Monday 30 January 2012

Album Review: Lana Del Rey Triumphs on Debut Album "Born To Die"

Its finally here: self confessed, studio singer and last years biggest musical Internet sensation, Lana Del Rey’s debut album, Born to Die, hit the shelves today. With a debut single as good as the bitter sweet love song Video Games was, it was always going to be an uphill battle trying to create a collection of songs that would not immediately shrivel into nothingness when placed on the same CD as it. But by heck, did setting the bar high from the get go produce a brilliant debut album.

It should be noted though, if you haven't liked Lana's voice, or any of the songs you've heard thus far from her, than this album is not going to convince you otherwise of her talent.

The production on Born To Die in some ways is the real star of the album. Helmed mostly by Emile Haynie, a man who has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to Kanye West, it impresses from the very first bars of opening track Born to die and continues to do so right till the end of the album.

Whereas pop music today is often assembled on computers, with distinct and independent sound loops on separate tracks being switched on and off as the song progresses to create variation, the production here is handled in a more classical, almost holistic way. The flow, evolution and resolution of each song is testament to a skill and musical acumen that is far above that of those making popular music today.

The production can not be spoken of without mentioning the string section that graces each track; adding a luscious layer of sound that sings as sweetly and evocatively as Lana Del Rey herself. I find it amazing, perhaps simply because it's not usually done, that each song sounds to have had a string section scored for its entirety- listen to the way they beautifully conclude Off To The Races. It's an attention to detail that was not lost on this listener.

Floating above the glorious production are Lana Del Reys’ versatile tones, which invoke female singers of yesteryear like Karen Carpenter and Nancy Sinatra. Whether in its lower, slightly nasal reaches, or its breathy, warm top, the voice consistently manages, impressively, to bring the femme fatale characters of the lyrics to life.

There’s no melisma or belting, and instead like an Oscar winning actress, Lana Del Rey manipulates her voices tone and timbre, instead of its range, to weave these wonderfully realised tales of love, money and a gangster lifestyle. One moment she's youthful and Innocent- the chorus of Radio- the next jazzy and sullen, like Fiona Apple- Million Dollar Man- but her trump card, and the role she plays best, is sultry and forlorn- Video Game. It’s a style of singing that hasn't been heard in pop music for a while and one that Lana Del Rey may just bring it back into vogue with this album.

The voice wouldn’t need to be so versatile if the lyrics - to which Lana Del Rey co-wrote all of them- didn't consist of such interesting stories and characters. The majority of the songs deal with the theme of love, but thankfully they all manage to do so in an engaging, descriptive and unique way, that never lazily falls back on clich├ęs or tired imagery.

The lyrics that impressed me most were those of Carmen. It’s an exceptionally well written, cautionary tale, from the perspective of a young starlet who is being killed by the Hollywood lifestyle she lives. One in which drugs, prostitution and drink are staples. It commands a listener to question why an individual, who is clearly unhappy and aware that their lifestyle is detrimental, would continue to live that way. But Lana Del Rey manages to, in the closing half, explain this away, while offering a small insight into the mind of celebrity, by revealing how the real addiction this starlet is suffering from, and the one with which all other problems flow, is that of the spotlight and fame itself. Whether there is some autobiographical nature to this song it’s unknown, but I am sure those real life “Carmens”, who are indulging in similar destructive behaviour, could undoubtedly identify with this character and her motivations, and that is a sign of a great writer.

Lyrically, vocally, and production wise, Lana Del Rey’s debut album Born to Die is everything i hoped it would be. Its a cinematic, sonic masterpiece, that faithfully manages to merge the old school Hollywood glamour and Rivera lifestyle of Lana Del Rey’s look with Elizabeth Grant’s hip-hop and modern roots. Where she goes from here is anybodies guess, because simply using this as a template for the next album isn't going to cut it. But let’s give Lana Del Rey a moment to enjoy this triumphant release, and more importantly, a moment  to stick it to all those who thought she would crash and burn with a full release.

Rating: A-

Must Hear: Blue Jeans, Born To die, Off To The Races, Dark Paradise.

Writers and producers on Born To Die

1."Born to Die"  Elizabeth Grant, Justin ParkerEmile Haynie4:46
2."Off to the Races"  Grant, Tim LarcombePatrick Berger, Emile Haynie4:59
3."Blue Jeans"  Grant, Haynie, Dan HeathEmile Haynie3:29
4."Video Games"  Grant, ParkerJustin Parker, Robopop4:41
5."Diet Mountain Dew"  Grant, Mike DalyEmile Haynie, Jeff Bhasker*3:42
6."National Anthem"  Grant, ParkerEmile Haynie3:50
7."Dark Paradise"  Grant, Rick NowelsEmile Haynie, Rick Nowels*4:03
8."Radio"  Grant, ParkerEmile Haynie3:34
9."Carmen"  Grant, ParkerEmile Haynie, Jeff Bhasker^4:08
10."Million Dollar Man"  Grant, Chris BraideEmile Haynie, Chris Braide3:51
11."Summertime Sadness"  Grant, NowelsEmile Haynie, Rick Nowels*4:25
12."This Is What Makes Us Girls"  Grant, Jim Irvin, LarcombeAl Shux, Emile Haynie4:00
Total length:


  1. I was so excited to get home to my special delivery of her album! Totally agree with all of your review. Her material and vocal is so classy its on another solar system to itself.

    Totally agree with your review, I also love the string section too (& pretty much the albums production and sound in general) but its her voice that does it for me, its so unique and thankfully not wasted on sappy ballads. The story telling is not only captivating its left me wanting to know more and more importantly hear more.

    This for sure has got to be her year, with an album of this quality and a mesmerising mystique people will be just like us, salivating for more!!

    Loving your work as usual :)

  2. Lol sorry for the totally agree with your review double take typo :S

  3. Thanks stuey!! I really am loving the album! The track that I can't get enough of right now is "This Is What Makes Us Girls". This album is sure to be something i'm playing for years to come!

  4. Indeed, I knew it was gonna be good; but oh my she defo sold me! Loving that song too! They shall all be on repeat for the next few weeks thats for sure, and as you state more than likely something to enjoy for a long long time!

  5. What did you make of her Saturday Night Live performance DD? X

  6. They were bad. No getting around that!

  7. This album is absolutely fantastic, I have NO idea how it has a 56 on Metacritic. However, I will say this, I thought the Nation Anthem demo was far superior to the one on the album. I also liked the live version of Million Dollar Man. And I can see how people who don't absolutely love her music would find the album's production repetitive (I personally enjoy the repetitiveness). Carmen, Video Games, and Off To the Races are my personally favorites. Critics keep comparing Off To The Races to Lady Gaga for some reason...

  8. That's such a ridiculous comparison, lol! I've still got the album on loop a week later, i wonder how long before I wear the tracks out!

  9. Did you hear the deluxe songs as well? Lolita and Lucky Ones and Without You? They are one of my favourites.