My suspicion is many of those most concerned about the "authenticity" of Lana Del Rey as a recording artist would also complain about the downfall of the album as an art form in a sea of iTunes-ready single tracks. It is an interesting turn of events then that Lana Del Rey has delivered a true album in the classic sense with a very distinctive point of view and such cohesiveness that Born To Die almost becomes claustrophobic as a listening experience.
Lyrically, Born To Die amounts to a bitter, albeit narcotized, criticism of all of the wealth and emotional artifice Lana Del Rey is accused of embracing. There is an emotional numbness about Born To Die that is both familiar and frightening. And then there is beauty. It is all set to gorgeous melodies and doom laden atmospherics. If there ever was a pop album that sounded like the soundtrack to the cracking and trembling of the scaffolding that supports our pop culture, or even our world as we know it, this one is it.
'Born To Die' Does Not Ask For Sympathy
After the flood of questions, and the vultures ready to pounce on any signs of live missteps, it might be expected that Lizzy Grant, aka Lana Del Rey, may search for some sympathy for her plight in the music that makes up Born To Die. On the contrary, as a vocalist, whether it is her "real life" experience or not, she inhabits a world of hollowed out, Hollywood obsessed American dreams of love and wealth ever after delivered in such a deadpan manner that she is well beyond caring for your sympathy or mine. A line like, "You look like a million dollar man, so why is my heart broke" on "Million Dollar Man" could be delivered with a tear in the voice. Instead, Lana Del Rey lands at the end of the line in a near monotone, provides a pregnant pause, and then she moves on. When she sings of being willing to die for love in "This Is What Makes Us Girls," it is with a detached matter of fact approach that seems tailor made for an era in which daily availability of tragedy via the Internet has left us all just a little more numb.
The Gorgeous Sound Of 'Born To Die'
The element of Born To Die that is likely to make you want to return to this album is the sheer gorgeous allure of the sound. The single "Video Games" has a majesty to its chimes, harps, and piano chords that will draw listeners in every time. "Diet Mountain Dew" sails along on an effortless uptempo vibe. Although on the surface the track is quite different musically from "Video Games," it's the distinctive laconic voice that pulls the two songs together. The words of "National Anthem" seem lost in a messy blend of money, sex, and corporate greed, but it is the rousing yet graceful arrangement that solidifies the song's point of view as a clever critique of a society that is just as messy as these words. There are indeed places where Born to Die drags a bit, and those are the points where the music becomes just a bit too familiar and airless.
Top Tracks On 'Born To Die'
- "Born To Die"
- "Video Games"
- "Diet Mountain Dew"
- "National Anthem"
- "Million Dollar Man"
- "This Is What Makes Us Girls"
Artifice Becoming Art
Is there artifice instead of authenticity on Born To Die? I would say the answer is, in a word, absolutely. However, that need not be criticism. Some of the most powerful music, film, and stage performances of the past have been animated by a vision that has little relation to the actual authentic experience of the artist. If we are to live only with authentic representations of our all too real lives, the entire structure of pop culture is unnecessary in our Internet fueled obsession with "real life." That shakiness has been exposed in the discussion generated by Lana Del Rey and her approach to creating music. However, instead of being a shot to weaken the structure further, Born To Die shows us that the artifice itself can be stunningly gorgeous, and that moment when we look back at our all too real lives then turn away and let ourselves be wrapped in the numbness of escape has a valid beauty all its own.