Lana del Rey’s ‘Born to Die’ album enjoyable, does not deserve Grammy

By Emily Merlino

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Somewhere amidst the roar of controversy that followed her cringe-inducing Saturday Night Live performance, Lana del Rey managed to release her first album. “Born to Die,” a record that plays like a soundtrack to Instagram, is the current target of hateful hipsters’ tomato-throwing. In fact, the online frenzy of revulsion is so potent it’s surprising torch-wielding mobs of Pitchfork bloggers haven’t mowed her down by now.

That said, if one just looks at the album and not the persona of the artist singing it, “Born to Die” is not terrible. Not by a longshot. Most of the songs are downright enjoyable, and even the ones that don’t merit praise aren’t completely painful to listen to.

The album begins with the title track “Born to Die.” This is the kind of song that would play during a reconciliation scene on a teen soap opera. Del Rey’s voice lends a certain melodrama that is well matched to the apocalyptic lyrics. Evoking imminent death set to a sweeping orchestra, this song sets a beautifully ominous tone for the rest of the album.

“Off to the Races,” an Alice in Wonderland-esque track that features del Rey in a more docile role, is equally engaging. In “Races,” del Rey, channeling a Lolita of sorts, describes her dysfunctional relationship with an older man. Despite the peppy, even squeaky voice del Rey uses, “Races” is just as foreboding as its predecessor.

Keeping up with the increasingly dark album is “Blue Jeans.” This song isn’t nearly as beguiling as “Born” or “Races,” but it keeps up the haunting vibe. Del Rey’s voice, perhaps inhibited by her Angelina Jolie-like lips, sounds muffled and overly synthetic on this track – a contrived sound that comes off as gimmicky.

“Video Games,” a beautifully executed tale of a not-quite-right relationship, is by far the most notable song on the album. Backed by harps and a full string section, “Video Games” is the first song that doesn’t sound like an accompaniment to a night of drinking cheap wine and crying in the shower. Del Rey’s disaffected lamentation clashes provocatively with the almost daisies-and-sunshine orchestration, resulting in a mesmeric, almost ethereal power. This, unsurprisingly, is the stand-out track of the album.

Unfortunately, the following song is an utterly forgettable tune entitled “Diet Mountain Dew” that cuts the self-deprecating fascination as quickly as it started. There isn’t anything wrong with the song, nor is there anything remarkable about it. Additionally, the lyrics yet again weave a tale of a dysfunctional relationship. One song about an awful relationship or even emotional abuse can garner critical acclaim for tackling a heavy subject. An entire album of them just invites eye-rolling.

At this point, the husky-voiced vintage guise becomes grating. The grainy music videos, the quirky sound clips and the melancholy tone that permeates the entire album gets extremely tired after just a few songs. Del Rey’s shtick seems to be entirely composed of sulking, Polaroids and liquid eyeliner, which is fine, but a whole album where the manufactured image is so transparent is almost insulting.

The rest of the album blends together in a blur of murmurs and melodramatic orchestral backgrounds. It is fine for an artist to have a distinctive sound, but when every song on one album sounds almost exactly the same both in sound and content, one has to doubt the creativity of the artist.

One last standout, however, is “Summertime Sadness.” Yes, del Rey even manages to turn the quintessential blissful dog days into a period of mourning. For what? Given the past material, maybe a romantic relationship with a much older man gone wrong. Nevertheless, the song is pretty and whimsically gloomy.

“Born to Die” does not deserve a Grammy, but it does not deserve a raging mob of pitchfork-wielding haters either. What Lana del Rey does deserve, apparently, is a prescription for Valium and some sunshine. Her sound is decent and occasionally catchy, but the lyrics and tone need to diversify to be taken more seriously.

Emily Merlino can be reached at [email protected]