REVIEW: Del Rey is ‘Born to Die’

REVIEW: Del Rey is 'Born to Die'

Joe Cristo

We get it. You met someone special, were courted, felt something “unique,” became close, drifted apart, had your heart broken and finally moved on, leaving scathing tracks in your wake.

You heartbroken pop-star, you.

The schtick has been done to a slow and painful death, and while the liberated indie-chanteuse is a valuable market cash-in, when you have to start counting the number of sultry Amy Winehouse rip-offs on your toes, it becomes a bit of an overkill.

2011 brought one of arguably the most successful years for the female songwriter, with Adele’s “21” and Florence & The Machine’s “Ceremonials” soaring up billboards around the world.

And 2012 promises to be more of the same.

Lana Del Rey, Internet extraordinaire, has become one of the leading new acts for 2012. Between her media elusiveness and peculiar looks, she has been heralded as an “original take on popular music.”

Really?

Del Rey’s first single, “Video Games,” was a commercial and critical success. Utilizing her deep bass Cat Power impression over a Leonard Cohen-esque piano riff, she barrels along with huge crescendos. What at one time would be called an offensive Regina Spektor song, “Video Games” by all accounts has grown into itself.

But her two song extended play has not left such a notable indentation on popular culture that she should be heralded as “a gangsta Nancy Sinatra,” uniting seemingly insurmountable genre discrepancies.

While the music press has been calling her a musical Gandhi, she has reached a level of over-hype akin to The Strokes. And much like The Strokes, she took to Saturday Night Live to bring her unproven and shaky material into the homes of millions of Americans.

And with that, the buildup was over.

What most people saw was a frightened girl, something that not only contradicted her stage persona, but also led many to believe she was incapable of actually “hacking it” in the music business.

None the less, her musical hype has narrowly escaped such batterings, keeping her newest musical excursion highly anticipated.

“Born to Die,” Lana Del Rey’s second album, was released on Jan. 31, 2012.

The album’s first impression is extremely overwhelming. “Born to Die” is a well-executed pop-synth, hip-hop infusion. Lyrical content ranges from the absurdly cliché, “Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain” to the decidedly serious, “The road is long, we carry on/Try to have fun in the meantime.” Slick production helps sway the song past Katy Perry synthesized strings into a Lady Gaga arena rock crossbreed that is original and, maybe just a little, catchy.

The next few songs are too middle of the road to even include possible impressions. They blend together into one long song that is extremely complicated in thought and incoherent in practice.

Unfortunately, the production makes it impossible to hate these songs completely. Slick techniques like rap samples and programmed harp arrangements lift the songs from their poor chord progressions into “average song” territory.

After moving past the infamous “Video Games,” the second half of the album drifts from song to song in a carousel of trashy pop hooks. Never before have two sides of an album varied so much in thought and in quality.

“Dark Paradise” is an example of a surprisingly low-quality attempt at dark-pop. Between perversely bad vocals to low-quality background music, Del Rey misses nearly all of her marks.

The album finishes up with a solid effort on the last few tracks, specifically “Summertime Sadness.” The shimmering production ascends the tail end of the album, past the weak material proceeding it, leaving the listener not completely dismayed.

“Born to Die” is wrought with a wasteland of weak material and, although each song is boring to no end, her technique is what truly disappoints.

But lets just be very clear: Del Rey’s voice is annoying. While Del Rey hits every note she supposedly aims for, she sounds a lot like a chipmunk on Ritalin. Never before has a leading pop star sounded this profoundly stupid and this thoroughly infuriating.

She claims that this isn’t her real singing voice, that instead she is trying to be taken more seriously by transforming into the “opposite of popular music,” throwing conventional things like tone, pitch and flow, to the wind.

Let’s just say that is a lame excuse for singing this bad.

But the worst part of the album is not necessarily the quality of the songs. Instead, it is what she represents by recording such an album.

At a time when women are arguably dominating the charts with well-written, well-composed songs, here comes Del Rey, ready to tear down all the progress made in the last 12 years and forfeit any respect women musicians may have garnered in recent years.

The 2000s were a time of musical upheaval: new genres and even newer influences. Continuing to even now, women like Adele and Florence Welch are paving the way for influential women in music. And they are good too.

Piggybacking on the contrived Adele’s heartbroken women motif, Del Rey leaves little room for innovation, thus weakening her stance  as a legitimate musician.

While her voice lacks the fine-tuning of a professional singer, she still shows a little bit of songwriting chops. As a co-writer on many tracks, she exhibits some sort of songwriting prowess.

“Born to Die” fails to capitalize on the huge anticipation that it has all ready received. Although crippled by a weak voice and unoriginal arrangements, the album shows potential for a young Lana Del Rey, even if reaching that potential means being a completely average pop-singer, stuck under the thumb of pop giants like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Adele.