It’s nearly impossible to objectively listen to Lana Del Rey’s music without being somewhat influenced by the massive hype machine she’s created. The name change, the plastic surgery rumors and the blogger assaults are all indelibly interwoven into her songs now, for better or worse. So is her ghastly performance on Saturday Night Live, which was considered one of the most uninspired in the show’s history. When all of those variables are removed, Del Rey’s second proper full-length release, Born To Die, portrays an artist who is still trying to identify her meal ticket as she comes crashing into fame.
Born To Die may be remembered more for the hype surrounding its arrival than the actual material it contains. The album’s standout track (by a mile), “Video Games,” reminds us why we started talking about LDR in the first place. The girl has talent and possesses a sultry, throwback voice that sets her apart from almost every other pop singer out there. The haunting chord progressions and fluttering harps drive “Video Games” like a slow, haunting funeral march, and Del Rey’s voice is retroactively seductive. The song’s lyrics which illustrate a girl who is somehow excited (or is it resigned?) to spend the rest of her life with a seemingly unmotivated slob, are striking in their contradictions. “Video Games” showcases LDR in her best elements; slow, brooding songs seem to be her forte.
With that said, the rest of Born To Die simply doesn’t measure up to the album’s lead single. It seems that the success of “Video Games” caught Del Rey off guard and she was subsequently forced to craft an album around that to announce herself as a pop star. Unfortunately, LDR is no Lady Gaga or Rihanna. Her tone is too melancholy to get anyone dancing and her more upbeat tracks, like “Off To The Races,” “National Anthem” and “Carmen” sound forced and contrived. Del Rey often tries to jump into a higher octave and crank out breathy pop vocals in the vein of a Madonna or Britney Spears, but it’s a disappointment every time when compared to the pleasant timbre of her lower register.
The biggest drawback of Born To Die is its exhausting length. The album’s second half is mostly filler, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone besides an LDR diehard will ever make it through all 15 songs more than once. Del Rey’s themes of dealing with newfound fame are well established in the first eight tracks, and everything after that point is largely superfluous.
There’s no doubt that Lana Del Rey has arrived—but after listening to Born To Die, I’m left wondering how long it will last. You could argue that the buzz that has built up in the past seven months was more exciting than the album’s release now that the rest of her songs are out there. In my opinion, the way LDR responds with her next batch of material will be the most interesting part of the ride.