Now Born To Die has been out a few days, we’ve had a chance to really listen to the first ‘event’ album of 2012. And it’s a problematic listen.
The biggest issue lies in separating the music from the madness. Questions of authenticity, or lack thereof have dogged Del Rey throughout her meteoric rise. When the album is so clearly meant as a vehicle for the singer as a ‘personality’ it’s hard to consume without wondering what personality that is- is it Lizzy Grant, surgically augmented daughter of a dot com millionaire, or is it Lana Del Rey; the ‘trailer trash Nancy Sinatra’ who vamps round Hollywood in the company of bad boys with “cocaine hearts”? It seems Lana/ Lizzy herself is unsure- when she sings about stealing police cars with the older guys on This is What Makes Us Girls, or how she’ll die without her criminal lover on Off to the Races there’s a disconcerting hollowness in her delivery. She’s got the voice and the style, but it isn’t being mirrored in the eyes.
Does it matter if someone is authentic? No. It doesn’t matter that David Bowie isn’t Ziggy Stardust, because the character is intriguing. Unfortunately Lana isn’t intriguing. She comes across as essentially unlovable. On the plus side, the songs are sonically adventurous, packed with references to 50s death pop, spy thriller twang and bursts of percussive hip hop samples – and Video Games sounds as classic as it ever did.. But essentially Born To Die is a cynical project, the music industries quest to find a pliable, poseable Winehouse doll now that the real thing is singing a duet with Etta past the pearly gates. Even listened to in a vacuum, without the surrounding hype and backlash, this is nothing more than a record of exceptionally competently written pop songs, delivered reasonably competently, and entirely lacking the tiniest spark of surprise of wonder. A heartless affair.