If only it was as much fun to listen to Lana Del Rey as it is to argue about her.
Since the singer born Lizzy Grant released the sultry, sumptuous, impossibly-jaded and yet thoroughly-romantic single “Video Games” last summer, the 25 year old’s carefully constructed puffy-lipped persona has made her the focal point of an age-old authenticity debate. It’s also added to the escalating hype for Born To Die (Interscope **) which, at long last, comes out on Tuesday.
For Schadenfreude-seeking Del Rey detractors who took pleasure in her barely-there performance on Saturday Night Live earlier this month and who have excoriated her for being “fake” - as if every performer who’s stood in front of an audience hasn’t projected an image different from their “real” self - there are reasons to say ‘I told you so.”
Born To Die contains nothing nearly so narcotically seductive as the sublimely bored “Video Games.” Careful parsing does reveals a few hidden gems, like the typically David Lynchian heartbreak ballad “Million Dollar Man,” which stands as a second tier highlight, one of several songs to feature the stormy-night strings of ace Philadelphia arranger Larry Gold. But on the whole, the album largely sticks to the mid-tempo moodiness to which Del Rey is best suited, but which grows numbing over the long haul.
Every now and again, Born To Die is flat-out awful, as with “National Anthem,” which is neither of a cover of “The Star Spangled Banner“ or, sadly, the Radiohead song of the same name. “Money is the anthem” and “God, you’re so handsome” are rhymed with “Take me to the Hamptons.” The song includes a cringe-inducing rap, and rehashes the lyric “take a body downtown” that also turns up in “Video Games,” a surefire sign of Del Rey unwisely overreaching, trying to stretch of shortage of ideas into a 15 song (including bonus tracks) overlong package.
Does all that mean that Born To Die amounts to an unrelenting, execrable embarrassment? Hardly. It has its satisfying moments, like the grandiose title track, dreamy “Dark Paradise” and sweeping “Summertime Sadness.” But while those songs, and “Video Games,” manipulate stock B movie clichés with knowing world weariness, most of the rest of Born To Die languorously evokes that same atmospheric milieu without ever taking it to a freshly compelling place.