To enjoy Lana Del Rey’s new album, “Born to Die,” the listener really needs to buy into her 1950s Hollywood glamour persona. That becomes increasingly difficult, especially as this image has recently become the talk of Internet blogs that are criticizing her for being fake and completely constructed.
Many pop music acts have carefully manufactured personas for themselves that help set a tone for their music and give them a backstory. This can be seen anywhere from Ke$ha to Taylor Swifts’ “nice girl-next door” act. These images help musicians find their target audiences. Del Rey’s image is a littler harder to buy into because it is so heavily put on. Her songs don’t even have the slightest hint of a wink to the listener to let them know that Del Rey understands her melodrama is a bit over-the-top. She clings so hard to the sexy, bored, femme fatale image that it feels even more gimmicky after hearing an entire album of it.
Recently, the Internet community has taken to bashing Del Rey’s image and her live performances, including her sub-par “Saturday Night Live” appearance on Jan. 14, but most of the hatred is unfair. Del Rey is still in the process of perfecting her live shows and the strong atmosphere of most of her tracks is hard to replicate in a concert setting. Her songs rely on a delicate balance of vocal tones and loud/soft dynamics that are not easy to reproduce outside the recording studio.
Ignoring Del Rey’s image, many of the songs on her album still have problems. Most of the tracks on “Born to Die” feel too long and would benefit from some pruning. The excessive lyrical repetition adds to this problem and bogs down the instrumental work.
The lyrics and production also tend to lean too much on melodrama. They often feature clichéd lyrics that sound like they come from a boy-obsessed middle schooler’s diary. The title track includes the lines, “I feel so alone on a Friday night / Can you make it feel like home / If I tell you you’re mine … Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain.” And “Don’t make me sad / Don’t make me cry / Sometimes love is not enough / And the road gets tough, I don’t know why.” It’s hard to really have a developed musical identity with lyrics that are as shallow as “Born to Die’s.”
What saves this entire record from being a total train wreck is Del Rey’s voice. Her voice is deep with a delicate texture; with the right production and lyrics, she could certainly create some heartbreaking and tender songs. Sadly, this rarely occurs on “Born to Die.”
One place where all these elements do come together is on the album’s first single, “Video Games.” The song’s lyrics seem personal and are elevated by gorgeous instrumentation. It is a track that makes the rest of the album even more disappointing because it shows how great Del Rey could be with the right elements and balance.
The rest of the songs mostly fall into two categories — either slow love ballads or more “dance-y” tracks — but there isn’t much variety to the songs’ executions. The similarity in themes between the songs compounds their monotony.
The songs try to sell a lot of sexiness, especially with Del Rey’s breathy delivery, but many times it seems overdone to the point of being bland. After twelve songs, the listener feels beat over the head with the idea that Del Rey is a femme fatale. The album’s refusal to go any deeper into that notion makes it feel stale very quickly.
Del Rey’s voice, with its tone and subtle volume changes, helps sell the sadness and romance of some of the songs, but the many lyrical and production flaws are just too much for her to overcome.
Despite the gloss, “Born to Die” is mostly just a heavily orchestrated pop album. Clocking in at almost 50 minutes in length, the album becomes a bit much to have to listen to. Despite the faults in the record, Del Rey still shows some impressive potential.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Del Ray release an incredible album sometime in the future when she learns to improve her song writing and production choices.