Only Elizabeth Grant could encompass exactly what her stage name implies. Drawing her forename from equally blonde and voluptuous 1940s actress Lana Turner and combining it with the name of a 1981 Ford Model Car, Lana Del Rey has created a sound that matches her nom-de-chanson perfectly-- her smash single "Video Games," that was digitally released back in October, melds sultry vocals with electronic ambiance to create a tone that is at once sweeping and bleak. Yet, Born To Die cannot flourish from one good single. And with fourteen disconcerted efforts to reach "Video Games" stature, Born To Die is a fifteen track failure.
There's an unfortunate lack of maturity in all of these songs and the overall theme of the album-- adolescent mourning of lost love by party seeking-- seems stale and raw. Unfortunately, the only party she seems to be attending is one focused on personal pity. The crassly titled sixth track "National Anthem" turns our nation's patriotic ballad into a melodramatic cry for attention from a boy at a summer party in the Hamptons. She at least shows that she pays attention to politics a little bit, reppin' the Republicans real hard with lyrics like, "Money is the reason we exist/everybody knows it/it's a fact/kiss kiss," although her intention was more likely ironic cultural commentary than political discourse. But who can tell?
"Radio" is a song about her newfound fame and how her life is suddenly dreamlike because of it. The lyrics are so sophomoric that it'd be better to just ignore them in favor of the lush production. Barring a strategically universal theme of sweeping orchestra schmaltz, the album reads as anything but cohesive. The only potential gem of the litter mess is "Million Dollar Man," but we use "gem" loosely. It's got that jazzy sound that made "Video Games" such a hit, and the lyrics are just a touch less obnoxious than the others, but the laughable preoccupations, coupled with a forgettable melody, does not do Ms. Del Rey credit. Most of the songs talk about her glamorous life, but she's only been a subject of the public eye for less than a year-- a tabloid megalomaniac.
The core of Lana Del Reys music seems to match her wealthy upbringing. Although lumping in a fortunate childhood with musical critique seems an unfair angle, it's an essential part of her world view and ultimately, the fantasy of being Lana Del Rey. Lizzy Grant packages modern-day post-adolescent confusion in an older sound that harks back to (ostensibly) simpler, more glamorous times, both economically and socially. Being the heir of
millionaire Robert Grant and a product of Connecticut boarding school, it's no surprise that her songs evoke the need to rebel-- it's always the privileged children who want to be more messed up than they really are, imaging themselves as tortured, damaged, and above all, interesting. Del Rey's musical fantasy is significantly healthier than real drugs and alcohol abuse, so why blame her?
Aside from the simple beauty of "Video Games," it seems that Lana Del Rey's vocal ability may actually be hindering her desire to develop lyrically and evolve into more than a caricature of this generation's nostalgic ambivalence.