'Blurring the lines/Between real and the fake/Dark and lonely/I need somebody to hold me.’ In one simple verse, Lana Del Rey manages to sum up the entirety of her long awaited debut record, Born To Die.
For all of the bombast and hyperbole surrounding its arrival, it’s easy to forget that this is just a debut record. However, it is the debut of an all-American, pouty starlet who yes, may well have been supplemented by mummy and daddy’s money, but nonetheless, provided one of the most exciting singles of 2011, leaving her standing on the precipice of being one of 2012’s breakthrough artists.
With this comes a certain amount of pressure. And to give Del Rey her dues, Born To Die isn’t an entire let down. In many ways, it’s a surprisingly fascinating album, romantic in its self-destruction and sleazy, vacuous delivery, like a trailer trash Disney Princess drowning her sorrows in a vat of clichés and regret. However, the main problem with Lana Del Rey is that she doesn’t quite know who she wants to be yet. The head swimming trip-hop of ‘Off to the Races’ would have been better handled by the more worldly-wise hands of M.I.A or Azealia Banks. Similarly, the deranged, Kate Bush-esque ‘Blue Jeans’ sits uneasily alongside the true brilliance of ‘Video Games’, the only track on the album in which she sounds genuinely aware of the irony of what she is singing.
Lyrically speaking, it’s a disturbingly limited record. All lexical themes point towards an ‘I’d die without my man’ mentality, horrifically dated for 2012. The melodramatic suicide note of ‘Dark Paradise’ in particular is frankly nauseating in its self-importance, her cooing baby doll voice exasperating as she whimpers ‘I wish I was dead,’ as she is jilted by her lover. In a world where Beyoncé fought for the rights of independent women, it feels strangely offensive.
When the album does liven up a little, there are some diamonds amongst the rough. ‘Diet Mountain Dew’ benefits from a driving boom-tish drumbeat and playground chanting, the childish naivety in her voice as she asks ‘do you think we’ll be in love forever?’ just the right side of endearing. ‘Summertime Sadness’ and the sugar coated plastic-gangsta of ‘Lolita’ may also be a growers, the latter sounding oddly sinister as she deadpans ‘It's you that I adore/though I make the boys fall like dominoes’.
Listening to ‘Born To Die’ is probably a lot like visiting a strip club. Does it make for an interesting experience? Undoubtedly. Will you want to repeat the experience time and time again? Probably not. It’s confusing to know exactly how far Del Rey’s tongue is implanted in her cheek, making it hard to decide whether this record is brilliant in its self-deprecation or merely a sad representation of our times where young girls are forced to believe that they have to conform to stereotype in order to attract men. All cited arty, left field influences aside, these are nothing more than tentative, hit-and-miss pop songs that at their best, invite the listener on a playful road trip in search of the American Dream, but at worst, push feminism back a good 50 years. Like a child in a beauty pageant, playing dress up in mummy’s heels and pearls, del Rey doesn’t sound quite ready for her full debut, or the males she is so wilfully taking on, only to be left at the side of the road, bleeding red, white and blue lipgloss down her wife beater vest and wondering how it all went wrong.
If Born To Die was made to defame the All-American, California-girl imagery that is so readily shoved down our throats, she’s done a sterling job. However, she’s not quite been slick enough in her execution for her motives to come across clearly. Lana del Rey will surely go down a storm with the glamorously melancholy Skins generation, the teens who revel in apathy and overt sexuality because they are so desperate to exhibit an air of control. But as she so tellingly confesses in ‘Your National Anthem, ‘He says to "be cool" but/I don't know how yet.’ Maybe one day she will learn. But until then, Born To Die is sadly little more than average.