Lana Del Rey went viral seemingly overnight last summer with her "Video Games" video clip, subsequently followed by the "Blue Jeans" clip, and from pretty much out of nowhere in a matter of 6 months, she played at Saturday Night Live recently. There has been discussion whether Lana's rapid rise has or hasn't been carefully orchestrated by her label Interscope, but now that the album is finally out, let's put aside all hype and suspiscion, and focus on the music.
"Born To Die" (12 tracks; 50 min.) can be divided in 3 sections. The first 4 tracks are slow-burners, pretty much in the vein of "Video Games" but check out in particular "Off To the Races", an album highlight. The middle section of the album (tracks 5 though 8) brings slightly faster tracks, and shines thoughout. "Diet Mountain Dew" is delightful, with playful lyrics like "Diet Mountain Dew baby New York City/Can we hit it low now down and gritty". Likewise with "National Anthem" (not to be confused with Radiohead's "The National Anthem"). After a brooding "Dark Paradise" (see my review title), comes "Radio", by far the most readily accessible track on this album (chorus: "Now my life is a sweet cinnamon/like a f**king dream I'm living in"). The last third album slows back down, and contains several other highlights such as "Million Dollar Man" (which reminds me of early Fiona Apple, think Never Is a Promise/The Child Is Gone/Pale September). The album ends appropriately with the self -explaining "This Is What Makes Us Girls".
In all, this is quite the album. Mostly dark, brooding, biting, yet funny and playful at times. Definitely not for anyone in a hurry. I can't imagine this album will be a mainstream success (this is MILES away from Adele's "21"), but I could be wrong and I hope I am. Much has been made of Lana's maligned SNL appearance (which was really not all that bad), and I personally can't wait to see her bringing these songs in concert. This album proves that Lana is the real deal, period, forget all the hype and everything else. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
*UPDATE* (June, 2012) I saw Lana Del Rey in concert this past weekend at the Irving Plaza in NY, and what a show that was. Forget about the "deer in headlights" SNL perfomance. She put on a thrilling 50 min. set focusing on the "jazz-lounge" tracks from the album (with a live band consisting of piano, 3 violinists and a guitar). Lana was confident and in control throughout the show, which was a sing-along for most of the crowd. Great show all around, although I hope she will expand her live shows to a bigger band so that she can bring "trip-hop" songs like "Diet Mountain Dew", "Radio" and "Off To the Races" live. But if you can catch her live, don't miss it!
on February 21, 2012
I was one of those people who saw Lana Del Rey perform on Saturday Night Live, had never heard of her, and thought she did awful. After I decided to research her two songs and saw her videos on YouTube... I thought her songs were actually very good.
Needless to say after buying her album and listening to all her songs, I've found my favorites- Lolita, This Is What Makes Us Girls, and Off to the Races. Her song writing skills are amazing (and yes she actually writes her own songs like a big girl) and her singing is very weird and unique, but I LOVE it!
LOVE THIS ALBUM. Can't wait for her to release another one.
on February 18, 2012
For all the critics who blasted Lana Del Rey's SNL vocal performance, missed the point: it's about songwriting, stupid. As it was for Dylan, who also has an underwhelming singing voice, Del Rey's songs are about to change the direction of pop music. Lyrically expressive and experimental with music composition that fuses the 40's, 50's, 60's and present day sounds into dark, moody, atmospheric experiences; and wrapped in a package of modern hip beats that takes her songwriting to fascinating art pop heights.
Every song presents an intriguing angle or point of view that makes one drawn deeper into its musical arrangement. Haunting melodies are sung with surprising twists that stay with a listener for days after hearing them.
The true testament to a well written song is when other artists cover it. We just might see that happen in the future with some of Lana's music, where better vocalists can interpret her superbly written melodies for a more thrilling experience. In the meantime, Del Rey's "Born to Die" album is about to change the present day notion of what pop music should sound like.
August 23, 2013
FYI.....On this week, 19-months after the release of "Born to Die," the album is ranked number 20 in sales and an amazing 81 weeks on the Billboard Top 200 Album Charts with total worldwide sales exceeding 4-million according to IFPI. It was the fifth best selling album during 2012 beating out P!nk (The Truth About Love), Rod Stewart (Merry Christmas, Baby), Rihanna (Unapologetic), Mumford & Sons (Babel) and Maroon 5 (Overexposed).
So what can Del Rey's critics say now? They don't have a clue for what makes great music.
Any new artist would "Die" to have this kind of success. Not to mention, her songs being in film and commercials, including, "Blue Jeans" in Nespresso's commercial with Penelope Cruz and "Young and Beautiful" in The Great Gatsby movie. Let's not forget Cheryl Cole's superb cover of "Ghetto Baby;" a great song that was unbelievably dropped from the "Born to Die" album.
The continued attraction of new Lana Del Rey Fans has a lot to do with the dance remixes, especially, the transforming remix of "Summertime Sadness" done by French House DJ producer Cedric Gevais. This amazing journey of Lana Del Rey confirms much of what I wrote in February 2012 - It's about great song writing and how it transcends when performed in other genres.
on February 7, 2012
I was one of the few people apparently left in the span of the universe who hadn't heard of Ms. Grant (or all her internet controversy) until I saw her on SNL. Well, suffice it to say, it wasn't the greatest performance on the planet, but it got me interested in her and her music. I did some Youtubing, and fell so in love with her music (including her first album). I couldn't stop playing it. Literally. It's all I though about for days, anxiously awaiting the release of this album. And I wasn't disappointed.
Her song Video Games is very sweet, so it made me cry. It conveys love in a very pure way, partially because of its older style sound and partially because of the way her voice really draws out the melody of the song that is reminiscent of Karen Carpenter. The video for both that song and Born to Die are indeed works of art in a way that few artist still even attempt to accomplish. Her songs tend to have a strong orchestra presence to them that resonates with her voice, and it's generally soothing.
She is evocative of the 50's and 60's era performers, particularly the Hollywood, young actress type and all the fame chasing that comes with it. It's tragic but real at the same time. It's definitely a cleverer dynamic than most popular artists of our time.
I think it's important to remember where all the criticism comes from and why. We as a culture are so oversaturated with overproduced musicians these days. What with ginormous theatrical performances from some of the big names that include large amounts of pyro and lights, few people truly appreciated the more live, personal style that her music touches on. It's not made to be blasted in some huge auditorium like a Kanye/Jay-Z concert. It's made to be appreciated on a deeper level than that. Just because an artist does not have the huge, Beyoncé level stage presence and diva gear doesn't mean they don't have talent. It's just different. Variety should be appreciated, not degraded. Not to mention the fact that she's a women seems to make many feel as though her looks and the bashing thereof should be the central focus.
It doesn't matter about her family's supposed money (by the way that's not all true, and even if it were, a kid who comes from a good family isn't allowed to write good music?), the realness of her lips (yes they are real), endless pointless debates about how `authentic' she is, as if we will ever really know or as if there is anyone in music who doesn't have a huge amount of marketing behind them anymore...all of these things take you away from the real heart.
It's an amazing album. It's sweet and entertaining. It makes you happy. It's music you can play almost anywhere. It's witty writing lyrically. And yes she did write most of this album by herself. It resonates with both young and old. It reaches further back in time for its historical nod to a genre than the overwhelming majority of modern music.
She is 25 years old and has become one of the biggest names in a very short amount of time. Yes she has a bit of shyness to overcome, but she will. She isn't perfect, but she has great potential. It is my opinion that we should judge music by how music makes us feel, and not all the outside factors surround it's production. The album is one of my all-time favorites, and in watching her live interviews and other performances, she's definitely someone special and I expect more great things from her in the future.
Step back from all that you've heard about her...and just hear her, without all the cynicism. Give it a chance to wow you. It might just become one of your favorites.
on March 10, 2012
Over the years CD albums have really become poor. Usually with one or two good tracks and the rest fillers.
I heard Lana Del Ray "Off to the races" online and wanted to get the CD. I generally like the quality of sound on a CD over MP3 and like to have the item physically on hand, also you get an insert which I like to read.
I was blown away with this CD, her voice is very unique and the tracks are 'dark' much like Portishead (without all the distortion). I have to say most of these tracks are keepers. Particular good songs to me were Born to die, Dark Paradise, Video games and Summertime Sadness. But the others are close behind.
I was taken back to my youth with having a CD on repeat for literally days!
on March 5, 2012
According to one critic, the slang phrase I've used for my review title has been 'out of style' for many eons. I'd never heard of it, which must mean two things: 1) I'm not hip, and 2) I ain't worried about it. Lana del Rey, who uses the phrase in her song 'Blue Jeans,' doesn't seem to be worried, either.
While husky altos, hip-hop beats, and '60s melodic stylings have been done before, I've never heard them meshed together, let alone so perfectly, a true feat of acculturation that is exciting and revelatory. Her music is interesting, and layered, and each layer is interesting; and that's the difference between albums you listen to every now and again and albums you listen to all the way through twice a day.
What I want first and foremost from the music I listen to is a great melody. And I have to say, Lana del Rey's album has that in spades. The melodies are just magnificently beautiful, and while that might seem like an overstatement, I'm okay with it. I've heard plenty of gorgeous music in my lifetime because that's what I gravitate to, and I know this is the goods right here. I find it pretty much ingenious that her songs are backed by some hardcore beats, and on top of that, the kind of lush instrumentation you might expect from a cinematic score.
While apparently that golden alto is not exactly her natural register, she uses it to gorgeous effect, most notably in 'Video Games' but also in the sublime opening verses of songs like 'Born to Die,' 'Summertime Sadness,' and 'Radio.' I really, really love it. Which is perhaps why I have a hard time accepting her upper-register turns, for example in 'Off to the Races.' But in other places, like 'This Is What Makes Us Girls' and 'The Lucky Ones,' it's easier to digest, as she sings outright rather than creating an affect. For me, the jury's still deliberating - is her persona solidified, or is she still experimenting?
The only songs that I have to mostly tolerate are 'Off to the Races' and 'National Anthem' - ironically the two that lay reviewers on several sites regularly cite as favorites. I know that she's not trying to come off literally as a rapper, just someone who appreciates the genre, but for my personal tastes I'd rather her keep it to a minimum. And I think she uses rhythmic phrasing to great effect elsewhere; it's lower-dosage and easier to swallow.
I believe this album is a major accomplishment, for the reasons I've listed above and in spite of what I perceive to be shortcomings. I would recommend getting the deluxe version, because the three additional songs are amazing. I love the harmonies in 'Without You'; 'Lolita' is the most aggressively hip-hop of the album, with (Asian) Indian overtones and flashes of pseudo-reggaeton. 'The Lucky Ones' is preciously grandiose and ends with another beautiful string-section meditation.
My favorite song should be 'Born to Die,' but it's actually 'Radio.' As mentioned above, the opening gives me chills; and the chorus just rolls along so effortlessly, easy rhythms married to a flirty melody; the beat is, as usual, top-notch. Yeah, she drops the F-bomb, but it's not in-your-face, and I really don't think she meant it to be startling. It rolls along with everything else, just a part of the tapestry. Listening to the lyrics, I wonder if they're not subtly aimed at her audience? "Their heavy words can't bring me down" from the first verse; and the second verse: "American dreams came true somehow/I swore I'd chase until I was dead/I heard the streets were paved with gold/That's what my father said." Mmmmm-hmm. And ending, of course, with "How do you like me now?"
I'm saddened by the professional music critics who, very obviously, knew what they were going to say about del Rey's music before the album even dropped and stuck to their guns even after listening - if they even gave it the thorough listen each musician deserves. How anyone who gets paid to place a value on music can truly absorb the vast majority of these songs and not come away with an appreciation of the constantly superior melodies, sublime but never over-powering beats, and moments of lyric beauty, I will never understand.
This is the only album that has pulled F+TM's 'Ceremonials' out of heavy rotation in my stereo and car. Five stars, and keep up the good work, Ms. Grant.
on June 12, 2012
Man, nothing scares me any more, you know what I'm sayin? I first heard of this chick a few months ago via that song 'Video Games' on the radio. I thought she was pretty creepy and steered left. Then, I was trying to find some new stuff for a friend of mine who is also pretty creepy and I was instantly like ah-ha and peeped out this album, and suddenly I feel like I have been lured into some kind of a witchs grip, because I can't get it out of my mind...
Really there is some real talent in this bit. Some times she goes low, with this Jessica Rabbit style darkness, other times she goes all radio pop teen high and sexy, but then you realize it's still dark as death. The whole thing has the scent of death covered in cinnamon. It's really kind of freaking me out, but i can't turn away...
All original stuff, written by the talent herself, a good mix of old fashioned sultry blues and modern electro pop...sometimes w/psychedelic skews to throw everyone off... i like it. Check out some of the tracks BLUE JEAN, SUMMERTIME SADNESS and maybe that one DIET MOUNTAIN DEW... I think you might dig it.
on October 10, 2013
There's a warm quality to her voice that is really brought out by the vinyl medium. This is a joy to have in the collection.
on May 5, 2012
I have to say that this is one of the most unusual and most successful debut albums I have ever heard, from an artist that even a few months ago I did not know existed. Both lyrically and musically, the album takes us into an alternate world, a world populated by young women who are fatally attracted to seriously flawed men, but this doesn't seem to bother them. They not only accept it, they revel in it. Although most of the songs are built around this theme, redundancy is avoided because the characters are vividly detailed and the musical presentations are diverse. I would like to mention that any comparisons I make to musical genres or other artists must be considered approximations; the music on this album is highly original and frankly, rather difficult to describe.
In the opener and title song, "Born To Die", Lana sings a ballad with a world-weariness and fatalism that calls to mind Marianne Faithfull or even Marlene Dietrich: "Feet don't fail me now/Take me to the finish line...Choose your last words/This is the last time/Cause you and I, we were born to die". The next track, my favorite, "Off To The Races", is completely different, an upbeat hip-hop track. In this song a girl with "a Las Vegas past" is kept and well-tended by a gangster type who "...loves me with every beat of his cocaine heart". This relationship would seem dysfunctional to most, but the picture Lana paints makes it sound valid, desirable and a lot of fun. In the somber "Video Games", she coaxes her young lover, "Tell me all the things you wanna do/I heard that you like the bad girls honey, is that true?" We return to hip-hop and enter the playground of the wealthy in "National Anthem": "Money is the anthem of success/So before we go out, what's your address?...God you're so handsome/Take me to the Hamptons". "Carmen" in the ballad by that name is one character not preoccupied with relationships. Her problems are different: "The boys, the girls/They all like Carmen...Doesn't have a problem/Lyin' to herself/'Cause her liquor's top shelf". "Million Dollar Man" is sung in a style that I would have to call 40's or 50's blues (very interesting vocal here), and the reason she is blue is, as she tells her man, "You're screwed up and brilliant/You look like a million-dollar man/So why is my heart broke?"
The total effect of the album would be depressing except that the interesting lyrics and Lana's varied vocals are such a delight that any sadness is mitigated. Then too, why feel sorry for someone who doesn't feel sorry for herself? Lana's characters are content with the lives they are living. I hope Lana gets to make a second album because I certainly want to see where she takes us next.
on March 7, 2012
I'm not really a huge fan of "Video Games", so didn't expect I'd like the rest of Lana Del Rey's music. I liked "Born to Die" quite a bit more, enough to check out the rest of the songs on the album. Surprisingly, there are about 8 songs on the Born to Die Deluxe Version that I really really like. Many of the rest are strong as well. 9 times out of 10, when I hear a song I like and begin digging into other songs by the same band/artist, I usually find that there are maybe 2 that I like on an album (at most). That's depressing since I grew up listening to a CD from start to finish. So kudos to Lana Del Rey for putting together a complete album with very little filler. Of course music tastes are all about individual opinion, but I'm impressed.