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ALBUM REVIEW: Lana Del Rey – Born to Die

posted on Jan.27, 2012

Lana Del Rey
Born to Die
Release Number: Debut
Hailing From: New York City
Genre: Pop
Label: Interscope

I’m going to refrain from mentioning any of the extraneous information about Lana Del Rey (real name: Lizzy Grant). I’m going to try to ignore the months of hype leading up to Born to Die’s release, the awkward Saturday Night Live performance, and the bizarre interviews, which could be seen as either endearing or cringe-worthy. I’m going to ignore all of this because almost every review of Del Rey’s debut I’ve read so far has been populated by discussion of all these things without putting much focus on the actual music.

And the music is pretty much what all I could ask for. With expectations set so high, Del Rey was bound to disappoint somewhat, but this is still a solid pop album. This isn’t the second coming. Del Rey has the potential to be a pop star, but I’m not sure this debut album will put her over the edge into mainstream consciousness. The album is likable enough, but it still feels as though many of the songs are inaccessible – the lyrics seem to be from the fictional Del Rey persona, not necessarily Lizzy Grant. This may be because of the team of songwriters on the album or interference from the major label or a variety of other reasons. Born to Die is a very produced album, but not a bad one.

8 / 10

It’s an acquired taste and requires a few listens to fully warm up to. On first listen, I was overwhelmed. “That’s it?” I thought, puzzled that the album wasn’t as powerful and affecting as I wanted. I expected fireworks, and the album is more about the slow release. Songs like “Million Dollar Man” and “Summertime Sadness” aren’t songs that necessarily deliver right away. Del Rey’s voice begs to be sung along with, and it may be true that you can’t really empathize with the songs until you’re singing along with them.

The front half of the album is populated by songs we’ve heard in various forms before. Of course, there’s “Video Games”, “Born to Die”, and “Blue Jeans”, which have already been dissected. There’s “Off to the Races”, which has been circulating for a few weeks before the album’s official release. And there’s reworked versions of “Diet Mtn Dew”, an older demo which is reworked here to become one of the highlights of the album – recalling 90s hip-hop beats.

The back half of the album is admittedly slower and takes a longer time to warm up to. “Radio”, another standout on the album, could probably be Del Rey’s next hit. It’s not hard to see crowds belting “Now my life is sweet like cinnamon / Like a f—king dream I’m living in” along with Del Rey, evoking the same feeling of carefree nostalgia that inhabits the rest of the album.

Looking over the track list, there aren’t many songs I would feel comfortable cutting. Even though the album feels lengthy, I could see how it would be hard to cut songs. My instinct would be to maybe get rid of “Carmen” and “Dark Paradise”, but I could also see how I would regret that decision in a month after listening to the album more.

I can see how this album could be ripped apart. It wears its heart on its sleeve. If you don’t like or don’t buy into Del Rey’s persona, then you’re probably going to cringe at half of the songs. But if you buy into it and let yourself sink into this unorthodox world of dark, nostalgic pop music, you really do experience something magical and unique. And something only Del Rey could provide.

In my opinion, that’s the marking of a pretty great album. Despite the controversy, despite the critical panning the album and Del Rey may receive, Born to Die can withstand that because it lives in it’s own world.

So give Born to Die a few more listens before you dismiss it. And if you don’t like it, there will always be “Video Games”.

- James Rettig, Web Director


2 Comments for this entry

  • Donny

    I fully agree with this review.

    After my first listen I thought “wait, it’s just a random pop album? So disappointed!”

    Then I listened a couple more times and figured it was actually a pretty good pop album. Wouldn’t buy it myself, but it’s rather refreshing for the genre. Would love to see her go into a more indie route though, she has the voice for it.

  • wtsr_listener

    thanks for this thoughtful review!

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