hear an artist making a real effort to change and progress their sound, and though nothing about Paradise
is a dramatic volte-face from Born to Die
, I still get a very strong impression that that's what's going on here. She seems to have become much better at sequencing a record, if nothing else - even accounting for the fact that it's only eight tracks long and therefore a lot easier to get right, Paradise
flows a lot more naturally. Considering that "Yayo" dates back to 2008, and doesn't feel out of place amongst the younger material surrounding it at all, that's impressive - she didn't manage the same trick when updating "This is What Makes Us Girls" earlier in the year.
Considering that it's been less than a year since Born to Die
came out, and she's been an ever-present talking point for even longer than that thanks to "Video Games" going viral, you'd be forgiven for being pretty much Lana-ed out at this point, but if you've liked anything about her up to this point, there's no reason why Paradise
isn't worth a shout. It doesn't pack quite as much of a punch - Born to Die
's highlights are both slightly more numerous and slightly more effective - but it's still a very strong, successful record, whether taken as an addition or a follow-up.