Releasing an EP in this day and age often seems like a way to make more money (or at least remain in the public eye) while you’re biding time before finishing the next album. In Lana Del Rey’s case, Paradise–or Born to Die: The Paradise Edition–could have easily been passed off as a brand new album. But Lana don’t play that game. After all, why would she want to distance herself from the iconography of Born to Die? With nine new tracks to build upon her debut album’s motif of Americana, vulnerability and fatalistic love, Del Rey has proven her savvy when it comes to cultivating a certain image.
Depending on which “exclusive” version of the album you get (Target and iTunes both have their own separate track listing), the Paradise Edition of Born to Die begins at track 16 with the first single from the EP, “Ride.” Already infamous for the epically long video featuring Del Rey parading around with the older gentlemen of the motorcycle set and getting into strange cars with men for money, she has consistently proven that the images and narratives of her videos are just as significant as the songs themselves. Addressing public and self-perception, Del Rey laments, “I’m tired of feeling like I’m fucking crazy.” Then again, that’s part of what makes her so alluring to the rest of us. The following track, “American,” illustrates everything that Del Rey has embodied from the beginning: A post-World War II concept of what it means to be American. Exhorting, “Drive fast, I can almost taste it now/L.A./I don’t even have to fake it now.” She even freely borrows from one of the ultimate all-American singers, Tom Petty, as she sings, “Elvis is the best hell yes, honey put on that party dress.” The entire song smacks of an advertising pitch that could have been pulled from a Mad Men episode (e.g. “Be young, be proud/Like an American”).
“Cola (Pussy),” the third track continues Del Rey’s love of exploring the role of a fallen woman, resigned to being the homewrecker/one-night stand. The opening instrumentals closely mirror the introduction to the “Blue Jeans” video before Del Rey delves into the bold assertion, “My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola/My eyes are wide like cherry pie.” Yet again alluding to classic emblems of American culture, Del Rey interweaves the two contrasting concepts of purity and filth–which are forced to coexist in a gray area in the current epoch. Pleading for the older man (girl loves herself a father figure) of her desire to run away with her, she croons, “Come on baby/Let’s ride/We can escape to the great sunshine/I know your wife and she wouldn’t mind.”
The darkly tinged “Body Electric” is Del Rey at her most stylized–it’s baroque pop, if you will. Her most unapologetic ode to the highest order of pop culture royalty, Del Rey begins the song by casually noting, “Elvis is my daddy, Marilyn’s my mother/Jesus is my bestest friend/We don’t need nobody ’cause we got each other, or at least I pretend.” By associating herself with the loneliest, yet most successful figures in all of history, Del Rey furthers the idea that, no matter who she’s with, loneliness is a state of permanence. The remake of The Clovers’ classic song, “Blue Velvet,” is the natural choice to follow up such a dramatic track. Once again wielding her persona to fit into the mold of kitsch, Del Rey promoted the song in an H & M commercial that paid homage to David Lynch’s film of the same name.
“Gods and Monsters” is perhaps the most uptempo track on Paradise, with equally as provocative themes and explorations. The lyrics read almost like lines from an anti-hero in a novel, opening with “In the land of gods and monsters, I was an angel/Living in the garden of evil/Screwed up, scared/Doing anything that I needed/Shining like a fiery beacon.” Del Rey grapples with the difficulty of feeling free under any sort of god, declaring, “Me and god, we don’t get along.” The craving for complete liberation in “Gods and Monsters” is absent on the subsequent track, “Yayo.” Essentially a melancholy request to a tattooed man (think Bradley Soileau, but then, you probably already were), Del Rey demands, “You have to take me right now from this dark trailer park.” So don’t ever say she didn’t portray the more sinister side of Americana as well.
Exhibiting an unabashed love of L.A.–tempered with a seasoned understanding of its demons–”Bel Air” paints a portrait that anyone with grandiose aspirations can identify with. The allegorical song begins with a girl standing outside of a gate, unable to get in–both physically and emotionally–as Del Rey sings, “Gargoyles standing in front of your gate/Trying to tell me to wait.” For some, this is the final track, however the iTunes edition of the EP also features “Burning Desire” as the closing song, which Del Rey gave to a short film of the same name starring Damian Lewis (best known for his role as Nicholas Brody on Homeland). Getting in one final, somewhat repetitive nod to the freedom of cars and the sin of living in Hollywood, we are left with the image of Del Rey as she wants to be seen: “Cruising down the street on Hollywood and Vine…/I drive fast, I just don’t care.”